Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Wildlife

Paper Houses – Wasp Magic

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

Wasps, like spiders, divide people.  They can cause pandemonium or can be admired.

Norwegian Wasps on Nest under roof

Norwegian Wasps on Nest under our roof

As part of my case for admiring, consider their house building skills and team work. The picture above is of a partly built nest just discovered under our soffit, attached to TV cables. These are Norwegian Wasps, one of 6 species of social (meaning they are not solitary, rather than that they will have a chat with us!) wasps in Ireland.

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

Norwegian Wasps building Nest under roof

These nests are built, bit by intricate bit, by the wasps chewing wood into a pulp and pasting it into place at the nest.

Tree Wasp chewing on garden shed

Tree Wasp chewing on garden shed

The Tree Wasp above was found in early June nibbling away at the wood of our already weathered, garden shed.

The nest is started by the Queen and extended by the worker wasps produced. The inner construction is a honeycomb shape with hexaganol cells where the eggs are laid and the wasp larvae grow.

Yellow Paper Wasps working on nest, Santa Cruz

Yellow Paper Wasps working on nest, Santa Cruz

The picture above from the Galapagos Islands shows the early cells with eggs of Yellow Paper Wasps. And below is a similar example from Spain, showing the stem (Petiole) stuck to the leaf by the Queen.

Wasp nest under Palm leaf, Malaga, Spain

Wasp nest under Palm leaf, Malaga, Spain

Another nest in construction, this time by Paper Wasps (Polistes gallicus), near Montepulciano in Tuscany.

Paper Wasps building nest on back of sign post, Italy

Paper Wasps building nest on back of sign post, Italy

Outside these cells, a number of cover lobes are constructed so that the nest ends up in a roughly round shape with an entrace hole near the bottom.

Common and German Wasps are said to be more common.  They usually build their larger nests underground.

It can be difficult to identify different wasp species, especially if their faces are buried in flowers or you are concentrating more on getting out of the way!  However each species has distinctive black marks on the back and face.  This is a bit complicated by variations amongst Queens,Workers and Males.

Wasps & nest under large leaf, Ecuador

Wasps & nest under large leaf, Ecuador

These paper houses can be found all over the world, varying in shape size and rigidity.  The wasps are also quite adaptable.  A few years ago Tree wasps adopted a Tit Nest Box to host their nest.

Tree Wasps building nest in Tit box, Front Garden

Tree Wasps building nest in Tit box, Front Garden

Tree Wasps extending nest to cover Tit nest box hole

Tree Wasps extending nest to partially cover Tit nest box hole

Tree Wasp guarding entrance to nest in Tit nest box

Tree Wasp guarding entrance to nest in Tit nest box

Surely one of the wonders of the world! 🙂


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.

 

 


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


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


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.


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.



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


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


Sardinia E

Moving towards the East side of SardiniaWild Lavender Gennargentu Area Sardinia, wild flowers were still in abundance.  It was brilliant to see and smell Thyme, Lavender and other herbs growing wild in the hills and especially around the Gennargentu mountains. This is a special area with pigs roaming fairly freely, birds flying great scenery and relatively few people.

The descent to Cala Gonone – our HQ for the second half of the week – is through a tunnel from Dorgali which lightens to reveal a great vista of sea, town, hills and shitch-backs.

Cala Gonone vista from Tunnel Sardinia.

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Spotless Starling Orgosolo Sardinia
Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor)

Being in the middle of the Med, you’d expect the birds to be a bit different.

