Monday, 10 October 2016

Meadow Pipits move in

Meadow Pipit  (c. Shay Connolly)

Autumn migration, inland, never really reaches the dizzy heights of the coast, its headlands and islands. October here opens with a steady stream of Meadow Pipits, moving over recently stubbled fields, in small groups, their thin 'tseep- tseep' calls and weak flight as subtle as their brown plumage: Not exactly a straight swap over the same fields for departing Swallows, a bit subtle themselves this year, with no obvious pre-migration gatherings.

 However the pipits are both long and short distance migrants to us. These birds may be just moving to lower altitude for the winter,from higher ground in county Wicklow, like the Linnet flock which is also building.  

Meadow Pipit (c. Liam Kane)
With counts of over 1,000 a day recorded at migration stations such as Cape Clear, the movement there is thought to be more long distance, birds migrating to us or just passing through from Iceland and Scandinavia, moving as far south as North Africa to spend the winter.

One of my favourite October migrants is the Goldcrest, spotted on the coast or in the home garden, they are often heard calling from cover as they feed incessantly. This bird was spotted sitting up, perky enough on the doormat: most likely it was recovering from a collision with the patio door, it flew off into the sycamores as I approached it, seemingly none the worst for wear. I was happy to put it to flight before a cat discovered it on the ground.   

Goldcrest (c.OOS)

Monday, 12 September 2016

September song

Robin in song (c. Liam Kane)

I have discovered a new alarm clock: pleasant on the ear and reliable to go off each morning, currently at about 6.00 am.

The Robin is one of the few birds that sings nearly all year round. We have just come out of the moult period when even Robins have to remain silent and inconspicuous.  This is in order to avoid detection when they might be flightless or partially so, and thus vulnerable.

A juvenile Robin: now all moulted into adult plumage (c. Liam Kane)

Because Robins hold winter territories, they resume song in Autumn. Both sexes sing, though audible, they usually remain in cover while singing to lessen the threat from passing predators.

The song at this time of the year is different from the early spring version: more melancholy and understated, aimed at forming and holding a territory as distinct from attracting a mate.  Both sexes sing but in spring it is the male that delivers the strongest performance.

 Because Robins can sing and forage in very low light conditions, they are usually last to finish and first up in the morning, and if there is an artificial light source, will sometimes sing through the night. 

C. (Liam Kane)

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Leaving it Late

Here on the east coast, if you miss the early spring rush of Cuckoos on migration, well you may have to wait til end of season.  So it was for me this year, but I did get lucky just in time.  The Wicklow coast can often produce a late adult or an even later juvenile bird, tempted to remain with us if the weather is warm and their favourite prey is in evidence.

The adults are most evident in late April when calling birds attract all kinds of attention, from small birds and diligent countryside watchers.  Because they get their breeding business done relatively early, that is, lay the eggs but pass on the raising fledglings bit, they are free to depart for Africa in mid-summer.

In Ireland they typically use a Meadow Pipits nest to drop their egg in and move on around their chosen territories, repeating the act and trusting the unfortunate Pipit to raise and foster the soon gigantic young Cuckoo.  By late July it is only the successful juveniles that are to be seen: Remarkably , these young birds must acquire or inherit  information that that will first guide them south into Africa and return in spring with the knowledge of what to lay and what host to seek, always ensuring their egg matches the colour of the hosts.

The diet of Cuckoos is  highly specialised, mainly composed of  Caterpillars and often the hairy or more toxic ones.  So no wonder really that a bird that depends on the fortunes of its host species and also has a specialist protein diet that is in decline, mainly due to intensification of the landscape over the last half century, struggles to show off its iconic spring status in numbers.

The bird that appeared on the railway line at Newcastle was a very dark juvenile, quite confiding as it had found a decent food supply in the unkempt meadows and dune slacks on the fringes of thetracks.  This is traditionally a very warm and dry strip, well known for basking lizards and lots of butterflies and Burnet Moths, so a temporary sort of home for a young Cuckoo, making its way south.

This wonderful set of photographs of the juvenile Cuckoo were taken by c. Shay Connolly, 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Sunny side up !

Robin in full sun mode (c. OOS)

What a blast of heat around Ireland and further south, soon to moderate though, well, we were a little uncomfortable in all that heat if the truth be known.

Out on the lawn just south west of the house, I have become accustomed to some strange posturing in the grass.  Usually a Blackbird, but also a Dunnock and a Robin have taken to just lying down and stretching spread eagled in the turf..birds sun bathing with attitude and a purpose.. 

Dunnock stretching a point (OOS)

By stretching out and extending feather tracts, birds stimulate the preen glands to produce oils which improve performance of flight feathers and also flush out feather parasites.

The procedure can look a little weird or grotesque, particularly when Dunnocks are involved.they look so cat like with that two toned eye!

