We are in the process of setting up a new subsection on our website called Irish Wildlife. This section will be updated weekly with news of studies, counts, migrations etc and will be dedicated to educating people about all species of bird and animals including the creepy crawlies!!, plants and pond life.
We feel it is very important to not only educate people but also to simply provide some facts of the natural world once you open your own front door.
If there is an event in your area, be it a bird or whale watching event, forest walk etc, we can help advertise the event for you.
It will take us a few weeks to compile the information, thank you for your patience.
May Corncrake Traonach (Crexcrex)
The corncrake has a sandy brown plumage and stands at about 25-27cm. They eat a mixture of vegetation (weed and grasses seeds) and insects, including slugs and earthworms. They like to live in tall grasses, like in meadows and long grass pastureland and not as their name suggests in corn fields. The long grass or tall weeds are used as a nesting area due to the good coverage.
It is now rare to see a corncrake in our country side but in many parts of the country side the kerrx-kerrx call that the male makes to attract the female can be heard throughout the day and night.
They are only found in select areas around the country such as the Shannon Callows, western parts of Mayo and northern Donegal.
The Corncrake is a summer (May to September) visitor that flies over 10,000 km from South East Africa, to nest and breed in Ireland. It is a globally threatened bird and in Ireland is listed as an Endangered Species in Annex 1 of the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland list (BoCCI).
Poor farming practices and changes in traditionally methods have contributed to the steep decline of this bird in Ireland. Through initiatives such as the REPS scheme of which the Corncrake Project is run. It offers the Corncrake Grant Scheme as compensation for employing corncrake friendly farming techniques, such as leaving tall grass areas during the April to August period to provide nesting areas and cutting fields in a spiral from the centre out to give them a chance to escape without having to leave the cover of the tall grass.
Bats are mammals. This means that they are covered in fur, they have warm blood, they give birth (rather than laying eggs) and they suckle their babies with milk. There are over 1,000 species of bat worldwide, all in the Order Chiroptera. The greatest diversity of bat species is found in warm equatorial areas where there are fruit-, fish-, insect-, pollen- and even frog-eating types. In Ireland we have nine species confirmed as residents, all of which belong to the bat Sub-order Microchiroptera. All of the Irish bat species consume only insects and the nine residents belong to two Families – the Vespertilionidae (with eight species) and the Rhinolophidae (with one species).
Until recently, it was thought that there were seven bat species in Ireland. The Nathusius’ Pipistrelle, a relatively common species throughout the rest of Europe, was discovered breeding in Northern Ireland in 1997. It has also been recorded by detector in the Republic. Around the same time scientists in Britain investigating the Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) discovered that it was actually two different species that have since been named the Common and Soprano Pipistrelle. Both species are found in Ireland.
In another new development for Ireland, a Brandt’s bat (Myotis brandtii) was discovered in County Wicklow in 2003. It is still unknown, following this first discovery, whether the bat was a vagrant from the UK or Europe, or a resident. No further specimens have been confirmed since 2003. This bat is very similar to the whiskered bat (Myotis mystacinus) so it is possible that it has been mistaken for whiskered bats in the past. This brings to 9 the number of bat species confirmed resident in Ireland, with one additional species (Brandt’s) possibly resident but unconfirmed.
Reports of possible Noctule (Nyctalus noctula) and Barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) bats could indicate that these species have undiscovered populations here, but ongoing bat work by Bat Conservation Ireland and the Centre for Irish Bat Research suggests that this is unlikely, unless the Noctule begins to spread into Ireland from the UK or continental Europe with climate change.
We will let you know about 2013 Heritage Week Events as soon as we have further details.
The Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), also known as the Wood Grouse, Heather Cock or Capercaillie /?kæp?r?ke?li/, is the largest member of the grouse family. The largest known specimen, recorded in captivity, had a weight of 7.2 kg. (15.9 lbs). Found across Europe and Asia, it is renowned for its mating display.
This species’ name is derived from the Gaelic capall coille, meaning “horse of the woods” because of the mating calls of the male during the mating season.
