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Spring 16

Crocus BG xss 4258

Crocus in Garden

While many in Ireland are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising, plants have been rising in fields and gardens as for ever.

Crocuses, Daffodils, Primroses and Snowrops are the early bloomers, bringing colour & promise.

Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

Other flowers to test the temperature early are the Hellebores. Like all the others, they provive nectar for the early flying insects.

Hellebore Flower

Hellebore Flower

Most of these are waning now as the main shrubs and plants take over.  However here in the cold foothills of Wicklow, everything starts later and some are still hanging on.

Frost is still a threat and some flowers, like sleepy teenagers, look very different from early morning …….

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

Snowdrops & Hellebores Drooping in early frost

to afternoon!

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

Snowdrops & Hellebores Awake

 

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2015 Review

Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D ready for new careful owner

Looking back 2015 was a mixed year, starting cold and ending with the wettest weather that I can remember.  In between there were decent warm and dry spells and from my perspective, at least, a good year for wild things and places.

January started cold with plenty of Finch flocks, particularly Goldfinch around the lakes.

Small flocks of flighty, restless Long-tailed tits tested my camera and patience and Redwing & Fieldfare appeared as usual. (Winter Birds)

It was a good time for walks and enjoying the clear winter air and views.  Lugnagun is one of our favourites offering views of the Lakes on one side and the mountains on the other with chances to see Ravens and small birds and perhaps Peregrines.

It was also the time to sell and upgrade my trusty 7D camera which had served very well for years.

 

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

February showed signs of Spring but it was our old haunt, the North Bull Island, that brought fondest memories.  Many hours have bben spent here in the past when it was on my doorstep.  Now it is a good journey but always rewarding.

Thousands of waders were there as usual, as well as Brent Geese and ducks such as Shellduck and Teal.

For me, the huge, wheeling flocks of waders in the sky when they are disturbed, beats any sight in Dublin.

Mute Swan with attitude

Mute Swan with attitude, Kensington Gardens, London

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March saw various creatures getting ready for the amorous season.

This Swan in Kensington Gardens in London seemed to have an extra dose of hormones.

He chased anything that moved and many that hadn’t intended to, seeing off all and sundry, including large Canada Geese, just for being there.

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

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Nearer home, a rat had made the base of a tree into a complex home with a network of paths and exits.

Wren on branch

Wren on branch

 

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Regularly hated, shunned and feared, these are interesting creatures and not in any way ugly to my eyes, although they are associated with a number of human diseases.

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Along with blooming plants, the nesting season accelerated in April.  Birds marked their territories by singing and despite being tiny, this little guy sang with the best of them – an unmistakeable high-pitched song to brighten any day.

Howth Head view

Howth Head view of Bull Island to Lambay Island

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May is the official start of Summer.  Flowers that had brightened Spring, spread and developed and showed the countryside at its best.

Howth Head is a great place to visit in May (or most months) and is a favourite trip of ours.

It may be unique in displaying such a diversity of scenes and habitats in such a snall area, still bustling with human life.

To the North is the well-known busy harbour with restaurants, fishing industry, Gulls and Seals.

A brilliant walk takes you all round the cliffs or up over the top of the head.  The cliffs host seabird ‘towns’ – vast numbers of closely nesting Auks, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Cormorants – while the head hosts many lovely small birds, such as Wheatear and Stonechat.

Gannet Stare

Gannet Stare, Great Saltee Island

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The Saltees welcomed us for our annual visit in June.

A bit like Howth only more remote, quieter and with better weather, this is an absolutely brilliant Island.

Puffins Courting

Puffins Courting and Bill-clacking on cliff edge, Great Saltee

Thousands of seabirds, lovely wild flowers and an island away from it all – what’s not to like?

However it is a toss-up as which of 2 birds is the greatest attraction – Gannets or Puffins.

 

Both are magnicifent.  The gannets nest in great numbers  – one of the most important sites in Europe, while the tiny Puffins vary in number each year, depending on the availability of Sand Eels.

