Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Swifts in a hurry?

Given the awfully wet June and early July, it's no surprise that summer migrants such as the Swift are literally 'under the weather' in their search for aerial insect prey.

Swift over Tacumshin lake (c.OOS)

I am still noticing small parties of low flying, breeding birds, screaming round the streets of Wicklow, Redcross, Rathnew and Rathdrum, to name four locations.
Swift feeding  (c.OOS)

Swifts can cover relatively long distances in a day, 300km or more, not entirely surprising, given their superb shape,designed for life on the wing: these birds don't touch the ground: they mate on the wing and only land to nest under eaves of old buildings.

Swift at speed  (c.OOS)

We often notice feeding parties of birds, ranging over the Murrough Wetlands, along the Wicklow coast, typically up to a few  hundred birds availing of the rich insect life over the wetland habitats. 

Even more remarkable though are the reports of 1,000 or more birds feeding over Tacumshin Lake, County Wexford.  This shallow freshwater lagoon is extensive, running to about 460 hectares and was formed behind a sandy ridge of dunes along the south Wexford coast.  Swifts have been present in great numbers since early July. They appear to be adult birds; the thinking is they may have cut short their plans for breeding this season and instead are taking the opportunity to exploit the rich feeding over the lakebed.  

Where these birds have come from is open to opinion.. The weather in the west of England and Wales has been very poor, perhaps they have taken the journey across the Irish Sea, or maybe they are birds ranging down from urban areas such as Dublin or Belfast on the Irish east coast?

Whatever the origin of the Wexford flock, make sure to enjoy the sight and sounds of Swifts, and let me know of any more concentrations or indeed absence of birds.. They will begin their journey south to The Congo over the next couple of weeks, our shortest stayer, and no wonder!

A superb flying machine (c.OOS)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Greenfinches and the Hardy Geranium

All summer the peanut feeder is in demand, mainly from Great Tits , Blue Tits and Greenfinches who bring the family round and ensure the feeder needs refilling on a weekly basis.

Greenfinches (c.OOS)

It's good to see the Greenfinches are healthy: we haven't had an outbreak of trichomonosis round here: that disease affects the Greenfinches ability to swallow food and they become lethargic and eventually die.  Its reckoned the disease has knocked back the Greenfinch population, indeed the days of hordes of them bossing the bird table area are but a memory for most.

It was great to see a juvenile Greenfinch busy on the mound of Hardy Geranium, Geranium renardii: On a closer look, I saw that it was attracted to the ripe seed capsule on the plant, borne on a longish stalk: hence the common name of Cranesbill for this colourful family of perennials.  

A juvenile Greenfinch tucks into Geranium seeds (c. OOS )
Apart from the little buzz to witness a voracious peanut eater take to the seed of something you planted, I really value plants that have all round appeal:  great foliage,great flowers and wildlife interest too!

Geranium renardii: white flowers with purple veins & lovely foliage (c. OOS)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Spots and Stripes

Having sorted out the variables in Blackbird plumages, now we can move on to separating Mistle Thrush from Song Thrush: two closely related species that sometimes cause confusion.  They both have distinctive songs, but at this time are quieter and likely to be out in the open, hunting down prey for themselves or hungry youngsters.

Compare the Mistle Thrush, above with the Song Thrush, below, both in a similar posture.  The Mistle is however more erect in stance, often referred to as 'barrel chested'.  Looking carefully at the Spots: The Mistles are blacker and rounder, more extensive on the lower belly and on a whiter background

The Song Thrush has a similar pattern to the underparts but with subtle differences: The spots are less extensive on the lower breast and on close inspection are shaped like arrowheads.  The Song Thrush has a lovely warm buff wash to the upper breast and flanks, contrasting with the white under belly.

Overall, the Mistle has a colder, greyer tone to the upperparts, compared to the warm russet tones of the Song Thrush.. great birds to see at any time.. and, they can sing!

Mistle Thrush

Monday, 2 July 2012

The young ones

More Blackbird activity.. the glut of males foraging on the wet grassy areas of lawn has now swollen:  Juvenile Blackbirds are out of the nest and begging for food, despite their full size and fledged appearance, they are either lazy or need to be coaxed and trained in to feeding themselves.

2 juvenile Blackbirds seeking food from a male bird

Identifying young Blackbirds often perplexes members of the public who find their plumage confusing and Thrush like: You can see from these pics that they are indeed spotted down the breast but the colour tones are close to an adult female Blackbird and they have the characteristic 'jizz' or appearance of Blackbirds: note the long tail, cocked upwards, very distinctive of prowling Blackbirds

Juvenile Blackbird, note characteristic stance
Juv Song Thrush has a clearly spotted breast
A juvenile Song Thrush has the spotted breast but more extensive than the young Blackbird, and much more clearly so: note the creamy base and distinct darker, black spots on the breast.  The colour tones of the upperparts are less tawny and colder brown in appearance: they are a neater bird in size too..

Separating Song Thrush from Mistle Thrush: now that might be a little more difficult, perhaps a good subject for the next post?