The usual Gull is the Yellow-legged Gull (see previous post); the main crow is Hooded; the common Sparrow is of the Spanish variety and the Starlings are Spotless. Actually, the island itself is also fairly clean, although we were there before the tourist season really took off.Spanish Sparrow Male on chair back hotel

We stayed in a hotel above the North end of town with great views of the coast that also brought us closer to the cliffs and wildlife.Cala Luna & Caves S of Cala Gonone Sardinia

Easily seen wildlife included Alpine and Pallid (see previous blog) Swifts, the ubiquitous Sardinian Warbler,

Alpine Swift flying Cala Gonone Sardinia
Alpine Swift flying Cala Gonone Sardinia
Sardinian Warbler Male
Male Sardinian Warbler

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Dragonflies and Italian Wall lizards.
Italian Wall Lizard
Emperor Dragonfly Male

Cirl Buntings were also reasonably numerous and we saw a few Purple Herons
Cirl Bunting Female Orgosolo E Sardinia
Purple Heron flying Lago di Tortoli Sardiniabut I was delighted to see an Eleanora’s Falcon flying over the cliffs. Eleanoras Falcon flying,Sardinia

These have a well established and known breeding colony off the SW of the island.

There is also a Griffon Vulture colony – reasons, if needed, to return!

Cala Gonone Pier Sardinia from boat


Frrrr…eezing – Review of 2010 – December

DecemberHeavy Snow & Icicles

If the weather isn’t the warmest now, last December was making records for long and deep cold spells.  Heavy snow and ice continued from November causing havoc in a country not used to or prepared for, such conditions.

Many found themselves without the use of their cars – either abandoned on the road or stuck like ours in the driveway.  Even after digging out the car, negotiating the local road was tricky and it was thereafter left each evening  at the front of the driveway where the snow was kept to a reasonable level.  Actually the snow was only the top layer.  Most of the surface was very hard ice.

Icicle 'Excalibur' Blessington

Small drips from gutters had turned into icicles while any heavier drips made for formidable weapons.  One of ours was named ‘Excaliber’.

Heavy Snow on bird bath

Obviously conditions were very rough for wildlife and particularly birds.  Nuts in bird feeders were icy, bird baths were stacked up with snow and wild food was rare.

In Dublin, Stepen’s Green pond was completely frozen with birds skating, unwittingly on the surface.

Birds walk on water Stephen's GreenThe Phoenix Park looked fabulous on a walk from Islandbridge via the Park to Chapelizod and back by the Liffey.

We were first rewarded for being out in the freezing cold by the sight of a pair of Otters playing about in the Liffey.

Following that, deer were ambling across the road in the Park.

Fallow Deer stags crossing road in snow. Phoenix Park, Dublin

We were a little surprised to see as much wildlife as we did but they were probably as surprised by the weather as we were.

Fallow Deer stags in woods snow.  Phoenix Park

The liffey was partly frozen and birds did their best to survive.

Heron resting on Liffey in snow & ice near Chapelizod, Dublin

Wigeon drake with snow coat on LiffeyCormorant on Liffey near Island BridgeLittle Grebe on partly frozen LiffeyRedwing on Liffey in snowWalking onto frozen Blessington Lake
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Skulking in the reeds, we also got some fleeting views of a Water Rail.

Blessington lakes looked stunning over Christmas.  Risking a very cold wetting, we walked out over the lake for quite a distance before sense took over.

Trees were heavy with snow and blue skies brought out the brilliant white of the snow.

Blackbird in snowy tree Blessington LakesOverhead, Whooper Swans flew out over the lake looking for the water.

Whooper Swan group flying over Blessington Lakes

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Ice Crystals on frozen Blessington Lake
Ice Crystals on frozen Blessington Lake

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The cold spell was harsh and pretty inconvenient but it was seriously beautiful.


Fox News

The various bird nesting activities didn’t make me forget the foxes but they weren’t appearing.  So it was brilliant last week to see a pair of cubs playing in the back garden beside the seat, less than 20 metres away from the house windows.Fox Cub in back garden twilight

Behind these windows we had quickly gathered at first sight of these lovely animals behaving like young boys.  They play fought, jumped and chased, quite ignoring us and everything else.

The light was dimming fast and the twilight wasn’t what the camera was looking for but for once, seeing them and their seemingly contented, happy behaviour was nearly enough.

At one stage one of the youngsters approached from behind the bushes to about 2 or 3 metres from our bedroom window – a treat to see. 