But they are strikingly coloured and impossibly cute.

Apart from the sea birds, the island also had Choughs and Gull species as well as Oystercatchers.

Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid, Pollardstown Fen, Kildare

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Pollardstown Fen in County Kildare was visited in July.

Fed by a spring, this marsh area is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

It has an old feeder canal to the Grand Canal and was important to that transport system.

Many different plants and animals can be found there including a number of Orchids and a car park, path and boardwalk make access easy.

Green Vervet Monkey

Green Vervet Monkey, Nairobi National Park

 

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Business required a visit to Nairobi in Kenya in August and, well, you can’t go there even for a short time without seeing some African wildlife!

Nairobi National Park is not huge and lacks quite a few animals, such as elephants, that had to be removed for their safety.

But it is very close to the city and has Rhinos, Zebra, Lions, and many other animals and birds.

The Green monkeys are cheeky and get quite close.

Elephants bathing and playing in pool

Elephants bathing and playing in pool, Etosha National Park Namibia

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September saw most of the Summer birds and animals still around – butterflies in the garden, terns at the coast, etc.

But holidays took us back to Africa on a brilliant trip from Victoria Falls to Cape Town.

Amongst so many sights, we took in Chobe and Etosha National Parks, the dunes and deserts of Namibia and Penguins in South Africa.

So many mammals and birds but particularly, many many elephants.

A great trip in great company.

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

 

 

Water levels in the lakes were quite low in October which saw little rainfall – quite unlike the end of the year!  Now if there could just be some storage scheme to even it out (and maybe have the rain fall at night!) :).

Autumn colours predominated and few places show this better than Mount Usher gardens.

Apart from the foreign trees and plants, there are many native species and the Vartry river flows peacefully through.

Also Butterflies, Herons, Dippers and Wagtails, amongst others, are regularly seen.

Tufted Duck male

Tufted Duck male, St. Stephens Green, Dublin

 

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We had a wedding in November and a number of visitors, so it seemed a more indoors time than outdoors.

But life in the great outside continued as normal, where the mild weather was well appreciated, especially by the smaller birds.

St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, one of my regular walks, seemed to be back near to Spring levels with Ducks back in full plumage and Swans and Pigeons being fed (although too much bread, I fear).

Tufted Ducks dived and preened and water rolled off them like worries should for us.

 

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

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Rogerstown estuary in North Dublin is a very good birding site with a tidal estuary, bird hides and some pools and a wooded area.

In December it was teeming with ducks and waders including Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Pink-footed Geese, Redshank, Greenshank and Lapwing.

There were also Peregrines and Buzzards.  Not bad for one site.

As the tide receeded, hundreds of mostly Wigeon, formed a line along the diminishing channel as the light became more and more golden.  Hard to leave.

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes at Russborough

Christmas came and went with more parties! The weather outside however was stormy and rainy with many places flooded.  The only good part was that it remained warmer than usual.

With cold weather creeping in, I wish everyone a great 2016.

 

 

Spider Behaviour

There’s been a bit of a gap since the last post – maybe a sign of a good Summer?

Delicate touch - Spider Tetragnatha extensa on web in flowers

Delicate touch – Spider Tetragnatha extensa on web in flowers

Those of you squeamish about Arachnids should maybe wait a bit longer – this is the second part of a Spider feature, dealing more with behaviour.  The previous post can be found here –  Spiders in Ireland.

The first thing we think of regarding spiders is Webs.  Apart from having 8 legs and numerous eyes, this is a very defining deature.  The first picture shows the delicte, sure touch of the spider as well as the strength of the silk lines it weaves.

Spider's Web in frost

Spider’s Web in frost

Raindrops on tiny web

Raindrops on tiny web

Sometimes webs are hard to see – they are used to trap flies afterall – but frost, rain and morning dew makes them very visible.

Then the brilliant structures and their number, can be admired by all.

