Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Moorhen

Autumn Passing

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Autumn Colours and Shankill river, Wicklow

Didn’t seem to last long but Autumn has given way to Winter.  While the weather was good this year, already the temperature has taken a dive.  Hopefully the great colours of the falling leaves were enjoyed by many.

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It was a busy time in many ways.  Apart from loads of photos to be takem, an old oil tank acting as a coal bunker needed to be removed (partly to make way for a new Water Butt and auto solar-powered watering system – but that’s another story) and it revealed a teeming environment of ‘low life’.

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Snails, slugs, spiders and other creepy crawlies behind old bunker

Not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s amazing what lives and dies beyond our normal gaze.

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Interesting contrast between these two pictures, don’t you think!

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Young Moorhen scavenging – St Stephen’s Green Dublin

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Autumn is the time that many young birds start to fend for themselves, entering another dangerous period of their short lives.

Moorhen often feed on droppings and other bits and pieces lying around as this young one was in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

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Great Northern Loon or Diver, Clew Bay, Mayo

 

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Autumn is also one of the main migration times as thousands of birds leave and arrive in search of more suitable conditions.  Twitchers will have been covering the miles to catch sight of unusual birds and rarities.

If not at the twitcher stage, it is still worth looking out for birds and sea creatures from our

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Red-throated Loon, Clew Bay, Mayo

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We recently saw both Great Northern and Red-throated Loons while strolling along the beach in Clew Bay, county Mayo.

Theses used to be called Divers in Europe.  They were in transitionary plumage – half way between breeding and Winter plumage.

Loons or Divers are large duck-like birds sometimes confused with cormorants from a distance.  They can stay underwater for a few minutes at a time during which you need to predict where they will surface.

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Rut Master calling in woods of Phoenix Park, Dublin

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Younger Fallow Deer Stags practice fight, Phoenix Park

Autumn and early Winter is the rutting time for  some deer species in this part of the world.

Right on Dubliners’ doorsteps, the Phoenix Park hosts several groups of Fallow deer.  They have been there for a few hundred years since they were placed for the hunting classes.

During the rut, Stags compete to have mating rights with groups of does.  This involves a lot of posturing, gutteral calls and some fighting using their prodigious antlers (which while impressive and photogenic, otherwise seem to be a bit of a nuisance, catching in grass and branches).

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Rut Master Stag with Does, Phoenix Park

Damage is sometimes done but mostly common sense prevails and the strongest (or most confident or biggest bluffer) prevails.

Fights can be witnessed – they often take place in the woods while the does sit and wait in the fields.  Young stags also practice fight which is a much more relaxed affair.

It is not a good idea to approach too closely at this testosterone charged time.  Indeed too many people get too close all year to animals that should be left wild.  Many also feed them bread, Mars bars and all sorts of stuff best left outside the park.

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Red Toadstool – Fly agaric – Clara Vale, Wicklow

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This is what it is all about – a contented if tired stag with ‘his’ hopefully content and fruitful does!

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Plants usually provide the most colourful and showy Autumn sights.

But it is not just the dying leaves – whose often brilliant colours are caused by the closing down of chlorophyll, resulting in the green leaves changing to a range of yellow to orange and red colours – that are notable.

Many plants show confident colour at this time.  For example Crocuses and shrubs such as Verbena often flower brightly and some with lovely scent.

Mushrooms also can be colourful although generally in nature, the most colourful are the most dangerous!  This one is said to be poisonous although rarely seems to kill humans.  It also has hallucinogenic properties.

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Curlew & Godwits against morning sun, Baltra beach,Mayo

Finally, this is the season of the wader.  Coasts everywhere are greeting larger and larger flocks and Geese and Swans are on their way, including ‘ours’, hopefully.

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The message as always is if you can get out there, well, GET OUT THERE.

Happy Winter


Life & Death

Irish Stoat running with Wood Mouse Tomnafinnoge Woods

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.


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


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