Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Bird

Goodbye Lizzie, Hello Caoimhe

Looking like a small alien blob, it takes a while to recognise the tiny baby birds huddled together for warmth in a small nest.

In previous years Lizzie had rared families of Blue Tits but last year our camera nest box stayed idle, despite a brief bout of grass depositing.

This year we hadn’t seen any movement near the box and on the infrequent times we had checked the video, there was nothing happening, although again, some grass had been collected early on.  This month we checked again just to be sure there was nothing there.  In another nest box, with no camera, wasps had built a nest a few years back.  Anyway we were surprised and delighted to realise that not only was there a nest but there were eggs – very small oval shaped eggs with few markings and a slight pink tinge, although this could have been caused by the light reflecting off the wooden box.

Only about a week later, we saw one of the birds seemingly breaking an egg.  But as she moved, the strange outline of a fleshy, scrawny, awkward baby could be seen.  The parent was actually getting rid of the broken egg.

Now there are at least six babies.  There could be 7 or even 8 – they tend to sit on each other in the confined nest hollow.  There were 8 eggs, so maybe all hatched safely – more to find out!

Welcome Caoimhe.

 


2015 Review

Gannet Stare
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.

 

 


Winter Birds

Swans beside 18th Green Tulfarris under heavy frost
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.


Harry the Heron

Harry with fish SSG
 Harry the Heron in Pond SSG Dublin

Harry the Heron in Pond SSG Dublin

Walking to and from work can be a drudge.

Walking by or preferrably through a green space, can lift the mood and is probably a bit better for the ould lungs!  I am lucky to have 3 possible green areas to traverse depending on the path chosen.  St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin is one of those and it should already be clear from previous posts, how much I believe it benefits the city and its people.

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

One of the things that ‘amuses one’  is playing ‘Where’s Harry?’  Harry is a Grey Heron that is commonly seen in different areas of the park and finding where on a particular day is the aim.  OK, it mighn’t be rivetting but it beats listening to the news on the radio.  Also there could be 100 different Herons but if so they are all considered to be Harry:)

Sometimes he is in the open and easy to find.

Harry in Willow Tree SSG Dublin

Harry in Willow Tree SSG

Harry near bridge SSG

Harry near bridge SSG

Other times he could be somewhere in the large Willow Tree or at the edge of the stagnant end of the pond, at the SE, Baggot Street end.

Harry on Rock beside bridge SSG

Harry on Rock beside bridge SSG

Harry & friend on rocks SSG

Harry & friend on rocks SSG

Harry may not be around every day but he can often be seen although sometimes hard to find.

Other common places include the rocks under the viewing point at the West end and the rocks on the NE side of the bridge. In both of these places he can be very close.

Harry preening SSG

Harry preening SSG

Looking around the rocks a metre or two from the pond’s edge in the middle of the park (S side of the pond) can also be fruitful.

 

Inactive can be a common theme for Harry, perhaps having a post-breakfast rest.

However if you have time or are lucky, some typical behaviour can be observed.

 

This includes preening – the systematic cleaning of feathers to keep them waterproof.

Harry calling SSG

Harry calling SSG

Herons can make quite a racket and Harry makes himself very obvious when he calls out.

You may even see him catch a fish – yes there are some fish in the pond and even large eels.

Harry with fish SSG

Harry with fish SSG

Harry waiting SSG

Harry waiting SSG

Harry on Willow tree SSG

Harry on Willow tree SSG

So next time you are in Stephen’s Green, look out for Harry.


Springing Up

Ducklings Grand Canal

Ducklings on Grand Canal

What a great change to the weather and suddenly, it seems, Spring is everywhere.

.The great hope of light and warmth and growth, after the dark and cold of winter, is inspiring.

Of course, as usual, everything is a bit later here in the foothills of the mountains!

Snowdrops

Snowdrops in garden

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Snowdrops have bloomed,

Snowdrop

Snowdrop in garden

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Crocus hybrids

Crocus hybrids in garden

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Crocuses are waning.

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Daffodil in garden

Daffodil in garden

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And now Daffodills brighten our roads and gardens and confirm the Spring promise.

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12 of 13 Mallard Ducklings on Grand canal

12 of 13 Mallard Ducklings on Grand canal

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It seems early  but we have already seen ducklings in the canal.  13 tiny balls of puffed up fluff darting around under the watchful eye of Mammy Mallard and 2 Drakes.

13!  That sounds like a lot of painful egg producing effort.

I don’t know if one of the Drakes was a friend, lover, brother or a security guard?  If a guard, he doesn’t seem to have been much good, as a couple of days later, no ducklings could be found!

We can hope they moved elsewhere but they seemed too tiny to go far and the birds on the Grand Canal do suffer great predation.

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Lamb in field Co Kildare

Lamb in field Co Kildare

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This is also lambing time around here and little white quadrapeds have been appearing in the nearby fields for about a month now.

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On the other hand we start to say goodbye to the Geese & Swans.

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Greylag Geese in rear field Blessington

Greylag Geese in rear field Blessington

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The Whoopers have already dissappeared but the Greylags are still feeding in the grass fields – probably stocking up for their long flights. .

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Anyway here’s looking forward to plenty more springing up in the coming weeks.


18 Shades of Green

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening
10th hole Tulfarris Golf Club & Blessington Lakes Autumn evening

10th hole Tulfarris Golf Club & Blessington Lakes Autumn evening

There seems to be a lot of polarisation over golf.  So many people play it and enjoy it but there are also a lot of people who think it a waste of space.

I am biased here.  I do like my round of golf and would argue that whatever else, golf courses tend to preserve a plot of nature – land, plants, scenery and wildlife – that otherwise might be destroyed in another commercial exercise.