Dew-covered Webs on bush

Dew-covered Webs on bush

Garden spider - Araneus diadematus underside showing spinners

Female Garden spider – Araneus diadematus underside showing spinners

Spiders have spinners under their rear (see picture and also Garden Spider showing spinners), from where tough silk emerges quite rapidly.

In fact spiders can produce different grades of fibres for different uses – web, temporary scaffold for making web, wrapping prey, cocoons etc – and use different glues.
Garden Spider in web - waiting, feeling

Male Garden Spider in web – waiting, feeling

Spider Meta segmentata female dragging cranefly in web

Spider Meta segmentata female dragging cranefly in web

Spiders wait quietly and still on their webs  with their legs on a number of lines, or at the edge of a web, perhaps under a leaf, but touching a main line, waiting for vibrattions that tell them some prey is struggling with the sticky web.  However spiders themselves are able to traverse the web very quickly.  This seems to be due to a number of factors:-

  1. spiders know where the sticky strands are
  2. spiders have an oily substance on their legs which resists sticking
  3. they walk in a way that minimises the contact between the glue drops and the tiny hairs on their legs and
  4. they have a third claw that seems to work with the flexible hairs to grasp the thread and release it!
Fly caught by spider- linyphiidae

Fly caught by spider- linyphiidae

Prey stuck in a web, is usually doomed unless large and powerful enough to free itself. The resident spider usually approaches quite quickly and ends the struggle with a poisonous bite.

Male Spider Tetragnatha extensa cocooning prey in web

Male Spider Tetragnatha extensa cocooning prey in web

Generally the spider then cocoons its prey using more sticky silk thread – dinner for later.

 

Although it seems out of character, some spiders do not build webs.  Hunter spiders (Hunter Spider), for example, use speed to grab and bite their prey.

 

Spider in web Lough Dan

Spider in web Lough Dan

Another use for spider silk is to make funnels and nests.

Wolf Spider with egg sac

Wolf Spider with egg sac

Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem

Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem

Finally, spider silk is used to make a sac to carry its eggs.

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Spiders are good at hiding, whether it is in the shadow under leaves or in the open, staying still.

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This is aided by aligning their legs with the foliage …

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or by looking un-spider-like and staying still.

Harvestman on house wall

Harvestman on house wall

Life & Death

The last few weeks brought home the faster life and death nature of wildlife.  Not that all of us don’t have to go through the same things, but generally we seem to have a more intense and drawn out experience to death.  I was watching a TV documentary on elephants where they seem to mourn and dwell over dead friends and relatives a bit more like us – something I had read about before – and there are the elephant graveyard stories.  However smaller animals and birds ‘appear’ to treat death as a sharp shock before getting on with their lives.

Alternately, it might be the frequency of death, rather than the size of the animal, that lessens its effect on others.  Years ago our company used to train technical staff from an African country.

They came on a series of courses and we got quite fond of some that had been to Ireland on a few occasions.

Song Thrush Nestlings in Nest in rough Hedge

Song Thrush Nestlings in Nest in rough Hedge

Asking casually about one such that was not on the course being taught at that time, we were told, fairly matter-of-factly that he was ‘gone’. We had to pursue this to understand that he had died (of aids which kills so many in Africa).

These morbid thoughts are brought on by a few sightings during last month.

1)  We had a Song thrush nest in a partial wild hedge in our back garden.  The young seemed very healthy and not disturbed by the sound of the lawn-mower going past very close – admittedly not as often as it would do in a tidy garden. I was late in discovering them and reckoned by their size and activity, that they were close to fledging.  The parents continued to bring them food and to rest in the nest overnight, keeping them warm. Two days later, when I looked, they were gone but not just the chicks, all trace of the nest was gone!  There had been some wind but not as much as previously, so either they flew and demolished the nest in their leaving or, probably more likely, a cat got them.

Blue Tit in Tree

Blue Tit in Tree

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2)  Relations of ours have a Blue Tit camera nest-box similar to ours, that this year finally produced a nest, eggs and eventually young.