We saw them a couple of times since but they haven’t been as active.


Baltimore and Cork Area – Review of 2010 – October

October

Enjoyed Magners New Lansdowne Rd Stadium - Leinster Vs Munster, Magners LeagueLeague Rugby at the new Lansdowne Rd. – Leinster Vs Munster – proper rugby!

The stadium seating is very steep so that you are really looking down on the players, especially if youy are in row zzz!  Actually some of the roof supports get in the way a bit up there but its still pretty good and has a much better atmosphere than Croker.

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Grey Seal on Liffey Walk Bridge, Dublin ,

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In Dublin, a Grey Seal had taken to lying on the water-calming floats of the walk bridge over the Liffey.

Many passer-bys were confronted by wildlife without having to go anywhere!

He (or she) seemed to be quite happy and non-chalent lying on the rounded floats – I don’t know how he (or she) stayed above water!

Spider, Tetragnatha extensa (Male), cocooning prey in web in back garden.

Incidentally, how come the floats are still broken?  How come they broke so soon on what was supposed to be a great piece of engineering?  And why aren’t the builders / designers fixing them for free?

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In the garden, spiders were busy.  This one on its web between thistles, was cocooning its prey.

This is a reasobable sized spider – a Tetragnatha extensa, I suspect – but compare its size with the tiny spider with an even tinier fly, in between the ‘bristles’ atop the nearby thistle head!

Spider, Xysticus cristatus, Female, with prey on Thistle head back gardenThere really does seem to be a place for everybody!

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Castlehaven Bay area from Reen Pier
Castlehaven Bay area from Reen Pier

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Near the end of October we took a short trip to Cork centred on Baltimore.

Rosscarbery Bay & Little Island Strand, Owenahinchy, Co. Cork
Rosscarbery Bay & Little Island Strand, Owenahinchy, Co. Cork

This is a beautiful part of Ireland that rewards visitors with a wide range of scenery, from wild coasts to long sandy beaches, calm bays and fast mountain streams.

Oystercatcher amongst mussels near Baltimore Cork.

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We didn’t see anythig special in the bird line – perhaps the scenery was too good!  But there were plenty of the usual suspects such as Oystercatvhers – shown here amongst the mussels – and Black-tailed Godwits.

Black_tailed Godwit resting, Kinsale Harbour, Commoge.

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Seafari rib. Baltimore Harbour, Cork.

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We had intended to get over to Cape Clear but never did!  Will have to go back soon.

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Instead we took a sea tour in a rib which was great. Apart from being enjoyable in its own right as a sort of offshore Disney ride, the scenery was completely different from offshore and there was lots of wildlife to see.

.Common Dolphin jumping, off Cape Cllear Island and Baltimore coast

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The skipper expected to see Whales at this time of year but apparently they hadn’t come inshore as much yet that year.

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We did see Seals, Gannets and quite a few Dolphin schools – don’t know what they were learning but they seemed to be enjoying it!

Black-headed Gull living dangerously, Dirk Bay, Co.Cork
Every day do one thing that frightens you … like this Gull!

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The region is well worth a visit or two.  Apart from the birds, animals and flora that you just have to see, the terrain (and sea) is wild like it’s meant to be with sharp rugged cliffs and strong breaking waves.

Fishing boat leaving Sherkin Island and Baltimore Harbour mouth at Sunset from Beacon
Fishing boat leaving Sherkin Island and Baltimore Harbour mouth at Sunset

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Best of all after a tiring day exploring you can enjoy good food spectacular sunsets and maybe a glass of wine.


SW France, Pyrenees – Review of 2010 – September

September

Sun rising over Collioure, France
Sunrise over Collioure France

Sun, Sea, good food and new birds – it must be holidays away time.  Last year we went to the SW corner of France to a town called Collioure, for 1 week and to the pyrenees for the next.

Collioure is lovely with castles, great food and fine beaches.  There is also plenty of wildlife both around the town and nearby.