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This post is about Tulfarris Golf Club, one of the many fine courses in Ireland, and indeed Wicklow, and one of the prettiest.

Aiming at the 14th green Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun with moon

Aiming at the 14th green Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun with moon

18th Fairway & Green from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

18th Fairway & Green from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

13th green & Blessington lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun

13th green & Blessington lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow in evening sun

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening

9th green and Blessington Lakes Tulfarris Golf Club Autumn evening

Putting from the fringe 9th Green Tulfarris

Putting from the fringe 9th Green Tulfarris

…………………….Tulfarris is a challenging course but its real charm lies in its trees and views which help even the worst rounds and encourage wildlife.   Deer, Foxes, Buzzards, Ravens, Little Grebes, Sedge Warblers, Mute and Whooper Swans as well as many other species can be found here.

Little Grebe feeding Baby on small lake Tulfarris Golf Club

Little Grebe feeding Baby on small lake Tulfarris Golf Club

Jackdaw at nest in Copper Beech Tulfarris GC Blessington

Jackdaw at nest in Copper Beech Tulfarris GC Blessington

Blackbird M with Leatherjacket in the rain Tulfarris GC Blessington

Blackbird M with Leatherjacket in the rain Tulfarris GC Blessington

Mute Swan claims victory on 8th Green Tulfarris

Mute Swan claims victory on 8th Green Tulfarris

At the end of the day, though, it is the magnificent Oak and Beech trees that really show Tulfarris off.

Oak Trees beside 15th Tee from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening

Oak Trees beside 15th Tee from 13th tee Tulfarris Golf Club Wicklow Autumn evening


Swans & Cygnets

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

If you go down to the pond today you’ll see 7 lovely cygnets under the watchful eyes of proud parents.

Well you will if you go to the pond in St. Stephen’s green, Dublin.  Today they are already a good deal bigger than in the photo from the end of May, but they are still seriously cute, swimming almost at random and getting into contortions as they copy their parents preening.

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These are our resident Mute Swans. (See  http://wp.me/p10npw-rX
for our winter visitors, the Whooper Swans).
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Mute Swans courting St Stephens Green

Mute Swans courting St Stephens Green

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Amazingly, they were conceived while the parents were still looking after the remnants of last year’s brood.
The courtship (foreplay?) is very elegant – a kind of dance by heads – and reminds me of Gannets or Great-crested Grebes although the Grebes’ dance is longer and more elaborate.
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On the other hand the mating act looks quite brutal to us with the female risking drowning.  It is not unlike the mating habits of many ducks.
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While one of their cygnets from last year looked on in an inquisitive way, people in the park sat or walked by, mainly oblivious.
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Mute Swans mating in fromt of their Cygnet St Stephens Green

Mute Swans mating in fromt of their Cygnet St Stephens Green

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5 cygnets were produced last year and I believe 4 lasted through the winter.  In fact there were still 4 hanging around home while the parents were ‘planning’ the current lot.
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Perhaps they are mimicking the current human trend of staying home longer.
Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

Cygnets Preening St Stephens Green, Dublin

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Charlie the Swan man with Swans & Cygnets & St Stephens Green 2012

Charlie the Swan man with Swans & Cygnets & St Stephens Green 2012

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When they emerge from the egg, the cygnets are fluffy grey and grow quite quickly.  After a few months they start to get brown feathers which are slowly replaced by white and they begin to look more like teenagers!
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This is one of last year’s mob, already the size of an adult.
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Part of the success may be due to Charlie, ‘the Swan Man’, who pretty much set himself up as the granddad last year and visited the family most days, sitting closely with them and feeding them.
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Mute Swans often have reasonably big clutches – usually 3 to 7 eggs – and families but the attrition rate is often high.  Those on the Grand Canal, for example are usually lucky to bring one cygnet up.  They fall victim to dogs, rodents, humans and sometimes disease, amongst others, despite the strong defence capabilities of the adults.

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Despite this, there are large numbers of Mute Swans in Dublin, particularly along the canal!

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The current cygnets are amusing visitors in St. Stephen’s Green.  May they live long and prosper!

Hungry Visitor

Sparrowhawk M BG through window

Male Sparrowhawk in Back Garden

The Geese are finally gone and Swallows and House Martins are alreadywheeling through the skies, shrieking and endlessly seeking flies.  Temperatures are up and there is great activity amongst the birds.

I think that is why a silent spell in the garden made me look out the window.  A quick shift in direction of grey wing in the bushes looked different, unusual.  Looking closer I was surprised to see a male Sparrowhawk that seemed to have come to feed on the nut-feeding small birds.

Having the camera close as I was about to head down to the lake, I got a few pics through the window, trying not to scare him.

The small birds seemed to have taken refuge in a woody bush and were now giving the vocals the full treatment, while himself, perched on top of the bush, seemed to be wondering how to get in or perhaps just hoping that one of the little ‘uns would make a break for it.

He seemed to be very keen on a meal so I had a go at opening the creaky back door a little and was lucky enough to be tolerated while I got some better shots.  Such a magnificent creature, albeit built to kill.  Eyes, beak clews, wings – all intended to allow sharp movement and precise, lethal hunting.

Its interesting to note the differences between the sexes – the female (see https://cliffsview.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/sparrowhawk-f-with-twig-st-annes-dublin-1732xl.jpg) is larger but duller.

Eventually he got fed up – not literally, unfortunately for him – and flew off low along the old hedge.

Fantastic encounter with a stunning creature.

Sparrowhawk M BG


Moving On

Greylag Geese in Blessington FieldA very brief ‘less cold’ spell seems to have convinced the Whoopers to migrate back north.  The Greylags were not so easily fooled and still graze in Willie’s field.