Their joy at the constant feeding and attention shown by the parents was brought to a shuddering halt by their sudden disappearence.

The babies continued to call for food but as time went by, it became clear that the parents were not coming back and that the chicks would not survive.

Cats are the main suspects although it is strange that both parents ‘disappeared’.

Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods
Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods

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3)  While walking in the rain along the river in Tomnafinnoge Wood near Tinahely (this is a very special woods and features Oak trees and Woodpeckers and the River Derry, a tributary of the Slaney), I heard a commotion from behind.

It sounded like a bird in a panic flying towards me but as I looked around with the camera un-ready!, it turned out to be an Irish Stoat (often called a Weasel here but actually there are no real Weasels in Ireland) running towards me.  While still trying to get the camera settings into appropriate action, I realised it had something in its mouth.  I thought it was a bird but on later review of the poor pictures, decided it was a Wood Mouse.

Aware that I would dearly want to get a good picture of this startling scene, the Stoat turned and jumped into the undergrowth!

The animal is gorgeous – very small and beautifully coloured – a kind of fawn / beige brown – and with a white belly and a black tip to its tail.

However the bird in its mouth broke the thought of innocent beauty and brought home the lethal nature of nature.

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Moorhen & Chick on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

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4)  This week I walked along the Grand Canal in Dublin, thronged by lunch-time walkers and those eating food from the vendors along the banks.  As usual, I was looking for birds in the margins and eventually found a Moorhen amongst the reeds.  Going to the bridge I could see that it was building a nest and as I got closer again, a chick appeared from under the parent’s wing!  In fact there were 3 chicks and at least one unhatched egg.  Moorhens often have 8 eggs so there may have been more.

Moorhen bringing Grass to partner & chicks on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Moorhen bringing Grass to partner & chicks on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

The other parent regularly brought leaves that (s)he knitted into the nest.  This was necessary as the nest was a floating one and required constant attention to keep it above water.  Both Moorhen sexes incubate the eggs and they are indistinguishable without examination.  However the male is understood to do most of the nest sitting.

On the far side of the canal, a young Heron stood patiently by the water’s edge unconcerned by people behind him, much closer than normally consider comfortable.

In the nest, little Johhnie – there’s always one – climbed out and swam about on its own.  He may have done this before but the parent on the nest did not seem too pleased while the other parent was pre-occupied with leaf gathering.

While I watched the Moorhen’s knitting abilities, someone behind me was feeding pigeons.  They wanted to peck at the large bread crumbs thrown and constantly pitched the crumbs up in the air as they tried to break them.  This led the crumbs and them to get very close to me.  So close that I nearly missed the drama.

A Lesser Black-backed Gull, which presumably had been watching the crumb throwing, also had his eye on the Moorhen Nest and suddenly flew down.  The parent jumped up to attack it and defend the nest but as the Moorhen pecked at its neck, the Gull, in one movement, reached down, grabbed a chick in its beak and disengaged from the fight, flying to the other side of the canal with the unfortunate chick in its bill.

This was not little Johnie, the mischievious roamer but one of the goodie-goodies that stayed in the nest – it’s the same the world over!

This all took about a second or two.  Too quick for yours truly, unprofessional, unprepared and a bit stunned, to get a picture of the scrap.

Lesser Black-backed Gull with chick taken from Moorhen Nest Grand Canal Dublin

Lesser Black-backed Gull with chick taken from Moorhen Nest Grand Canal Dublin

On the far bank, the Lesser Black-backed Gull manoeuvred the chick a couple of times and then swallowed it, as a few people and the Moorhens looked on disbelievingly.

After a few minutes, the Moorhen sat back on the nest with little movement.  It seemed to be detrermined to shield and protect the remaining brood & egg(s).  I was left wondering if (s)he continued to dwell on the incident, to be sad or to mourn.

A couple of days later, the nest was gone.  Only floating leaves remained.  It may be that the remaining eggs hatched and the young went off with the parents.  On the other hand, the nest was close to the bank, in a place frequented by people and the Canal in its city stretches, features many predators including dogs, foxes and of course little (and big) brats!