Male and female Western Capercaillie—the cocks and the hens—can easily be differentiated by their size and colouration. The male bird (or cock) is much bigger than the female (or hen). Cocks typically range from 74 to 85 cm (29 to 35 in) in length with wingspan of 90 to 125 cm (34–49 in) and an average weight of 4.1 kg (9.0 lb). The larger wild cocks can attain a length of 100 cm (39 in) and weight of 6.7 kg (15 lb). The largest specimen ever recorded in captivity had a weight of 7.2 kg. (15.9 lbs). The body feathers are coloured dark grey to dark brown, while the breast feathers are dark metallic green. The belly and undertail coverts vary from black to white depending on race (see below).
The hen is much smaller, weighing about half as much as the cock. The hen’s body from beak to tail is approximately 54–64 cm (21–25 in) long, the wingspan is 70 cm (28 in) and weighs 1.5–2.5 kg (3.3–5.5 lbs). Feathers on the upper parts are brown with black and silver barring, on the underside they are more light and buffish-yellow.
Distribution and habitat:
In Ireland it was common until the seventeenth century, but died out in the eighteenth. The most serious threats to the species are habitat degradation, particularly conversion of diverse native forest into often single-species timber plantations, and to birds colliding with fences erected to keep deer out of young plantations. Increased numbers of small predators that predate capercaillie’s (e.g. Red Fox) due to the loss of large predators who control smaller carnivores (e.g. Gray Wolf, Brown Bear) also cause problems in some areas. In Sweden, Western Capercaillie’s are the primary prey of the Golden Eagle. In some areas, declines are due to excessive hunting, though game laws in many areas have stopped this. It has not been hunted in Scotland or Germany for over 30 years.
Western Capercaillies are not elegant fliers due to their body weight and short, rounded wings. While taking off they produce a sudden thundering noise that deters predators. Because of their body size and wing span they avoid young and dense forests when flying. While flying they rest in short gliding phases. Their feathers produce a whistling sound.
If you would like to see some Capercaillie in Ireland – unfortunately not in the wild (maybe some day in the future) there are some on view in Tayto park in County Meath, and the best time to see them is in April/May when the male’s put on their dramatic mating display.
Watching Basking Sharks in Ireland
A feeding basking shark showing the characteristic white gape (Photo by jdanchoamia via Flickr)
“Shark infested waters” isn’t a term you normally associate with the Irish coastline, yet in late spring and early summer the Irish coast is one of the best places in Europe to see one of the world’s largest sharks. Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the largest fish in the North Atlantic, and second largest in the world (beaten only by its slightly larger tropical cousin, the whale shark Rhincodon typus).
In late spring and early summer these huge, harmless plankton-eaters arrive in numbers around the Irish coast, and can be seen from Mizen Head in the south to Malin Head in the north, sometimes just metres from the shore.
Av. Adult Length: 6.7 – 8.8 m
Av. Adult Weight: 5-7 tonnes
The basking shark is a large slow-swimming filter feeder that fuels its enormous bulk by sieving tiny plankton through specially adapted “gill rakers”. It has the distinctive torpedo-like body shape typical of open ocean sharks, with a conical, almost pointed snout, large dorsal and pectoral fins and a crescent-shaped tail. The body colour can vary, but is typically a dark grey-brown, although it generally looks black when viewed from above the surface unless you see a shark at very close quarters. The typical view of a basking shark is of the dorsal fin, the tip of the tail, and occasionally the tip of the snout, breaking the water’s surface as the shark moves its massive bulk slowly through the water hoovering up plankton.
Top Tip: Understanding more about basking sharks will improve your chances of seeing one. Start with the basking shark species profile here, then check out the links at the end of the article for more information.
When to see basking sharks in Ireland
Although there are always early and late sightings, basking shark season in Ireland starts in April and runs through to late July / early August, typically peaking from mid May to mid June, with fantastic opportunities to spot sharks from boats and from land during that period. Sometimes they venture very close to shore as they follow aggregations of zoo plankton into shallow bays and inlets.
Ideal basking shark weather
Calm weather after a period of sustained sunshine in May or June will generally maximise your chances of spotting a basking shark. Calm seas make it easier to pick out the tell-tale dorsal fin as it breaks the water’s surface, and fine weather boosts phytoplankton production, which in turn increases the concentration of zooplankton at the water’s surface, attracting the sharks up to feed.
Where to see Basking Sharks in Ireland
Basking sharks concentrate wherever there is an aggregation of the zoo plankton they feed on and can occur anywhere around the Irish coastline during the spring and summer months. However, the acknowledged basking shark hotspots are the south coast from West Cork to West Kerry, and the North West coasts of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.