Around the town I saw Crested Tits, Sardinian Warblers and Golden Orioles amongst other more normal species.  Outside the bird world there were Purple Hairstreak and Swallowtail butterflies, Hummingbird Hawk moths, Hornets and Robber Flies, Wall and Iberian Rock Lizards and Marbled Swimming Crabs.

Kentish Plover Winter plumage at Etang de Canet near Perpignan

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Nearby there were some good birding spots including the Etang de Canet.  Birds spotted included Chilean Flamingos,Little Egrets, Kentish Plover (left) and a Montagu’s Harrier.

There were quite a few Crag Martins around some of the old towns.

Some had nests on the roof beams of a Church entrance.

Crag Martin on nest in roof of church entrance
Crag Martin on nest in roof of church entrance

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Ordesa Mountains & rio Ara fromTorla Aragon Spain
We went to the Pyrenees via the Dali Museum in Fugueres and the City of Girona, both places of interest in their own rights.  But nothing prepared us for the magnificance of the Pyrenees and particularly, the Ordesa Valley.

The air is fresh, the water sparkling clear and the views incredible.  If you never saw any wildlife you would probably still be happy.

This is pretty close to the view from where we stayed – an incredible sight to open the window to, the first evening we arrived!

There are brilliant views everywhere and there are brilliant birds and other animals but you have to be prepared for some good hikes and severe slopes to make the most of such a brilliant place.

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Egyptian Vulture flying ove Rio Ara Valley Torla Spain.

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If you’re in the Pyrenees, you might expect to see Vultures.  There are plenty here.

We saw this Egyptian Vulture beside Torla, where we were staying, circling around and gaining height in the thermals.

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Dipper in river Ara, Bujaruelo Valley, Spain
Ordesa y Monte Perdido is a national park and the oldest Nature Reserve in Spain. It encompasses the valley and surrounding mountains, including Monte Perdido (Mont Perdu in France or Lost Mountain) reaching 3,355 metres.

In the Summer season it can get quite busy and cars are banned from the park. Access is by foot or bus from Torla. But you don’t have to walk far from the bus stop in the ‘Prairie’ – a flat grassy area on the valley floor – to get away from the crowds.

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Up in the higher valleys, dare-devil Dippers seem to be on every section of every river.

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Large male Mountain Grasshopper (Stauroderus scalaris) Ordesa Valley
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With so much clean air and fresh water, insects abound, especially on the warmer days.

In some parts you could not look at the grass without seeing Grasshoppers although it is their sounds that first brings attention.

Female Black Redstart with insect Ordesa Valley Spain.

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There are some great walks most of them involving steep climbs when you can be sorry for the extra camera lens you brought!

We were rewarded with Vultures, a Wall Creeper, Jays, Ravens, Reed and Willow Warblers.

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At the end of the valley is the Circo de Soaso, a classic glacial ‘cirque’ at the head of a glacial valley.

Here the valley is broader and once again meadow like.  Birds seen here included Water Pipit and Black Redstart.

Waterfalls on river Arazas, Ordesa Valley, Spain
Waterfalls on river Arazas, Ordesa Valley, Spain

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The higher walks are a must if your legs allow.  The views are stunning and you can get closer to the vultures and other birds and animals.

However the valley can be walked along the river, although even this is a bit hilly.  Along the way are many waterfalls, each one seemingly better than the last.

Pyrenean Chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica) pyrenaica peeing, Ordesa Valley, Spain.

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Marsh Tits and Pied Flycatchers can be seen along the river banks and there are also mammals about.

We saw many Marmots as well as Pyrenean Chamois, like this one peeing on the valley slopes.

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Griffon Vulture flying, Anisclo Canyon, Pyrenees, Spain .

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Bujaruelo valley and Anisclo Canyon, both nearby are well worth a look.  Anisclo is great for Griffin Vultures that fly over the narrow canyon and sit on the high ledges.

Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture flying, Ordesa Valley, SpainWe also saw Red Squirrels, Adonis Blue Butterflies and a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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But the vulture that I wanted to see but didn’t really expect to see is the Lammergeier.

We caught a glimpse of one in the distance early in the week in Ordessa but its wings were so long that at a distance it looked like a falcon.

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Near the end of the week, on a trip along the southern rim of the valley, we finally saw this magnicifient creature properly and could see why it is also known as the Bearded Vulture.

Here high in the mountains, the Lammergeier seems to be at home, gliding without any obvious effort.

It still didn’t look that big but its wings are well over 2 metres across.  They seem narrower and pointier than other vultures which makes them look different.

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A trip along the valley rim by 4×4 is well worthwhile, not just for the birds but also for the views down and along the length of the valley.

It would be great to have a large lens up there but that would mean serious weight and a tripod – hardly conducive to long walks or holidays in general.

Places like this need to be enjoyed slowly, with or without a camera!


Where to Watch Birds – Tacumshin Lake

Tacumshim Lake evening Wexford
Calm Evening, Tacumshin Lake

This is one of the key birding spots in Ireland.

All year there is something to see and during the Spring and Autumn it is a migration hot-spot with numerous unusual sightings.

It is a reasonable sized lake – not too big – and yet it is a good walk around.  It is also mostly a bit open  and makes you feel as obvious as a sore thumb!  But stay down quietly and birds you will see!

Sanderling on sand Tacumshin Lake WexfordIt is also worth looking in the neighbouring areas and on the beach and offshore – the sea is right beside the lake, over the horizon in the picture.

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The ‘sunny South East’ does seem to have something special.

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Waders are usually common, especially in Winter.

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In Summer there can be plenty of Sanderling running along the edge, well camouflaged but for thier movement.

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With so much activity, there is usually some form of predatory bird around.

Late last Summer this female Hen Harrier flew over.

Female Hen Harrier flying over Tacumshin Lake Wexford

Glossy Ibis flying over Tacumshin Lake Wexford

Quietly thinking about the Harrier and still surprised, I was really not expecting a Glossy Ibis which I associate with much warmer climates!

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Like most bird spots, many Gulls can be seen and heard.  In Summer there can be a few varieties of Tern.Sandwich Tern Winter plumage flying over Tacumshin Lake Wexford


Wicklow Way, Kilmore Quay – Spiders and Insects – Review of 2010 – August

August

Wicklow SW and Lough Dan from Wicklow WayWicklow is known as the Garden County.  Some garden!

Brilliant scenery, great walks, and full of wildlife, this is my extended home!

Amazingly it is close to around 2 million people and yet remains mainly wild.

Perhaps we should keep it secret.

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The wicklow way winds its way across the mountains with railway sleepers in places making the going easier.  There are great wild flowers to be found.

Wild Flower mix road side Blessington.

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At home in Blessington, someone grew ‘wild’ flowers in a rough patch beside the road.

Perhaps not truly wild but they were colourful and probably beneficial to other wildlife.

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.Cross Spider on home wall

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Birds were still around but they tend to go a bit quiet in August.

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Insects and bugs on the other hand, seem to be everywhere,

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‘Evil’ spiders were commonplace, this one paler than usual on the wall of our house.

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On a short visit to Kilmore Quay, one of my favourite places, the weather was good and many insects flitted in the dunes.

6 Spot Burnet moth with tongue rolled up, Kilmore Quay dunes.

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There were many 6-spot Burnets feeding on the wild flowers.

When we were young (just a few years ago), my brother Don and I regularly cycled to Bull Island and spent a lot of time in the valley between the dunes and St. Annes Golf course, looking for birds such as Cuckoos, Pipits, Larks, Reed Buntings and the odd Long Eared Owl.

But a lot of our time was spent looking at or for other things – Pigmy Shrews and Butterflies & Moths, mainly.

The 6-spot Burnet was one of the commonest moths, together with the Cinnabar.