Walking down the Liffey quays towards the lifting bridge, a group of Brent Geese had gathered a couple of weeks ago.  They are probably about to, or in the middle of migrating.

It is interesting to note their amazing travels while we lament their passing.

Whoopers typically fly to Iceland and northern Europe from Ireland while Greylags mainly return to Iceland.

Brent Geese, quite common flying over Dublin or grazing on grass fields, including football fields, in the Winter, head for Greenland or Canada.

Brent Geese on Liffey at Toll Swing bridge Dublin.

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It seems that when temperatures are beginning to get tolerable for us, the winter migrant birds get hot under the collar and feel the pull for colder climes.

Of course the weather this Winter and ‘Spring’ has been pretty miserable – one of the coldest March months on record.

But spring really is in full swing regardless of the cold and frost.  Witness the Crows at their rookeries, the Jackdaws sitting on wires or branches in pairs, not to mention the cute spindly-legged foals and the gorgeous young lambs.

Sheep & Lamb in Frosty field Rathmore Co Wicklow


Frosty Birds

Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese Frosty field BlessingtonMid-March and Spring is still springing but the weather has regressed – frost, snow and hail-stones seem to be more common than warming termperatures.

So the Whooper Swans and Greylag geese are still close-by.

The very idea of sitting with your belly on the frozen ground is enough to give the collycobbles!

When the birds move you can see a ‘melted’ space!  It can leave a patchwork pattern on the field.Whooper Swans in Frost field with Greylag Geese BlessingtonGreylag Geese in Frost field Blessington


Garden Finches

ooper Swans & Greylag Geese Blessington from homeWell Spring is gathering pace and the weather is drier.  Magpies are very obvious as they build elaborate nests and birds are amorous.

However we haven’t yet seen the first frogspawn in our Wicklow imitation of the North Pole and the Whoopers and Greylg Geese are still next door.

Greylag Geese flying in to land BlessingtonWe are not, of course, wishing our lovely neighbours would leave.  Whooper Swan resting in field BlessingtonThey are brilliant to watch as they shuffle across the fields, making sure not to miss any thick grass and leaving the fields smoother than many lawnmowers!

It’s more a question of figouring out where we are in the natural order after cold and wet spells.

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Interest inside our garden was even greater yesterday.Redpoll F BG

Glorious finches had their day.  Hard on the heels of the Bullfinch and Greenfinches of last post (https://cliffsview.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/more-signs/), the sun (and the nut feeder) brought out quite a range of finch beauties, some of which hadn’t been seen too much this year:-

  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Redpoll
  • Siskin
  • Goldfinch

and a special!

Goldfinch BG.

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Chaffinch M with Siskin behind in BG

Male Chaffinch with Siskin behind in back garden

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As I was getting accustomed to the array of finches battling for position on the feeder (not really a battle when the smaller but quite aggressive Siskin is about!), I thought I saw something different.

Could it be a bird long on my list of wannasees?

Sure was.  My first sighting of a Brambling.  It was a female in winter colouring, similar to a Chaffinch but a bit more striking without being more colourful.

She didn’t stay too long,  A coulpe of short visits was all I got but it has taken a long time to see…. and to find it at home!

Happy Days!

Brambling F W BG

Female Brambling in back garden

Brambling F W BG


More Signs

Today a Fiach Dubh (Raven) flew over the garden carrying twigs, presumably for a nest.  Bullfinch Male Back GardenPerhaps Féile Bríde still does herald Spring!

To make the cold, wet day even better, a male Corcán coille (Bullfinch) visited, seeking old seed heads in our very un-manicured ghairdín.  This must be one of the most beautiful birds in Ireland and seems to be almost out of place.Greenfinch Female on garden nut feeder
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Chomh maith leis sin, do bhí cúpla Glasán darach ag beathú ar cnónna.  Greenfinchs are threatened by Trichomonosis disease caused by a parasite and their numbers have fallen significantly.  Bhí mé lán sásta to see them after a bit of an absence.

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Greenfinch male in garden tree

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Mar fhocal scoir, the cúpla focal above are in memory of the great Eamon de Buitléar who died a week ago.

Not only was he a very acomplished musician and film maker but he brought Gaelic into his films in a simple easy way that was so welcome after the force feeding that many suffered in schools.

Hi enduring legacy, however, must be the number of people he introduced to Irish Wildlife or that had their passion nurtured.

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Ar dheis Dé, go raibh a anam.


Ria Formosa, Algarve

Garrao Beach, Faro, AlgarveGolden beaches, blue skies, warm weather and good food and wine – sounds like an ideal holiday location.

Add in fantastic bird life and you have a hell of a location!   The Ria Formosa lagoon is a designated Natural Park in Portugal’s Algarve, that stretches from Faro to past Tavira in the East.  It is a mixture of lagoons, salt pans and islands that attracts hundreds of thousands of birds, especially during migration.

In early Spring, we had the pleasure of a great week in Tavira and the neighbourhood.  Tavira itself is lovely and there is a wide variation of sights, habitations and things to do nearby.

Cormorant European race sinensis calling Algarve
White Stork mounting mate on Chimney nest Castro MarimReasonably common are Cormorants of the European race, Sinsensis, which have brilliant white head gear, in breeding plumage.

White Storks take most of the vantage posts, waiting on their sites for their returning mates to join them from Africa or building nests together, accompanied by loud, far carrying ‘clacking’ as they greet each other with their beaks.

The birds can be seen and heard in most of the towns and on old factory chimneys elsewhere.Curlew Sandpiper walking in inlet W of Tavira Algarve
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In the salt Pans themselves a wide range of waders and larger birds can be found.  These include Curlew Sandpipers, Greater Flamingos, Kentish Plover and the speciality species, the Spoonbill.