Top Tip: Check latest basking shark sightings on the Irish Whale and Dolphin Groups online sightings database for the low-down on where sharks have been spotted near you.
Choosing your watch site
While you can see basking sharks from the beach, you’ll improve your chances enormously if you choose choose a site above sea level. Any site with a good view over a large expanse of water is suitable. Headlands are ideal, as they give an expansive view of the open ocean, but also let you scan bays and inlets along the shore for shark activity.
Choosing an elevated site will give you a “birds eye” view and, when conditions are right, will allow you to see more of the shark just beneath the surface, rather than just the tip of the dorsal and tail fin.
Top Tip: Don’t forget to scan bays and inlets close to the shore — sharks often come into shallower water to feed on gathering plankton there.
What you’ll need to watch basking sharks
All you really need to spot basking sharks is keen eyesight, a bit of patience, and enough knowledge to put yourself in the right place at the right time (this article should help there). However, there are a few things that can improve both your chances of seeing sharks, and the quality of the views you get of them once you find them.
A good pair of binoculars: essential for scanning large areas of water and spotting sharks at distance (see our reviews of high quality wildlife watching binoculars)
A good spotting scope: will help you pick out sharks further away, and give you superb close-up views of sharks closer to shore (see our reviews of high quality wildlife watching spotting scopes)
Time and perseverance: as with all wildlife watching, practice is the key to picking out basking sharks at the surface… so get out as often as you can during shark season when conditions are right, and keep looking.
A camera: to record the moment on those special occasions when sharks venture close enough for some shots.
Irish Butterflies and Moths.
There are approximately 156,000 different types of butterflies and moths in the world. Roughly 20,000 of these are butterflies and the rest are moths. Most species never move far from the plant on which they feed, while a few species have travelled a huge distance to Ireland from other countries.
Butterflies and Moths are insects. The are closely related and often look very similar but can vary in size from very small to a size similar to that of a small bird. Their body is divided up into three parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. The head has two antennae, two eyes and a long tube-like tongue called a proboscis, which is coiled up when not in use and opens up for feeding. Most adult butterflies and moths feed on nectar, honeydew or sap. The middle section of the body, the thorax, has four wings and six legs. Each wing is covered in tiny powdery scales, which are arranged in rows like slates on a roof and each scale is a single colour which helps make up unique displays or patterns on the wings. The last section of the body, the abdomen, has no legs or wings.
Difference between a Butterfly and a Moth.
There are some ways to tell a butterfly from a moth but there are always exceptions.
Butterflies are usually seen during the day whereas moths often seen at night. Moths generally rest during the day and tend to have dull colours to hide them in daylight hours. Some moths however, do come during the day and are often mistaken for butterflies as they can be just as colourful.
Butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically above themselves when resting whereas moths tend to keep their wings flat and tucked into into their body. There are some moths though that, when resting, will hold their wings vertically like butterflies.
Most butterflies have the same type of antennae (also known as feelers) – long and straight with a little ‘bubbles’ or ‘club’ at the end.
The Life Cycle.
A butterfly or moth has four stages in its life cycle; adult, egg, caterpillar and pupa. Some butterflies and moths complete the life cycle once, twice or three times per year. Others may take two years or longer. Metamorphosis is the complete change that a butterfly or moth goes through to become an adult.
The female will lay a tiny egg on the leaf of a plant. Inside the egg, the embryo is forming into a caterpillar (also called a larvae). Soon this caterpillar will hatch out and eat the leaf it is sitting on.
The Caterpillar that emerges from the egg is soft, has no wings and looks nothing like the adult butterfly or moth. It has three pairs of legs on the thorax and many false legs on the abdomen. It grows very quickly as it eats a lot of leaves, flowers or fruits, shedding its skin many times to allow it to get bigger.
In order to finish the process of turning into a butterfly the caterpillar attaches itself to a firm surface, such as a rock, a branch or the wall of a house. It changes to the pupa stage (also known as the chrysalis), by forming a hard outer skin inside which the Caterpillar turns into an adult butterfly or moth.
Once the adult is fully formed inside the pupa it breaks open the hard shell, rests for a few minutes to allow the blood to circulate in its wings and then flies away. Adults live from a few days to some months.
Some butterflies and moths hibernate during the winter, sleeping while the weather is cold. Generally it is the caterpillar or pupa stages that hibernate but there are some that hibernate in the egg or adult stages. Each butterfly and moth is different.