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Male Common Blue Buttterfly Kilmore Quay dunes.

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The dunes at Kilmore Quay also held many Common Blue Butterflies.

This is a male with its wings together showing the markings underneath.

They whiz around a lot and annoy would-be viewers and photographers but when they do alight they often ‘pose’ like this with the wings up.

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Male Common Blue Butterfly, wings out, Kilmore Quay dunes.

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But the colours shown when the wings are ‘out’ in the ‘normal’ position, are superb – a brilliant electric blue, seeming to shimmer and almost defy hue definition.

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As is common for the animal kingdon,if not for humans, females are a duller brownish colour.

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Grey Seal Kilmore Quay harbour

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In the harbour at Kilmore Quay, Grey Seals were frequent visitors to feed on discarded fish scraps from the fishing activities.

The Grey Seal has a different shape head to the less common ‘Common’ Seal.

It is said to be more dog-like and this one does look a bit like a dog looking for a bone!

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One of Ireland’s birding jewels, the Saltee Islands, is a short ferry ride from Kilmore Quay, but that’s another story.


Cleggan Birds & Insects – Review of 2010 – July

July

Galway Coast near Cleggan
The Wild West

Summer really humming – well not too hot of course but brimming with life.

Took a trip to Cleggan on the Galway coast.   The western coast and especially around Connemara and up to Donegal shows how poor our memories are, or at least mine.  Because every time I go, I am amazed.

Many parts of the world are truly inspiring and most of Irelands coast but somehow this coastline has something different – a kind of wild calmness.  It can make you feel that all is OK, even that most things are possible.

Probably it could also depress you if you were in the wrong mood and there on the wrong day!   The Bull Island is like that – it can amplify how you feel.

Anyway it was great as usual.

It wasn’t teeming with birds but Oystercatchers piped away and chased the waves, keeping ahead of us as we walked.

Oystercatchers taking flight Galway Coast near ClegganI always think they look too exotic for Ireland with their striking black and white wings and long, bright orange beaks and legs.

There were also Gulls and small birds including quite a few Wheatears like this male that frustratingly had a very strict idea of how close he wanted to be to a human.Male Wheatear on post Galway Coast

Willow Warbler on bush Blessington

Back home in Blessington, a Willow Warbler was visiting.   At least I think its a WW and not a Chiff Chaff. I checked a few photos and looked up many guides and after changing my mind a few times, decided on the WW.

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Didn’t catch the song which is supposed to be a give-away.

Whatever, he or she looked cute.

Wren on bush Blessington

Wrens have to be amongst our favourite birds. They are tiny, sing their little hearts out and are hard to see for any length of time up close.

This one was slightly more obliging than most but was still gone in a flash.

July is also a time of strong insect activity.  Much of it causes a lot of annoyance – Midges in particular.

One of the nastier bites comes from the Cleg Fly.  The one below looks innocent but alien on the car dashboard!  I love the sunglasses!  Wonder do they come from Cleggan?

Cleg fly in car, Wicklow

There are a crazy number and variety of insects and they come in all colours, even orange like this Soldier Beetle reaching the very tip of a blade of grass.

All the insects look at least interesting, up close and personal and the world doesn’t work without them.

Surely reason enough to provide habitats for them or at least, leave them alone.

Soldier Beetle, Rhagonycha fulva, on grass Ballydonnell Brook E of Sorrell Hill


Where to Watch / Walk – Bray Head

Railway line Bray HeadMany people know Bray head as the bit that sticks up beside Bray town in Wicklow.  Those of my age or older will remember the cable car that used to bring people up to a viewing spot on the head.

Access is easy by bus, DART, or car and it is only about 12 miles from Dublin.

If you can wrench yourself from the throngs of people along the sea walk and from the ice creams, slot machines and aquarium, there is a really lovely walk around the sea side of Bray head overlooking the railway line.

The Bray head walk is good any time of the year but looks particulrly well in Summer when the head is a mass of yellow gorse flowers.  Great views out to sea and along the coast are amongst the rewards.