Kentish Plover spring Cabanas Algarve

This unusual bird with a long, strong beak equipped with a spoon-like tip, is hard to miss.

Greater Flamingo and juv salt pan Fuzeta AlgarveSpoonbill feeding in Environmental Education Centre of Marim National Park of Ria Formosa Olhao

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Black-winged Stilt imm salt pans Tavira.

Common in the pans are Whimbrel, Redshanks, Greenshanks, Little Egrets and Black-winged Stilts.Black-winged Stilt & reflection beak open salt pans Tavira

Golden Plover W walking in Gilao river TaviraAlso to be found are Golden Plover, extravagant Hoopoes and skulking Water Rails.Hoopoe with grub in tree Isla da Tavira AlgarveWater Rail in inlet W of Tavira Algarve

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Stone Curlew flying Isla da Tavira AlgarveMore remote areas such as on the islands, can throw up Stone Curlews.
Bluethroat M Quinta do Lago Algarve
Gadwall M&F in pool in EECM National Park of Ria Formosa OlhaoSurrounded by oppulent golf clubs, lakes and ponds host many birds that are often easily seen reasonably close. This includes the beautiful Bluethroat, large birds such as Flamingos, Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis as well as ducks such as Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard.Red-crested Pochard M&F Vale de Lobo AlgarveGlossy Ibis at Vale de Lobo Algarve
Crested Lark Vale de Lobo AlgarveSandwich Tern flying Vila Real AlgarveCrested Larks are quite common.Bonelli's Eagle Fl flying Mertola Algarve

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Of course there are also plenty of Gulls – particularly Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed as well as terns, particularly Sandwich Terns.

Shrub birds such as Serin, Zitting Cisticola and Waxbills can be seen near the towns while further inland you can see a good range of raptors.  We saw Kestrels, Lesser Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and Bonnelli’s Eagles.

.Sun declining over Tavira & 4 Aquas

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A beautiful place and a nature paradise.


Darwin & those Finches

Sunset over Galapagos Is In 1835 – no don’t worry I’m not a history fan – Darwin arrived in the Galagagos Island group on board the HMS Beagle, and proceded to cause both controversy and scientific breakthrough.

The controversy was not about collecting samples of incredible species that continue to be in great danger, but rather about the belief that the knowledge he was bringing was somehow denying God. Go figure!

Anyway the breakthrough was seeing that species had evolved to best exploit their environment and the niche they found themselves in, by ‘natural selection’.  This theory essentially held that tiny differences within individuals of a species tended to be  bred on in a magnifying way if the peculiarity was useful – i.e. helped in finding food, mating or surviving and that conversely, peculiarities that made the individual less attractive or strong etc. tended to die out due to the ‘survival of the fittest’ primciple.Large Ground Finch eating Punta Suarez  Espanola Galapagos
This theory has revolutionised the scientific view and led to many more studies so that it is taken as gospel (sorry) today.

Darwin collected many samples including a number of finches from different islands and it is these finches that are generally considered to be at the root of his theory.

Small Ground Finch F Rabida Is GalapagosDifferent  islands, for example, contained very similar finches but with slight differences that could be accounted for by the topology, type of cover or available food. Where seeds were small, beaks were small and where seeds were large or tough, beaks were large.

Green Warbler Finch highlands Santa Cruz Is
Because the islands were separate, moving apart and hadn’t been interfered with by us, there would have been little interbreeding between different islands and the differences must have been down to selective breeding.

Medium Ground Finch M on beach Gardner Bay EspanolaThere were finches for most ‘purposes’ – Green Warbler Finches with narrow beaks for picking insects; Medium Finches for medium seeds and even Cactus Finches, specialised in boring into Cactus flesh.Common Cactus Finch F feeding on Prickly Pear Cactus Santa Cruz Is

Unaccustomed as my eyes were to identifying these finches  I may have erred in naming.  It seems similar to identifying our warblers!

San Cristobal Mockingbird Cero Brujo San Cristobal Galapagos

San Cristobal Mockingbird Mimus melanotis Cero Brujo San Cristobal

Galapagos Mockingbird Santa Cruz Is

Galapagos Mockingbird Mimus parvulus on Santa Cruz Is

Although more celebrated, it was not the Finches that gave Darwin his first insight into this selection process but rather the Mockingbirds that he had also collected.

Floreana Mockingbird Floreana Is Galapagos

Floreana Mockingbird Mimus trifasciatus on Floreana Is Galapagos

Espanola Mockingbird on beach Gardner Bay Espanola

Espanola Mockingbird Mimus macdonaldi on beach Gardner Bay Espanola

Apparently, unlike with the Finches,  he kept note of the island from where he had collected the Mockingbird samples.  This led him to notice distinct differences in characteristics of birds from different islands.  The first Mockingbirds encountered on Chatham Is. (now San Cristobal) seemed similar to those collected previously in South America.  Birds collected on a number of different islands, proved to have different markings on their cheeks and chest and different sized bills.

Hopefully these great creatures that survived Darwin and many other collectors can now survive the tourist boom.


Kite Flying

Red Kite flying Avoca WicklowIt has to be admitted – I have been upset at not seeing the new arrivals.

Majestic Eagles and noisy Woodpeckers have eluded me so far.  Despite the best attempts of some misguided, ignorant land-owners to poison them, Golden Eagles can now be seen in Donegal and elsewhere while the South West boasts the huge Sea Eagles.

But most annoying has been the lack of Kite sightings.

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Black Kite flying Menaggio Italy.

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I have seen quite a few Black Kites in Europe as well as in Africa where they are seen like crows – everywhere and a nuisance.

However the only Red Kites I had seen were in England or Wales and then only from a car on the motorway!

