Sunday, 26 April 2015

In praise of grassy lawns

Mistle Thrush: 'barrel chested' alright (c.OOS)

Lawn is probably a bit of a mis-nomer in our case: we have about a half acre of grass, that is mown on 3 levels: the tightest, lawn section is close to the house, and we vary the length in two other adjoning sections which gives the bees, butterflies and moths an open space to forage: right now the area is peppered with cheery bright yellow Dandelions: a food plant for flying insects and one we are happy to accomodate in the mowing regime.  We could go for all out meadow in half the area: we tried that one summer and had a huge end of season clear up with hay stacks and a small Massey Ferguson commissioned to top the seasons growth.  This was altogether daunting and we feel the current 'cut, with some keep' good for wildlife as well as youthful recreation of the space.

Starling: tempted down to the lawn by recent rain. (c.OOS)
The recent rain showers brought  a total of ten bird species out to patrol and feed on the open lawn: highlights were our spring migrant Starlings, a  much more longer distant migrant, the Chiffchaff, a bossy Mistle Thrush that has a nest in the Ash tree in the lane, as well as a party of Blackbirds and a couple of shuffling Dunnocks.

Chiffchaff: fresh arrivals often take to the grass for insect prey. (cOOS)

Friday, 17 April 2015

Rolling and tumbling

The month of March was great for gardens and birds in general: some super spring weather and the comfort that comes with a mildness that reassured all that winter 2014/15 was behind us.

I never noticed so much early nesting / breeding behaviour in our resident species: nest boxes were visited daily by Blue and Great Tits, and a pair of Long tailed Tits were regular commuters to a gorse bush behind the compost bins: a nest well under construction by mid March and perfectly formed by Easter.

Red Kite: hunting for nest decorations (c.OOS)

Red Kites, given a welcome  helping hand via a re introduction from Welsh stock, look so at home on Wicklows slopes: mixed farming land and some of the best oakwoods in the country to choose for nesting.

Complete tumble: just for fun! (c.OOS)

The Kites are a regular sighting over the house and gardens, a recent ploughing of the winter stubble brought a couple straight in, along with eight or so Lesser Black backed Gulls: it doesnt take long for birds to pick up on feeding opportunities presented by the plough!  The Kites were frequently buzzing my neighbours garden:  either for food items or for decorations for the nest: I suspect the latter, as some light building work is under way there.

A couple of visits to the local stand of oak, proved fruitful: a bird rose from the bare canopy and seemed sufficiently committed to the site to circle low over my head:  A nest of sticks was quickly located in the bare canopy, a bit smaller than expected but, binocular inspection revealed the tell tale decorations of discarded plastic and twine hanging from the branches immediately below the nest. A visit the following day revealed a Kite sitting tight on 10th April, grey head and beady, two tone eye visible from the ground: thank God for late leafing Oaks!

Majestic raptors! (c.OOS)

Buzzards always put on a good show at this time of year when pairs come out to strengthen bonds, soaring on the first spring thermals, and attracting rival or just neighbouring pairs on to the borders of their territories.  There is frequent 'mewing' and some vertical movement leading to diving and close enough contact as birds drop and fall at an alarming speed.. the crows keep a respectful distance, perhaps intimidated by the sight and sound of up to five Buzzards in active display.

Buzzard in free fall (c.OOS)
 Buzzards spread naturally south from their stronghold in County Antrim in the 1970s and perhaps west from Wales where the population is at saturation point.  They are the most frequently observed raptor in these parts, in contrast to Kestrel, which competes for the same food sources but is much less fortunate.  Buzzards have benefitted from the widespread afforestation and they are probably better opportunists than Kestrels.

Buzzard: Dark (and threatening!)( c.OOS)