I was in Dublin yesterday 29th July collecting some camera gear. I decided to head to the Phoenix park with a colleague Colin to try out some camera's and lenses. We got shots of this Little Grebe, feeding very small young in one of the ponds on the west side of the park. Pretty late I thought for such small young, the parents must have failed earlier in the season or else they were successful and decided to raise another family. The mother was feeding the three young on water snails.
Spring seems like a lifetime ago. The end of May was the last prolonged
spell of fine weather we received from the gods, and it now feels like it was
our summer. Way back then we
welcomed the long summer evenings that were rapidly approaching and people
looked forward to warm days and the return of the Cuckoo and Swallow. Both species are supposidly a natural
indicator that summer has officially arrived. How wrong we were, we are still
awaiting the summer, one that we now hope will be an Indian summer and it might
arrive in late August or September.
Now that we have come close to the end of our summer and Autumn is in the
air, we were not the only ones wishing and hoping for fine weather. Spare a thought for the poor little
Common Swift. The Swift is an all
brown or black large looking Swallow like bird, that returns from south of the
Sahara at the end of April or the first week of May every year. This year he must have though,
fantastic, great to be home again in Ireland. This basking sunshine is just what I need, a good year for
me to catch loads of flying insects and raise a large Irish family. How wrong he was also.
Swifts live a fascinating life.
Since humans have been building tall structures like castle and round
towers, Swifts have been nesting in them.
They departed their caves and cliff face dwellings to raise young in a
vast array of manmade structures. In some parts of eastern Europe, Swifts still nest in holes high up in tall trees. Nowadays one of their favourite spots to nest are high up in Cathederal
Spires, old tall Mill buildings and in the attic space of any tall house or
structure. Here they will not
actually build a nest but lay a couple of eggs on a beam of on some ceiling
plaster board or insulation.
Swifts have long wings and short legs so they never land on the ground. If they do, they cannot take off again
without assistance. Swifts spend
all their time on the wing, high in the sky. They sleep on the wing and coppulate on the wing also. One of the few wild birds that are
members of the mile high club.
But they are under serious treat.
The last four summers have seen very wet, cold and unsettled weather patterns creeping into June and
July. These conditions do not
favour the Swift. Issues they face
are the loss of nest sites through the demolition of old buildings. The lack of
insects at high altitudes due to low pressure and moist conditions in summer, a
factor and trend now accepted in our summers. Torrential downpours are regular and heavy rain showers can
ground Swifts. These grounded birds fall fowl to cats, dogs, foxes and others. Swifts have been found to abandon nests
in June and July, returning to Africa earlier than their norm in the first week
of August because of these wet conditions. So for a species that traditional was the last to arrive
back from Africa, months and weeks later than the Swallow, House Martin and
Cuckoo, it is now leaving even earlier than than ever before, being the first
migrant out of the country every year.
A good book to read on the life of the Common Swift, is "Swifts in a Tower" by David Lack. It is hard to come by but one of the earliest studies carried out into the world of the Swift.
While on the Saltees last week I watched a baby Razorbill being eaten alive by a hungry Great Black-backed Gull. The incident took about four minutes as the gull tried many times to position the chick to swallow it down. The brave little chick put up a good fight but the might and power of the Great Black-backed won out in the end.
I was working near Bellmullet today and got a chance to go see the female Snowy Owl that has returned to an area of Blacksod Bay. She was very wary and did not let me get too close. For comparison the first photo below is what the bird looked like two summers ago. Is it the same bird?
I was back on the Great Saltee Island in Wexford last Saturday 14th July 2012, to get a few shots of the Gannets. I was amazed to se how quickly birds had gone from the cliffs this year. See some shots below.
The Turf Wars continued over the last couple of weeks on days when the sun managed to shine through. Skylarks took up high vantage points in the bogs, sitting on turf stacks singing their little hearts out as they reclaimed their territories.
I noticed over the last few weeks that many of our birds with second broods like the adult Stonechats below, are struggling in the wet conditions to feed their young, due to the driving the tropical monsoon conditions that we now regard as summer. But it always amazes me to see how determined they are to succeed with a second family. I only hope that the chicks survive when they do manage to leave the nest.