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Red Kite flying Avoca Wicklow
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Now the Red Kites introduced to Wicklow from young born in Wales, have done quite well in Ireland and mostly haven’t wandered too far away from Wicklow.  All the more reason for an interested enthusiast who looks and seeks, to have seen them!  And they really are beautiful birds – wide wingspan, rusty, chestnut colour with white patches on the wings and a forked tail.  What’s not to like?

Anyway, determined to try again, we returned to Avoca, a spot where they are supposed to frequent.  Yet again it seemed to be a wild Kite chase.  On the verge of moving on, we decided to give it 15 minutes more.  What a reward!

First there were two of them high and not close.  then a lone Buzzard passed high overhead.

Encouraged, we gave it another 15 minutes.  This time they came close enough to be seen very clearly without binoculars.

And what a sight.  They do seem to me to be more striking than the Blacks – more colourful, more contrasty – and possibly less skulking!  Then again, maybe that’s reading too much into it!

They’re back! 

See them before the poisoners have their way!


New Creations – What grows in your Garden?

Cherry Trees FGIt’s hard to say that one season is your favourite when so many wonderful things happen  or are to be seen in every season, every year.  But there is something extra special about the growing season – Spring early Summer – the creation time.

We are lucky to live in a rural setting with a wildlife-friendly garden.  Friends may say that the garden is the wildest thing around, but that’s another story!

Every year the garden seems to burst out, encroach and almost threaten, such is the growth in trees, shrubs, grass and other vegeatation.

Making use of the renewed cover, a range of birds ususally nest.

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Great Tit at nest box Box back garden

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This year we we were fortunate to host a number of home makers.  Of those that we know nested in the gardens, there were Great Tits in the nest box at the end of the back garden (now now, less tittering please);
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Woodpigeon Pair BG.

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Woodpigeons nested in both gardens;
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Starling arriving at Nest box with Leatherjacket & Worm FG.

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Starlings brought up a strong brood in the nestbox on the garage.  This was set up as a replacement for the hole in the garage they had used as a nest site before it was repaired!  They are currently feeding the second brood!

House Sparrow M BG
House Sparrow M with nut at feeder BG
House Sparrow Nest under Soffit front of house
House Sparrows are supposed to be in decline but you wouldn’t think it around our house.

Adabtable, they have learned to hang on to the nut feeder and get at the nuts. They have also successfully bred for the last few years in ventilation holes in the side of the house. This year they also used the creeper under the soffit at the front of the house! They make quite a racket in the back garden.
Sparrow F feeding baby BG
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Once again however, Lizzie was the star of the show. She and hubby once again eschewed the old nest box in the Crab Apple tree to use our camera box attached to the house.

Lizzie 2 (Lizzie 2012) had tried to nest earlier in the spring following our original Lizzie family last year (Lizzie 1).  So we call this lady, Lizzie 3 – of course they could be all the same.

Robin on bird table BGWe are reasonably sure that Robins and Wrens nested nearby and who knows what else?  Magpies have nested most years but not this one – there must be higher trees somehere near!

Of the non-avian animals, we have seen Mice, Rats, Hedgehog, Fox and Badgers but the cutest little Fox cubs appeared this year.

Fox cub near den BGSuspicious of their presence, they were captured first on a trail camera but were tame enough early on, to allow a quiet and reasonably still person to observe and photograph them.



Spring Sprung

Gulls on frozen pond St Stephens Green Dublin

Early Spring started with some severe cold as it often does.

The ponds in St. Stephen’s Green Dublin were almost completely frozen over.

However the popular desire for some better weather seemed to gradually make an improvement.  March saw the beginnings of real Spring effects.

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Cherry Blossom St Stephens Green Dublin

Flowers emerged.

In Dublin’s parks bulbs such as Crocus, Daffodil and Bluebell were followed by more ornamental blooms. Eventually Cherry Blossom brought cheer and colour as well as a stronger belief that the Summer was near.
Robin amongst cherry petals Merrion Square Dublin
Mallard Duck Baby amongst reeds Grand Canal Dublin

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Birds had their territories marked and defended.  They boldly advertised for mates with their colours stronger than ever.

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Birds nested.

Ducks tend to dissappear from ponds and lakes and suddenly re-emerge with a string of tiny fluff-balls that seem too light to stay on the water let alone paddle forward!

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Moorhen on Nest Grand Canal Dublin

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Others like the Moorhen seem to flaunt their home-building skills with sticky nests built on floating leaves or rubbish, close to the bank and people.

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Little Grebe feeding Baby on small lake Tulfarris Golf Club

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In slightly more secluded areas, shyer birds nested and reared their bambinos with few to notice. This Little Grebe regularly fed its young on a small lake on Tulfarris golf course very close to golfers.  Of course (and more so on course!), golfers have other things than wildlife on their mind.

Mute Swan on grass St Stephens Green DublinJackdaw at nest in Copper Beech Tulfarris GC Blessington
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Woodpigeon on Nest St Stephens Green Dubli

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Swans were nesting in many locations. They preened and did their hissy protection routine.

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Jackdaws found holes in old trees to make their nests like this one, also in Tulfarris Golf Club, while Woodpigeons can make nests in nearly any tree with cover and often nest a number of times from Spring to Autumn.  This one in St, Stephen’s Green was just above passers by!

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Rain in Ireland can always be guarranteed although seldom heavy.  This male Blackbird made use of the rain in Tulfarris to find worms for its hungry chicks.

Blackbird M running in the rain Tulfarris GC Blessington


Galapagos

Bartolome & Sandiago Is view from Bartolome Volcano GalapagosThere are some places in the world that are beyond the normal –  the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef …

The islands off the coast of Ecuador are in that class but offer something different.