Looking forward to more on the ‘Life’ side in the next few weeks.

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring …

Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

Crocuses in Hermitage Museum courtyard Amsterdam

With apologies to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan, these flowers have everything to do with this case.

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There has been a good showing of wild and garden bulbs such as Crocuses as well as other Spring flowers this year befitting from some sunny spring weather.
They add colour and provide nectar for early flying insects.
But more importantly, they signal an end to the dark cold days.
Snowdrop in Garden

Snowdrop in Garden

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Snowdrops lit up field edges and areas under sleeping bushes, early on.
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Their delicate, fairy-like white heads seemed to dominate fields and gardens.
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The traditional show in Altamount Gardens, Co. Carlow, was brilliant with different varieties and areas where the lawn was almost obscured by white. . See https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/spring-signs/

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Daffodil against sun in Garden

Daffodil against sun in Garden

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Daffodils (Narcissi), Cyclamen and Tulips followed, reminding us what great value bulbs are, usually recurring each year, often in greater numbers, with little work required.
Tulip inners in Garden

Tulip inners in Garden

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Bluebells in Garden

Bluebells in Garden

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Primrose has had a very good spring and these always cheery flowers are in full bloom.
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So also are Bluebells in many places.
Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

Bluebell woods Muckross rd Killarney

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Here in this colder corner of heaven, they are just starting!
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It always seems to me that blue is not a common colour in nature and so to see woodland carpeted in blue surprises and delights year after year!
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Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum Howth with E coast in distance

Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum) Howth with East coast in distance

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Many places have large shows of white flowers again, like a revisit of Snowdrops. Ransoms or Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), related to Chives, are in full growth in many places, especially in woods. A quick break of a leaf delivers the sharp Garlic smell.
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An introduced species of Garlic, Allium triquetrum, gives a similar show in some more open spaces around the country.  It  has more bell-like white flowers on Hydra-like multiple stems.  It also smells of Garlic but not as strong as the more common variety and has narrower leaves.
Wild Pansy Viola tricolor Bull Island

Wild Pansy (Viola tricolor) Bull Island

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

Pink Rhododendron Flowers Russborough

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Meadowsweet is beginning to add fragrance to country roads and keep an eye out for Wild Pansies which seem too vivid to be growing wild.
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Rhododendron, that most invasive of invasive species, should be blooming shortly.  It probably is already in some parts. Despite its all enveloping and choking nature, the flowers in many colours, are something to see.  If you can forgive them their bullying nature for 1 month, two good places to view them are Deer park in Sutton / Howth and Russborough House, south of Blessington (See .  Howth has the advantage of great views over the coast.
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In the west, many roadsides sport them and they can be a real nuisance to control!

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Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co Down

Gorse at Lower Reservoir Silent Valley Co. Down

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Of course one of the nicest sights at this time of year is Gorse (Ulex) in full bloom.

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Enjoy and may the Furze be with Yew.

Spring Signs

Ewe and Lambs - one with bad eye near Carlow

Ewe and Lambs – one with bad eye near Carlow

Cold it’s been but February has brought brighter evenings and other hints of Spring.

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First of all there are lambs about.  Some very early and eager young bits of wool appeared much earlier but the serious production has now begun.

Lambs and Ewes near Carlow

Lambs and Ewes near Carlow

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Mother ewes can be seen watching and protecting their little darlings who seem wider in the back legs at this stage – presumably to give more balance.

Snowdrop Species Altamont Gardens Carlow

Snowdrop Species Altamont Gardens Carlow

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Definitely one of the cuter signs of Spring.

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Snowdrops Altamont Gardens Carlow

Snowdrops Altamont Gardens, Carlow

Another traditional sign is the appearance of Snowdrops.

Gardens, parks and scrap ground all over Ireland are showing Snowdrops in full bloom.  Last year Snowdrops flowered earlier than the previous 40 years but I did hear a murmur that they were declining.  You certainly wouldn’t guess that from the many on show.

