Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunny South East

I was back in Wexford again today, the sunny south east of the country.  I was on the Great Saltees for 9.00am and off by about 11.00am due to the fact that there were very few migrants on the island. I did manage to get a few shots of the breeding Oystercatchers and their chicks, but did not bother with the seabirds.  As soon as we got off the boat at Kilmore Quay we headed for Tacumshin where there was a great selection of birds.  I managed to clock up for the day, Forster's Tern, Little Gulls, two Glossy Ibises, Red-footed Falcon, Montague's and Marsh Harriers, Bearded Reedlings and Garganey ducks along with all the other common birds in the lake.  There was no sign of the Red-backed Shrike and I ran out of time to search thoroughly for the Little Ringed Plover.

Oystercatchers on Great Saltee Island © John N Murphy
 Montague's Harrier, the White Hole, Tacumshin © John N Murphy
Glossy Ibis in flight © John N Murphy

Black Frog and friends

I was back up in North Mayo again this week and came upon these black looking Common Frogs.  I have not seen Frogs this dark for many years. They shared their pond with lots of interesting invertebrates like Pond Skaters, Great Diving Beetle nymphs and other aquatic creatures. Also out and about this week in the warm sunshine were lots of dragonflies and other beetles.

Common Frogs © John N Murphy
Giant Diving Beetle nymph eating a tadpole © John N Murphy
Pond Skater © John N Murphy
Green Tiger Beetle Cincindela campestris © John N Murphy
Pine Weevil © John N Murphy
Carabus Granulatus Beetle © John N Murphy

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hedgerows alive

It is hard to believe that finally after the last two and a half months, the persistent cold Northerly wind has shifted to a warmer more southerly direction.  The temperatures have risen to heights more normal for this time of the year and with these temperature increases life has eventually come back into our hedgerows.  Today and over the weekend I got the chance to rummage through the nettle beds and undergrowth around different locations.  The beasts and plants below are just some of the features that are out and about at this time of the year.

 Green Nettled Weevil © John N Murphy
Dung Fly © John N Murphy
Common stretch-spider Tetragnatha extensa © John N Murphy
Sweet Violet © John N Murphy
Buttonwort © John N Murphy
Germander Speedwell © John N Murphy
Yellow Rattle © John N Murphy
Bugle © John N Murphy

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I would just like to thank people who have been in touch with congratulatory comments in regard to my photo of Chough on the cover of the Summer Issue of the Birdwatch Ireland Magazine "Wings".  It only took 25 years, seven cameras, two brown envelopes and a lot of persuasion to get this accepted as good enough to make the cut.  For those of you that are not members of Birdwatch Ireland (shame on you), I have included the cover design, the article on the Cliffs of Moher along with the adds page for the forthcoming Cape Clear Courses, for you all to see.  Anyone requesting a hard copy of the "Wings" magazine can do so from Birdwatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, County Wicklow or contact them by email at the following link; 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Whimbrel or Maybird

Whimbrel © John N Murphy

In recent decades, with springs arriving that bit earlier each year, May is not always a month of warm sunshine. Traditionally, for rural communities, May was the month that you would be gauranteed fine weather.  A time of the year to get out into the countryside and prepare for the summer ahead, look forward to the long summer evenings and hay making, get organised for stone wall re-building, fencing, turf cutting and making sure that crops set earlier in the Spring, were developing desease free or without interference of a natural kind.

Past generations, who were out and about on a daily basis at this time of the year, would have been very familiar with a small migrating wader known as the Maybird.  The seven note whistle of this migrant wader passing over head was always heard on glorious sunny days in May.  This Maybird we now know as the Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus. There were many different old names attached to it, such as the May Fowl, May Curlew (due to the fact that it looks similar to Curlew) or May Whaup?.

So where are these Maybirds coming from and where do they go for the summer?

Whimbrels breed in the sub-arctic and arctic from Iceland across Eurasia, Siberia, Alaska and Canada. They prefer to nest in boreal or low-arctic moorland and tundra next to the treeline. The male's courtship includes a high circling song flight comprising a prolonged bubbling. They don't have different summer and winter plumage.

Whimbrel nests are just a shallow depression on the ground, usually concealed in low grass or heather. They may also make a nest on top of a mound of moss or grass that is surrounded at the base with water. The hollow is lined with soft grasses, mosses and lichens. 2-5, usually 4 eggs are laid; these are bluish green to a light olive green with lavender and brown markings. Both parents incubate (22-28 days) and raise the young. As soon as the chicks are dry, they leave the nest and stay hidden among the surrounding vegetation. Both parents care for the chicks until they fledge in 35-40 days.

Whimbrels that migrate through Ireland normally nest in Iceland. Whimbrels that pass through Northeast Asia, head for Northern Russia and Alaska to breed. They migrate back in winter to India, southern China, Southeast Asia to the Philippines and the Sundas. They migrate with other shorebirds, and often act as a sentinel species. Very wary, Whimbrels are often the first to alert the other birds to danger.

Whimbrel on the breeding grounds in Iceland © John N Murphy 

Maybirds that pass through Ireland in late April, May and on into June, migrate high in the air over our green fields and pastures, in V flying formations.  They follow rivers and mountain contours using them like highways as they navigate to the Northwest for Iceland.  Sometimes they stop in meadows, marshlands and shore to snatch a bite to eat, before heading off to the breeding grounds.

After breeding in the high Arctic where they benefit from 24 hours of daylight, they return south in August.   On the return journey, the Whimbrel mainly follow our west coast, flying past in small flocks as they head down along the west coast of Europe and Africa, to wintering grounds in West and South Africa.  There they will spend the winter basking and feeding in the warm sun of the southern hemisphere, before returning north the following May. This they do no matter what weather conditions.  Maybird migration has been going on for thousands of years, a reminder to what month we are in, no matter how climate change affects our lives.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I have not cut the grass out in the front field this year as I want it to grow tall and cut it later in the month for hay. It is amazing the amount of Cowslips that have grown since I stopped cutting it. They really are amazing plants and look wonderful within the tall grasses.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


There were large numbers of Whitethroats throughout Wexford yesterday during my visit.  A lot more were singing in the hedgerows throughout South Wexford.

Great Saltee Islands

I was back on the Saltees in Wexford yesterday 5th May where there was great excitement.  A small fall of migrants included a Serin which only gave brief glimpses to the lucky few and one I did not catch up with.  There were plenty of other things to see including a female Common Redstart, Black Redstart, Whinchat, lots of Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Blackcap, Tree Pipit, Short-eared Owl and of course the nesting seabirds.  Afterwards I went with a few friend to look for the Purple Heron at Tacumschin which did not show, but there were two nesting Reed Warblers and the Bearded Reedlings to watch while waiting for the heron.  When all else fails on Great Saltee, at least one can turn to the seabirds for photographs.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Northern Wheatears & Wagtails

I came across a freshly sown and rolled field near Ballycastle in North Mayo this afternoon.  There was a flock of 60 Wheatear and a handful of White Wagtails. They were all mainly male Wheatears, and they appeared extremely colorful.  Most of the Wheatears looked like the race Oenanthe oenanthe luecorcora from Greenland.  Later in the evening I found a coastal field west of Killala Bay that had a flock of 70 White Wagtails and six pristine male Pied Wagtails.  These Pied Wagtails were probably migrating with the whites.