They are also very much exposed to the threat of predators attacking as they lie prone and seemingly dazed in the heat.  I have noticed they break the procedure quickly, if any movement is detected.

Dunnock (c.OOS)

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Out and about with the young ones

Juv Gt Spot: note red forehead ( c. Shay Connolly)

The last two weeks have been full of the sounds of high summer, perhaps it's a bit unfortunate that they all sound the same: "tsee, tsee ,tsee", which translates to ," I'm a juv., tit I might be out of the nest but I still want to be fed", which sounds familiar on various levels!

This time of the year I keep the peanut feeder topped up, there's a procession of Great Tits which nested just 3 meters away from the feeder and the adults often utilised this food source for a quick protein hit after emerging from the nestbox.. Since the young have fledged, we witnessed the young standing off and begging to be fed which has now matured into a family feed, with adults and young hanging from the feeder all together.

Back home, we are still waiting for the woodpeckers to just drop in: they nest about 800 meters down the road  and are reliable enough in winter: there's been lots of records in Wicklow over the last two weeks on the Bird Net, of birds flying through relatively open ground, a sign of dispersal of juveniles and adults, setting up new territories: perhaps it was a great breeding season!

I saw one, then two birds whilst down at the coast at Newcastle: they fled scrubby, Alder trees, disturbed by my car and bounded across a meadow, before settling in the canopy of more willow and alder on the ECNR.

Juv Stonechat, an engaging gem on the Wicklow coast (Juvenile Stonechat (Mairéad Ní Chuirc)

It was a decent lunchtime: haunting, evocative calls of returning Curlew, from northern Europe, reminding us that the clock's really ticking, for breeding Curlew and the advance of Autumn. One of my favourite juvenile birds is the Stonechat: their engaging stone clacking call and often animated behaviour grabbing the attention: tail flicking and rising to he highest frond of bracken or briar. A real gem of the Wicklow coastline, they are now breeding well after the hard winters  of 6 or 7 winters ago, which set the population back. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Perennial favourites

What a blast of great weather: dry, warm and sunny for over a week now, just as all the common birds around the garden are feeding young. Great too for the pollinators, the bees and butterflies are out and about in numbers, not to mention garden enthusiasts.

Hardy Geranium and browsing bumble bee (c.OOS)
The best performing plants for us right now, are the perennial or hardy geraniums and of course, Aquilegeas or Columbine, also known as granny's bonnets.  They self seed around and give a show of lovely sharp, navy blue and purple flowers around the flower beds, rising up to attract bees in numbers.

Aquilegeas in full flower (c.OOS)

These are all timely, for the weekend that is in it, Bloom in the Park: I always associate enormous Aliums and Aquilegeas with the show, and folk walking by with their prize purchases, though maybe this year more walk by with ice cream cones and a fizzy drink!  

Interesting how the name Aquilegea is rooted in the latin for Eagle or Aquila, which is probably a reference to the curled up tips to the petals resembling an eagles wing tips.. Columbine is  a reference to doves, the arrangement of petals recalling a circle of doves.  Bees love to climb right in to the blooms splashing lemon colured pollen on their backs in return for a nectar drink.

Granny's Bonnet or Aquilegea (c.OOS)

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Weaving magic

Bunjee jumping from a silken thread (c. J.Fox)
The Goldcrest has got to be one of my favourite birds: not leas because they have so many fascinating facts and figures connected to this pocket rocket package.  They look so good with a smart, sometimes dazzling head pattern and that big black peppercorn eye, suspended in a cool ashy grey face, accentuated by a furrowed, drooping gape line.

I have heard plenty of Goldcrest song in recent weeks, a very thin,hurried verse, recalling an unoiled wheel revolution, repeated 3 or 4 times before fizzling out.
This vocal presence didn't prepare me for the fact that they have taken to visiting the window frames around the house: we run a wildlife establishment here and so you can expect plenty of cob webs and silky thread balls in the crevices around the windows.. there's about twenty separate window frames at ground floor level, so lots of opportunities for extracting silky strands from spiders webs.  These in turn are spirited away for use as a sort of 'fairies duct tape' woven around the Goldcrests nest.  The operation gives me a great chance to see the bird up close and wonder at the fearlessness of this little gem. As Europes smallest bird, it weighs roughly 7 grams, or 4 Goldcrests to the ounce, in old money, roughly about the same weight as a 20 cent coin.

Goldcrest on dock stem in autumn.
Surprisingly perhaps, the delicate nest can house up to 12 eggs, though only pea sized, the clutch still weighs one and a half times the weight of the adult female.

A word of caution: if you find it hard or impossible to discern the song of this little character, it is said that as a standard to test ones hearing, it is one of the first bird songs or sounds lost to old age!

High protein diet (c. Michael Finn)