The Snowdrop (common version – Galanthus nivalis) grows from a bulb and has become naturalised in Ireland from garden escapees, although it is native to many European countries.

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A great place to see them  is Altamont Gardens – a public gardens in Carlow, that apart from being a beautiful place with loads of plants and trees in a great setting, has a display of many different varieties.  There are supposed to be more than 100 varieties there, though I didn’t count them!  It also has access to one of Ireland’s loveliest rivers, the Slaney.

Although other varieties and species are interesting, I am happy with our common or garden Snowdrop and there are thousands of them in Altamont.

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Young Fallow Deer Stags practice fight Phoenix Park

Young Fallow Deer Stags practice fight Phoenix Park

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Meanwhile, in Phoenix Park, Fallow Deer are divided into male and female groups.

The young stags are practice fighting ahead of the rutting season much later in the year.  In fact the ‘clacking’ sounds as they test their impressive young head-gear against each other, can be heard for quite a distance even the though they are relatively well hidden in the trees.

It is a great priviledge to be able to see such behaviour within a walk from the city.  Those pointed antlers look like I wouldn’t want them anywhere my eyes or head!

Fallow Deer Does Phoenix Park

Fallow Deer Does Phoenix Park

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The group of does seemed much calmer.

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Strangely they showed no signs of wanting to start a fight 🙂

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Here’s to a calm spring and great nesting season.

Winter Birds

Swans beside 18th Green Tulfarris under heavy frost

Swans beside 18th Green, Tulfarris, under heavy frost

We’ve had frost, snow, winds and rain but it hasn’t been a bad winter so far.

Of course golf hasn’t always been possible!

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Birds have had a mixed time. There has been a good deal of wild fruit on trees and on the ground and people these days put out more food in gardens.

On the other hand, some of those aweful shrubs with ‘lasting’ berries (meaning that birds don’t like them, which makes them close to useless in my book) have begun to see some bird harvesting.

Fieldfare in front garden

Fieldfare in front garden

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Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese still visit the fields beside our garden.

See previous post – ( https://wordpress.com/post/14866330/2493/ )

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In the garden, Fieldfare and Redwing arrived in December.

These thrushes are in the same family as the more familiar Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird but arrive in some numbers here only in winter from Scandinavia.

They are definite signs of cold weather if that’s not already obvious.

Redwing in field

Redwing in field

The Fieldfare is pretty much Mistle thrush size and has a grey look.

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The Redwing is closer to Song Thrush size and appearance but has a red patch under its wings.

Both can be a bit shy and scare off easily.

Chaffinch Male feeding on fallen crab apples in front garden

Chaffinch Male feeding on fallen crab apples in front garden

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The Fieldfares love the fallen Crab Apples in our front garden.  Strangely we usually get a bumper crop of these every second year and were not expecting them again this year.  They still came and fell in large numbers which attracted the Fieldfares as well as the more common and less shy Chaffinches and Blackbirds.

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Goldfilch charm on Larch cones Blessington Lakes

Goldfilch charm on Larch cones Blessington Lakes

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Down at the lakes I heard and then saw a large flock of Goldfinches (Charm, Drum or Troubling of Goldfinches according to ‘Birds of Ireland, Facts, Folklore & History). There must have been at least 50 birds making quite a racket as they attacked the cones high in the Larch trees beside the lake. They moved quite fast, making them difficult to photograph and showed good agility.

Long-tailed Tit Blessington Lakes

Long-tailed Tit Blessington Lakes

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Also close to the lake, a flock of Long-tailed Tits flitted amongst the trees

They also move quite fast and don’t stay in one tree too long.

It is an unfortunate fact that Ireland has a much smaller number of bird spesies than the UK – who in turn have a much smaller selection than the continent.  We miss out on some really cute members of the Paridae family, such as Crested, Marsh and Bearded Tits.