Although it is not a place to get away from people, there are a good variety of birds that can be sen here.  These include most of our Gull species and Rock Pipits like the one below.

Rock Pipit on Gorse bush Bray Head

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Rock Pipits tend to stay around rocky coasts and headlands unlike their cousins the Meadow Pipits that unsurprisingly favour meadows.

They have thin beaks showing they are tuned to insect eating unlike the larks with which they can sometimes be confused, which have thicker beaks better suited to eating seeds.

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It is possible to get good views of a few nesting species without leaving the path.  This Fulmar was happily nesting on an old concrete structure very close to the path.
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Fulmar Bray Head

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Related to Albatrosses, with similar ‘tube’ noses, Fulmars look a little like Gulls but hold their wings very stiff when flying.

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Even easier to see are Cormorants nesting on a rocky outcrop.  There is a chance that you may smell the colony before you see them!

The nests are twigs and seaweed piled up into a mound on the bare rock, with a slight hollow to keep the eggs in.  It is great to see these birds that look to be very close to dinasours in their look and shape.

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In fact they do not have the waterproof oil that ‘modern’ birds use to keep their feathers in flying condition.  That is why Cormorants are often seen near motionless, with their wings outstretched – living washing lines.

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The walk continues on to Greystones to the south and takes about an hour or so, depending on how often you stop to gaze and admire.

If too tired when you get there, the DART can be taken back to bray or all the way to Dublin.

Greystones from Bray Head


Insects, Spiders & Flowers – Review of 2010 – June

June

In mid-summer Dublin looks great, especially if it isn’t raining. But then it actually doesn’t rain as much as is commonly believed and when it does it is mostly not too heavy.  It is rare not to be able to get out for a walk.  The wildlife is generally at full charge with multi-coloured flowers, some nests still being used, babies being nursed and youngsters out exploring.

Garden Bumble Bee Bombus hortorum with pollen on Cornflower
In my garden Bumble Bees were buzzing.  There are usually a few types although bees of the beekeepers’ kind are apparently on the decline in Western Europe.  Bumble Bees are much larger and are the bees we usually visualise.  The pollen sac collected from numerous flowers can be seen clearly in this photo of a Garden Bumble Bee on a Cornflower.

It is worth planting suitable flowers to attract insects.  Apart from the joy of watching them and the knowledge that you are helping them, flowers planted near vegeatable plots can help to keep greenfly and other creatures less desirable by food and image gardners, in check, by encouraging insects that feed on them.

For this purpose, the best flowers are those with strong scents and this often means old varieties as modern catalogues are full of pretty flowers in a plastic doll fashion – nice for a fleeting look but no real character and of little use to anyone or anything.  How often so even find a modern rose with a good scent?

Incidentally those supporting the conservation of old seed varieties should be supported as much as possible as remarkably, large corporations are being allowed to trade mark and own life-forms such as new seed varieties and they are actively trying to remove the older varieties to avoid competition!

On a visit to Athlone for a 50th birhday celebration, I got a chance to look around some of the Lough Ree lakeside habitats.  Damselflies were mating around the wet and marshy areas and a dense mixture of different plants and flowers made progress slow.

Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata Lough Ree AthloneAmongst the more colourful and surely the most interesting flowers were the orchids. The one below, taken with a compact (party) camera, is an Early Marsh Orchid, I believe, though I’m no expert. The petals have lovely markings.
Early Marsh Orchid petal detail


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Coming back to animal life, spiders tend to get a bad press.  In June they were also thriving.   But what’s not to like about this beautiful spider which was camaflagouging himself by extending his legs along the seed head of a grass stalk beside Blessington Lakes.

There are a lot more spiders around us than many would believe, or wish to know about! Looking under the leaves of most plants will show at least one spider although they can be very small and hard to see.

In the home spiders are useful in keeping other insects under some control and are worth the odd ‘cob-web’. Balance is all important. Politicians please note.