Sunlight and drama have been the key elements of the view from Nead an Iolair this week. The drama began at coffe time on Monday: whenever we are sitting having breakfast, lunch, tea, supper – or maybe just sitting – we are looking out over the scene you see above. Central in that prospect is our bird feeder, where we keep a constant eye on the comings and goings.
Suddenly, a bomb dropped out of the sky! It scattered the birds and there was such a twittering and chattering – squawks and alarm calls. The ‘bomb’ was a Kestrel – who had singled out a juicy victim from among the avian throng… I’m pleased to say that it missed its target and crashed ignominiously into the adjacent gorse bush. Seconds later it extricated itself and sloped off, trying not to look too foolish. I have to say I admire birds of prey, although I’d rather not see them lunching on our garden friends. In the past we have also had sight of a Sparrowhawk on our stone boundary wall.
As I write this there are Swallows wheeling in the air above us: although we have had cloudless skies for several days the wind is in the east and it’s pretty chilly – however these harbingers of the Summer seem happy enough to have arrived on our shores in late April.
The Choughs are good friends of ours – they sit on the roof or tumble about in front of us, showing off their bright red bills and claws. At the moment they are foraging in the rocky land behind the house, pulling out roots and twigs for nest building. Another nester is the Starling family which inhabits the space in our eaves, creating a lot of noise and mess.
I was pleased to see a Rabbit in the garden: there has been an outbreak of mixomatosis in the surrounding countryside in recent times and over the last year we have hardly come across any of these mammals in the fields locally. Mixomatosis was introduced into the UK in the 1950s – apparently by accident – and then was used as a deliberate Rabbit control measure, by placing sick animals in burrows (then and now an illegal practice). By 1955 95% of Rabbits in the UK had been wiped out. I remember those days: seeing dead and dying animals every time I went out as a sensitive nine year old made me sickened and appalled, especially when I learned that we humans had initiated such cruelty. The virus recurs cyclically every few years, as has happened around here: I am still sickened and angered by it.
The next visitor was a female Pheasant. Although less colourful than her male counterpart she is nevertheless a handsome addition to our menagerie. The good weather has enabled us to have our doors open every day, but this does mean an influx of smaller guests, which have to be carefully rounded up and ejected before we go to sleep. They include spiders and flies, but also Native Irish Honeybees from our neighbour’s hives. Apis Mellifera Mellifera has evolved over thousands of years with a large body and long dark abdominal hairs which make it uniquely suited to survive in a harsh Irish climate. It will be found foraging early and late in the season and will fly in dull, drizzly and cold weather. I gleaned this information from the comprehensive website of the Native Irish Honeybee Society.
These wonderful spring days have been heralded by misty mornings. Evenings have been clear, with the crescent moon and Venus prominent over the western horizon. This is the time when we see our Bats. They might be either Common Pipistrelles or Soprano Pipistrelles: I’m sure you know that the former echolocates at a peak frequency of 45kHz while the latter echolocates at a higher frequency peaking at 55kHz. I keep listening out but can’t quite decide which is which… Anyway, they are both indigenous – and are probably sharing our eaves spaces with the Starlings.
The gorse is in full bloom, as are the blackthorn hedges. Any picture of our surroundings at this time of the year has to show off the yellow and white – and, of course, the emerald green and azure blue.
No ‘nature post’ here would be complete without mention of our own Red Fox, Ferdia. In fact, part of the drama of the week was the appearance of another Fox! As we hadn’t seen Ferdia for quite some time we worried that he might have gone the way of all Foxes: the average life of a Red Fox in the wild is only around five years – and our neighbours claim to have been hosting Ferdia for more like ten… The new Fox only made the briefest of appearances, just enough to be photographed. I think it is a Vixen – smaller and thinner – and very nervous. We couldn’t help thinking that she had come on to the scene because of Ferdia’s demise – but no! Yesterday evening, there was Ferdia knocking on the window, cocky as ever – although he does look a bit bedraggled at the moment, possibly because he’s beginning to lose his fine thick winter coat. Perhaps now we will have to find scraps for two foxes…
Finally, I was fascinated by another visitor to Nead an Iolair this week: a female Emperor Moth took up residence on our bedroom window cill. As you can see, her appearance is very striking. I wish I had been able to observe her all day, as evidently these Moths stretch themselves out in the sun waiting for a mate to arrive. The males are even more spectacular, but alas I didn’t see one. You’ll find this lady in an Irish folk tale: The Children of Lir.
I have to give a special word of thanks to Finola, who expertly took most of the photographs in this post with her excellent Leica-lensed camera