However the Long-tailed is one of the most beautiful birds in Ireland with its long tail and pinkish feathers.

Its nest if you ever find one (not easy), is beautifully constructed in a tree from moss and spider webs, with a small entry hole – something to keep an eye out for in spring.

Heron fishing Blessington Lakes

Heron fishing Blessington Lakes

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Finally, checking out the lake near Russborough House, this Heron was happily fishing away. He (or she) didn’t seem to be catching anything large but seemed to have plenty of small successes. The prey looked like insects.

Hopefully the rest of the winter will be as enjoyable.

Whoopers & Greylags at Christmas

Whooper Swans and Greglag Geese neighbours for Christmas

Whooper Swans and Greglag Geese neighbours for Christmas

They arrived in October this year as most years and apart from some very mild mornings, have enhanced our view from the house since.

A particularly nice sight on a frosty Christmas morning.

Happy Christmas and a brilliant New Year to all.

Spiders in Ireland

If you hate spiders, you should go to a different post – quickly.
House Spider Tegenaria domestica malr on Floor

House Spider Tegenaria domestica male on Floor

In fact this head-on view although fairly scary in its own right (it must be really terrifying for small insects) is not easily seen normally. No, its the long view of the dark body and melee of legs that seems to set off some people. I think we all have some degree of built in aversion to spiders, which probably goes back to when we shared caves with them!  The fear is certainly quite common.
House Spider Tegenaria domestica Male in bath

House Spider Tegenaria domestica male in bath

Most spiders bite and most are venemous.  However it is unusual for spiders to bite humans and many have mouth parts too small or weak to bite us.  Also, in this part of the world, very few bites cause more than irritation.
Occasionally bites can cause a bad reaction as can happen with wasp bites or scratches from pets.
In this first post on Spiders, we’ll mainly look at some fairly common spiders in Ireland.

Let’s start with the common house spider which is quite large (to 100mm but body only up to 20 mm) and dull brown. It probably doesn’t look too appealing and can seem very dark in poor light or corners.  This spider is often seen in sinks and baths where the poor creatures find it difficult to scale the slippy ceramic walls.   It performs the useful function in the house of catching flies and other insects.  It is also responsible for many cobwebs in corners of ceilings, windows and doorways.

Garden Spider Araneus diadematus underside on Web Wicklow

Garden Spider Araneus diadematus underside on Web Wicklow

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Outside a common spider is the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus).  This is often seen in hanging webs.

It is also brown but tends to be more strikingly marked and looks fatter than the house spider.

Females – usually the larger sex – can be  up to 20 mm in body but the legs are a bit shorter than those of the house spider.

Spider Meta segmentata male under Sedum flower head

Spider Meta segmentata male under Sedum flower head

.This shot shows the characteristic 8 legs and the spinerets at the rear of the underside.

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Quite a slimmer and ‘prettier spider is Meta segmentata.

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Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem Inniscrone

Spider Tetragnatha extensa on stem Inniscrone

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Another slim spider is Tetragnatha extensa which is often seen ‘extensa’ing along grass stems in fields.

It can be quite hard to spot.

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Small Spider Enoplognatha ovata under leaf in garden

Small Spider Enoplognatha ovata under leaf in garden

Many spiders are difficult to see either because of their size or their skulking habits.

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Enoplongnatha ovata is bright but quite small and hides here under a leaf.

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Spider Neriene pelata female on bathroom mat

Spider Neriene pelata female on bathroom mat

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Back inside, a few other spiders can be found.

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This dark headed lady looks a bit dodgy on the bathroom floor.

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Spider Bathyphantes parvulus F perhaps Bedroom

Spider Bathyphantes parvulus F perhaps Bedroom

Spider Amaurobius similis on brush in kitchen

Spider Amaurobius similis on brush in kitchen

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Daddy-long-legs Spider on house wall

Daddy-long-legs Spider on house wall

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While this grey and quite foreign looking specimen appeared in our bedroom.