They are remote, intriguing, volcanic.  They are of different ages and have different habitats.  But most of all they are teeming with wildlife and many of the species are endemic.

Most have not grown scared of us.

Marine Iguana Espanola race on rocky beach Punta Suarez Galapagos.

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Marine Iguana Espanola race head resting on rock Gardner Bay GalapagosThere be monsters there!

Surrounded by such a sight, you have to be careful not to walk on them!

Sally Lightfoot Crab on rock Gardner Bay Espanola Galapagos

Even the crabs are ‘other-worldly’ in this lost paradise.

There are also the most delicate creatures, like the tiny Storm-petrel which can walk on water even in rough seas,

Elliots Storm_petrel walking on sea off Bartolome Isand Red-billed Red-billed Tropicbird flying off Floreana Is GalapagosTropicbirds.

Living on a boat and walking and smimming / snorkelling around the islands for a week is healthy as well as fascinating.

You get to sea both land and sea creatures.

The latter include the impressive

Galapagos Sea Lion M off beach Cero Brujo San Cristobal GalapagosGalapagos Sea Lions, which populate many of the beaches, patrol the shore-line and even ‘loll about’ on benches in the few island towns!

Galapagos Sea Lions resting Puerto Baquerizo Moreno seafront San ChristobalGalapagos Sea Lions on Gardner Bay beach Espanola IsOther mammals include the unhurried Galapagos Giant Tortoise, found on some higher grounds.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise eating leaves highlands centre Santa Cruz Is

On the aviation side, the attractions include Blue-footed Boobies (wonder did Elvis get inspiration here?),Blue-footed Booby flying Las Bachas Santa Cruz Galapagos

and  the ostentatious Magnificent Frigatebirds.Magnificent Frigatebird M displaying in bush nest Seymour North Galapagos

Brown Pelicans are a familiar sight.

Brown Pelican head Cero Brujo San Cristobal Galapagos

Despite all these amazing birds, the most impressive in some ways are the Waved Albatrosses

Waved Albatross flying over Punta Suarez Espanola GalapagosWaved Albatross calling Punta Suarez Espanola Galapagos

This really is a wild and fun place.  Hopefully it can withstand the intrusion of tourism.

Galapagos Sea lions playing off Rabida Is Galapagos


River Liffey. Part 2 Anna’s Journey

Dingy in sail race LiffeyCommon Tern flying with fish Dublin Harbour nr Pigeon House Dublin

Black_headed Gull hovering Liffey docks

      Anna’s   Journey

Green Bouy No 14 in Dublin Harbour nr Pigeon HouseBlack Guillemot & crab Liffey Quays

Halpenny Bridge & Central Bank Dublin

Liffey Source Pool

Snow covered Kippure from frozen Blessington Lakes

Gorse & Liffey at Coronation Plantation

Liffey tumbling through rocks at Coronation Plantation

Rainbow Blessington LakesLittle Grebe on partly frozen Liffey at boat clubs Dublin


Roots Blessington LakesLiffey at Leixlip from air

K Club Hotel & Liffey Straffan Kildare

Stream entering frozen Blessington Lake

Whooper Swan group flying over Blessington Lakes


4s race Metro Regatta Blessington Lakes

Liffey Weir Lucan

Peregrine flying & calling

Customs House & Spire from Liffey

Liffey Cruise Boat & Jeanie Johnston

Liffey Quays Dublin

Ferry coming into Dublin Port; Bailey Lighthouse & Howth in back
Liffey Mouth & Howth from South Wall
Don't go for the destination
Dockland and SpeedboatXmas Lights Liffey Quays DublinGo for the Journey


Lizzie 2012?

Blue Tit on Cotoneaster bush BG

Having cleaned out the camera nest box not too long ago, I was surprised to see the Blue Tits nearby recently and entering a couple of times.

The starlings had used their nest box on the garage over winter as a roost and had been a bit more active in the mild weather recently.  So just in case I checked the view in the Blue Tit box and was delighted to find a good base for a nest already in place.

I don’t know if it is the same pair or not but we’ll probably call herself Lizzie anyway.

Wishing them well for the future.


River Liffey. Part 1 Freshwater

Best known as Dublin’s river and for its tidal sectionKippure from Liffey Head Bridge and port area, the river Liffey rises in county Wicklow and tumbles down gathering tributaries before calming and spreading out into Blessington Lakes.  it then crosses into Kildare and meanders around before ending up for only a small part of its journey, in Dublin.

Raven Silhouette over LiffeyIts source lies in the heathery bog land near Kippure mountain in a small dark peaty pool.

Expansive and fresh, this is the land of Ravens.  Their far-carrying ‘croak’ and unusual tail shape are distinctive.

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Click Beetle at Liffey side.

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In fact the area often looks pretty deserted of wildlife at first glance.  However patience will usually be rewarded and there is also plenty of insect and smaller  life in the water and bog nearby if the beauty of the landscape doesn’t grab you.

Grouse and other ‘game’ birds used to be reasonably common amongst the heather but I haven’t seen any up there in a long time.

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Coronation Plantation & Liffey.

Gathering pace, the Liffey’s rocky descent continues through the Coronation Plantation, now looking more like a river.
Grey Wagtail F flying Liffey Ballysmutton
Merlin can sometimes be seen here while Grey Wagtails often flit from rock to rock.

Dipper with food LiffeyDippers like fast water with plenty of insects and bugs and this section of the Liffey is nearly ideal.

Dippers nest at a number of locations along the river, each pair keeping a lenght of river for their territory.  Sand Martins also nest here where the river bank is suitable.