Butterflies, moths and their young must be very careful to avoid being eaten by birds and other predators and so use camouflage to help them blend in with their surroundings. Though butterflies mostly have colourful wings, they may close them while at rest, showing only a dull colour underneath. This makes them less visible to predators. Moths on the other hand keep their wings flat while resting and so have dull colours on the upper-side of their wings.
Some butterflies and moths are poisonous, both in the caterpillar and adult stages, and use bright colours to warn off predators. When a young predator tastes one of these and discovers the foul taste, it remembers the bright colours and never eats it again! Some Caterpillars have hairs or spines to keep enemies away and others make a tent to hide under for protection. Some Caterpillars even have ants to protect them!
Where to look!
For the species that we have included in this book, we have mentioned on which plants the caterpillars or adults like to feed. If you can find these plants you may find some butterflies or moths nearby. Your Garden at home or a nearby park are good places to begin your search. Butterflies tend to fly during the day, while moths usually prefer flying at night. Open areas in woodlands on a sunny day are perfect for looking for butterflies and are also good at night to find moths. Moths are often attracted to light so pay particular attention to street lamps or outside lights at your home.
Large White/Cabbage White.
Pictured here is a Large White (Banog mhor)
The eggs of the Large White (or Cabbage White) are laid on the underside of leaves, with caterpillars hatching from these eggs after approximately seven days. The caterpillars cause a lot of damage to cabbage as they feed on its leaves and are also poisonous to predators because of mustard oil in their bodies. The female butterfly is much larger than the male and has two black spots on the upperside of the forewings. The male only has one spot but both male and female have two spots on the underside of the forewings. The Large White is very similar to, but much larger than, the Green-veined White (which has greenish veins on its wings) and to the Small White (which is much smaller than the Large White).
Wingspan: 6.4-7.6 cm
Colour: White with black tips on the forewings; underwings pale greyish green.
Diet: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of cabbages, oil-seed rape and nasturtium flowers.
Winter Hibernating stage: Pupa.
Caterpillar: Green with black spots and a yellow line down the back and sides.
Habitat: Gardens, fields, hedgerows and other flowery places.
Flight Season: April to October.
Orange Tip: Anthocharis cardamines (Barr bui)
The Orange Tip is very common in Ireland and can be seen flying from to flower. The female butterfly lays only one egg per plant so as not to draw attention to them. The eggs are laid at the base of flower heads. It is thought that the female leaves a scent behind with the egg so that other female butterflies will know not to lay an egg on the same flower.
Wingspan: 3.8-4.8 cm.
Colour: Forewings white with black tips;n large orange patch on the male’s forewings; underside speckled black and yellow.
Diet: Adult feeds on nectar of Lady’s smock and garlic mustard.
Winter Hibernating stage: Pupa.
Caterpillar: Green on top and darker underneath with a white line along each side. Covered in black hairs.
Habitat: Damp areas in woodlands, hedgerows, roadsides, flowery meadows and gardens.
Flight Season: April to June.
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus (Gorman coiteann).
There are a number of blue butterflies but as the name suggests this is the most common. Although the male is blue the female is actually dark brown with violet blue at the base of the wings. At the edge of the wings are orange cresent shapes. The eggs are laid singly by the female and the Caterpillars hatch out after nine days. These Caterpillars have a honey gland on their bodies, to which ants are attracted and on which they feed. In return for the the honey the ants often provide food, shelter and protection from predators for the caterpillar.
Wingspan: 2.5- 3 cm.
Colour: Male violet with a fine black line around the edges; underside brownish/grey with black, white and red spots.
Diet: Caterpillar feeds on clover and bird’s-foot-trefoil.
Winter Hibernating stage: Caterpillar.
Caterpillar: Green with a darker line down its back and yellow stripes along its sides.
Habitat: Grasslands, gardens, meadows, coastal regions, heaths.
Flight Season: May to September.
Garden Tiger Arctia caja Leamhan tiograch garrai.
Wingspan: 5.6-7.4 cm.
Colour: Forewings cream with dark brown patches; hindwings orange with black spots.
Winter Hibernating stage: Small Caterpillar.
Caterpillar: Dark and very hairy.
Diet of a Caterpillar: Nettles, dock leaves and other garden plants.
Habitat: In gardens, meadows and other areas where its food can be found.
Flight Season: July to August.