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Hunting or Jumping Spider Salticus scenicus Zebra spider perhaps in Cabin R Erne

Hunting or Jumping Spider Salticus scenicus Zebra spider perhaps in Cabin river Erne

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Next time you are using your brush on the kitchen pots, just check it…

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The garden, house walls and sheds usually hold a good number of spiders and a wide variety.

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The Daddy-long-legs spider, like its insect namesake, has long ungainly legs.

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This one has a limb missing.

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A dark, handsome and perhaps, menacing spider, was found in a cabin of a boat on the river Erne.

I think it is one of the Jumping spiders in the Salticidae family.

Money Spider Drapetisca socialis on house wall

Money Spider Drapetisca socialis on house wall

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Many spiders are called Money Spiders.  It is a term mainly used for those in the Linyphiidae family which contains mainly small spiders.

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Spider Araniella curcubitina on wood

Spider Araniella curcubitina on wood

Spider Pisaura mirabilis on garden wall

Spider Pisaura mirabilis on garden wall

There are a large number of very small spiders, many dull and unseen, but some are quite flashy.

 

Hunter spiders tend to be larger and stronger.

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They are often found in gardens.

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False Widow Spider Steatoda nobilis on outside pipes on N Dublin house

False Widow Spider Steatoda nobilis on outside pipes on N Dublin house

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Finally a spider in the news recently, often with some media hysteria, is the False Widow.  Ireland now has 3 of these spiders from the Steatoda genus that are a bit Widow like.  The one recently arrived and causing the fuss, is Steatoda nobilis or Noble False Widow.  .

The responsible information coming out is that it can bite and can cause a bit of discomfort but unless you get a bad reaction, it should be no worse than a wasp sting.

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Spiders can be difficult to identify and I am no expert.  Some need to be examined by microscope and the markings can vary quite a lot!  So if any of the labels are wrong, let me first offer the Bart Simpson defence –

I Didn’t Do It, Nobody Saw Me Do It, There’s No Way You Can Prove Anything!;

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Second, please let me know.

Kilmacurragh

Old gate and wall segment Kilmacurragh

Old gate and wall segment, Kilmacurragh

The Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin is a familiar venue for those looking for peace and tranquility, never mind beautiful flowers, hot houses and international plantings.  Indeed its old iron framed glasshouses are iconic.

Not so many are aware of the Botanic Gardens’ venture in Wicklow, Kilmacurragh.  This is an old estate between Rathdrum and the N11 that offers much of the attractions of the Glasnevin park but without the glasshouses. It dates from the sixteen hundreds although a lot of the plantings are more recent.

The old house is now in ruins but the place has a nice mix of shade, glade, pond and open field that encourages exploration.

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While much of the planting is of non-native trees and flowers, it is hard to deny the wild beauty apparent at every turn.

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Flower Border Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens Wicklow

Flower Border Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens Wicklow

 

 

There are more concrete factors that help to bring Kilmacuragh into the ‘Wild Places’ category.

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Firstly they are managing and researching wilfflower meadows.  The estate used to have extensive wildflower meadows and some of these are being restored.

It is hoped that the research will be available to others, including home garden owners, that want to develop a sustainable patch of wildflower meadow, which can attrack so many insects.

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Oak Drive Kilmacurragh

Oak Drive Kilmacurragh

Secondly there are substantial amounts of great native wild plants.

Not the least of these are the Oak trees.  In particular, there is an ‘Oak Drive’.  This I am reliably informed, used to be the main Wexford raod.  It is a grassy path bordered by fine Oak trees, of which there are still far too few in Ireland.

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Flower Borders Kilmacurragh

Flower Borders Kilmacurragh

Thirdly, there is an abundance of insects such as Bees, Dragonflies and Butterflies.

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Finally, it is a great place to watch birds.

A red kite flew over at a fairly low height as I was getting out of the car!  Later a Buzzard flew over the fields.

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In short, then, a great place to look at plants, to watch birds, to have a picnic or just to chill out!

 

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