Sand Martin flying LiffeyDescending further in a wide meandering circle around Dublin, the volume of water increases and the flow becomes a bit calmer.  It flows through Blessington Lakes where Great Crested Grebes and a variety of Duck can be seen including Goldeneye.  Past the Poolaphuca dam and power station the river enters Kildare.  Getting nearer  to Dublin, Herons become more common.Heron on Lock Liffey Lucan

Reaching Dublin the water is non-tidal up beyond the Strawberry Beds.  Birds such as Swans, Cormorants  and Little Grebes come to the fore. 3 Swans on Liffey Dublin

 

Cormorant Flying over Liffey………………

Serenity is now fast disappearing as the Liffey Little Grebe & young Liffey
Liffey running through Dublin Centre from airencounters the buzz of the city.


Wildlife – Saint Stephen’s Green Dublin

Right in the heart of Dublin City, Lake SSG DublinSt. Stephen’s Green is an oasis from shops and offices.  People come here to relax, to hear music from the bandstand, to sunbathe and to have their sandwich for lunch.

But this small green haven is also an oasis for wildlife.  A small stream and waterfall feed a lake / pond and a mixture of well kept lawn and flower beds contrast beautifully with large trees and thick bushes.

The lake is the usual focus for people looking for wildlife and as usual this is well represented by Ducks.

Mallard are the most numerous but there are a good few Tufteds.

In late Summer the ducks moult and tend to sit around in lazy non-descript groups keeping their feathers dry.

It is one of those places where a pocket camera can deliver good pictures.

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Mallard Duck M St Stephens Green Dublin
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While common, Mallard, at least the males, have really brilliant colours that change depending on the angle of view and the sun.

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Male Tufted Ducks on the other hand are very formal Black and White and seem to resemble the shape of the bathroom ‘rubber duck’.

Tufted Duck M St Stephens Green

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From time to time more exotic ducks arrive.  This year there were a few Mandarin Ducks.  The female  below was resching for the Willow leaves for which they have a ‘sweet tooth’.

Mandarin Duck F or juv reaching for willow St. Stephen's Green

Lesser Black_backed Gull St Stephens Green Dublin

Regarding the ever-present Gulls, Black-headed and Herring Gulls predominate but other species can be seen like this Lesser Black-backed Gull which has yellow legs and whose back is a grey in between the light grey of the Herring Gull and the near black of the Great Black-backed Gull.

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Common birds such as Robins, Chaffinches, Rooks, Thrushes and Blackbirds roam freely here.

Blackbird M St Stephens Green.

As they are used to people, it is often possible to get closer than usual so that more details of the birds can be seen.  It is hard to beat whiling away a few minutes in the city park with a Blue-tit taking a bath right beside you.

Blue Tit bathing St Stephens Green

Mute Swan drinking St Stephens GreenEveryboby’s idea of a park bird, the Mute Swan, is accessible as always but nore unusually, Herons can sometimes be seen up close if care is taken.Heron on Rock SSG Dublin

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Grey Squirrel SSGMammals live in the park too but as usual are not as easily seen.  Most of the rodents such as Rats and Mice go about their foraging largely un-noticed.   Not so the Grey Squirrel which is now unfortunately found in most of the city’s parks.

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Young Foxes playing St. Dtephen's Green

A surprise for many will be the foxes which live in the park and go mostly unseen!  How many commuters pass by with heads bowed or with heavy thoughts and unseeing eyes on warm mornings when the foxes sunbathe or frolic in the foliage?

Moorhen struggling with large leaf on nest SSG pondLet’s close this short view of the park’s wildlife with a common, likeable bird, the Moorhen.

Strong colours, a busy demeanour and huge feet make them, for me, the cutest of the parks residents.

Every year they nest and rear young, many of whom are killed by predators.  Many times their nests are flooded or vandalised and yet they rebuild.  No wonder they are so common in waterways around the country.

Moorhen baby walking in pond SSGMoorhen looking to feed baby SSG pond
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Finally a big thanks to all those responsible for keeping the park so clean and vibrant and a home for so many wild things.

Flower display SSG


Wildlife in Dublin City

Dublin from WestAlthough we often prefer to go somewhere quiet to watch birds and wildlife, there are many opportunities and good places in Dublin city.

The streets see common birds such as Gulls, Crows, Robins and starlings.  There is even the odd Peregrine.

But there are also a number of good places such as parks and waterways where birds, rabbits and foxes can be regularly seen.  These include the Phoenix Park, the Liffey, Trinity College, Blessington Basin, the Grand Canal and Saint Stephen’s Green.  I will do posts on some of these separately but here are some of the birds regularly seen in the city centre.Hooded Crow on wall with pedestrians Clanwilliam Place Dublin 

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In many cases the birds have become used to people and provided you don’t go too close or make sudden movements they can be quite close.

This closeness with nature feeling does help to take the edge of the concrete jungle.

For photography purposes, this means that a very long zoom is often not needed.

Herring Gull paddling for insects Dublin
Wood Pigeon Dublin

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Grassy oases around the city, can harbour a number of birds such Woodpigeons and Magpies, foraging or nesting.   Herring Gulls often ‘paddle’ their feet to disturb insects in the grass or soil.

Magpie Denzille Lane Dublin

‘In trees on some of the busy streets, such as O’Connell Street,  Wagtails, Starlings and Long-tailed Tits often roost in numbers in the winter.

It can also be surprising to see the places that birds find for nest sites in what seems at first sight a forbidding mass of hard surfaces.

Blue Tit coming out of Nest hole Dublin Castle

Other wilflife includes rats which have been a feature of Dublin for centuries, foxes which are becoming more and more common in our cities and Squirrels.

The Reds are a bit timid for cities and in any case are being overrun by the Greys which now inhabit a number of Dublin parks including Phoenix Park, Merrion Square and Stephen’s Green.Grey Squirrel in grass Merrion Square

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Insects of course are ever present but some go largely un-noticed.

Scale insects can be seen on many trees but look more like a fungus, if they are noticed at all.

Scale Insects on tree Dublin Castle

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Still most people’s favourite is the Robin.  Alll the parks in Dublin have friendly Robins that come very close as you sit, especially if you have a sandwich!

Robin juv on tree Merrion Square Dublin


Great Saltee

It really is a great place.Great Saltee

I have only been there twice but it has to be one of my favourite places in the world. 

I’ts not any any one thing.  You can see seabird colonies easier in Howth for example.  You can find ‘nicer’ islands where you can swim and sunbathe  with less disturbance and with good beaches.   There are much bigger seabird colonies in the UK and even in Ireland,  No it is the brilliant combination of super birds, good climate, off-shore location and the immediate belief that you are somewhere special.

The island is known for its sea-birds but its remoteness makes it a happy habitat for many small birds and of course, birds of Prey.  Also being so southerly, it is a good spot for migrating birds.

Razorbill on cliff, Great Saltee
Kittiwake on cliff nests, Great Saltee

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The ‘normal’ seabirds are here, clinging on to the cliffs like goats on mountain ledges. Razorbills with their heavy looking beaks on tiny cliff ledges and Kittiwakes – sort 0f black legged sea-gulls – on whatever bit of grass they can find on the sheer cliffs.

Just to look at them is exhilerating.

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Bridled Guillemot on side of cliff, Great SalteeFulmar flying in wind, Great Saltee

Razorbill taking off from cliff Great Saltee
Guillemots, auks, like the Razorbill, are also common.

This one is a ‘Bridled’ Guillemot, named after the monacle like stripe and circle on each eye.

Fulmars are here, often in the best nest sites. Like many other species here, they are hardly seen during most of the year, flying far out to sea, but they come to the cliffs to nest during the summer.

They look like Gulls but the tube on their bills relate them to the Albatrosses.

They have near complete mastery of the wind and fly with stiff wings.

The wind plays a big part in birds’ lives here, as at all cliff sites. Birds have to master landing on sharp edged rocks and just imagine launching yourself off a tiny ledge over rough sea far below the theacherous cliffs.

Birds use every bit of surface area to effect uplift when taking off, like this Razorbill with wings, tail and feet used to the maximum.
Razorbill offering sand eels Great Saltee

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Food is also key, both from a successful feeding and rearing point of view, as well as in formal rituals such as courting. The favoureed meal is Sand Eels and the availability of this food source generally dictates the success of the nesters each year.

Recently there has been a decline in Sand Eel numbers, believed to be due to climate change but also possibly due to over-fishing. Birds have been trying to make-do with other food but initial results look poor and the number of nests around our cliffs seems to have decreased.

Apart from the Black Guillemot, all our resident auks nest here. I seem to remember Black Guillemots nesting on cliffs when I was young, although that was a while ago. In any case they now seem to be more often seen in harbours and river mouths and they even nest and are commonly seen in the centre of Dublin.

Cormorants and Shags both have colonies of ragged nests. Other common birds here include Chiffchaffs, Wheatear, Reed Buntings, Rock Pipits and Choughs, while there are many Grey Seals around the coast.

Great Black_backed Gull approaching nest & Eggs Great Saltee
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee
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Above the Cliffs, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls nest.

The Great Black-backs are the perennial marauders and poachers and have a great view of unattended nests and babies from their high vantage points.

But the Saltees are best known for 2 bird species.

The first is quite obvious when you approach.
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee

Huge numbers of Gannets whirl in the air and dive straight down from a height for fish in the sea and 2 spots – one sea stack and one headland – are almost obscured in summer by Gannets and Gannet nests.

The nests are packed in, spaced to leave only enough room to avoid neighbouring beaks!

Apart from the noise and constant motion, the other noticable feature is the strong smell!

Overhaed there is constant activity with birds landing, taking off or over-flying looking for their patch, their nest or their chick.

Gannet flying overhead Great Saltee

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It is hard not to be impressed by this magnificent bird, even from a distance. Up close and personal, it is even more impressive.

Firstly it is big – the wings are nearly 2 metres wide and flying over you there is no mistaking who is the master!

Secondly, it looks great; white with black wing tips and a lovely pale yelow colour on the head.

Finally it seems to be built for speed or more precisely, for reducing air and water drag. Both ends, head and tail, are tapered and the eyes are recessed, making it perfect for diving through the air at spped, with wings swept back and cutting through the water to catch fish.

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Gannets approaching main runway Great Saltee
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Just like an airport, the wind direction determines the prevailing runway and a stream of Gannets follow each other into the air or back into the colony.

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Gannet looking down at colony Great Saltee

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Gannet on nest Great Saltee

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Is that a streamlined beak and head or what?

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The nest is a simple mound of seaweed and vegeatation and there is usually only 1 egg which is hatched after about 6 weeks.

Gannet babies Great Saltee

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The chicks start out as white balls of fluff but gradually turn black as the skin shows through.

They are fed for about 8 weeks before leaving to turn into white adults after a couple of years.

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Puffin on cliff top Great Saltee

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The other speciality here is the cutest and reason enough on its own, to come here

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Puffins nest in burrows at the top of the cliffs. They are very small, only around 30 cms head to tail and their wings seem too small to carry their puffy bodies. But when they fly, the wings extend more than you expect and seem to whirr to keep them airborne.

Puffin on cliff Great SalteeSea Parrots or Clowns they may be called but when you see them in their home habitat, it’s all other birds that look silly!

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If there were no birds here this would be a special place.

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With huge numbers of birds it is one of the places you just have to visit.

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But with all that and Gannets and Puffins and a magical persona, its a little piece of heaven!

Puffins overlooking bay Great Saltee