“SUPERB, SOFT-PLUMAGED, SHAPE-SHIFTING, STARLING-SIZED, SUPERMARKET SOFT-FRUIT-SCOFFERS BY THE SCORE, SOMETIME SOON”

“SUPERB, SOFT-PLUMAGED, SHAPE-SHIFTING, STARLING-SIZED, SUPERMARKET SOFT-FRUIT-SCOFFERS BY THE SCORE, SOMETIME SOON”

In the current issue of BirdWatching Magazine I came across this item on the Waxwing, one of the “Five To Find in December”:

The anonymously-published text is:

As we say every year, the number of Waxwings in the UK is massively variable from winter to winter. Out Finnish contacts reported, at this summer’s Birdfair, that there appeared to be a shortage of suitable berries in their breeding grounds in the late summer; and that this looked promising for an ‘irruption’ heading our way. So, with luck, we will have these superb, soft-plumaged, shape-shifting, Starling-sized, supermarket soft-fruit-scoffers by the score, sometime soon.

Aside from the alliteration this inspired me to get some about-to-expire soft fruit from a supermarket.

Birdwatch Ireland have a Waxwing page:

Wintering: Winters mainly in southern Scandinavia, with only a few sightings in Ireland every year. Every few years there is a larger invasion into Ireland when the food supplies in their normal winter range is exhausted prematurely. Normally seen in groups of five to fifty birds, but flocks of up to 400 Waxwings have been recorded in Ireland.

Where to See: Waxwings are best looked for at sites with a large number of berry bearing trees, such as Rowan.

Known in Irish as síodeiteach which is literally “silk wing.” I wonder is this a vernacular name or an academically-derived one?

Of course, the Waxwing features in the first line of Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’

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“Swallows”, George Szirtes

George Szirtes is a poet who writes both children’s and grown-up verse. His book “How To Be A Tiger” neatly shows how ostensibly children’s verse can be as valuable as adult-orientated work

One highlight: “Swallows”:

Hustling on the wing

all billow and swoop

Laughing as they go

Pouring from the sky

In one vast troupe

They fly tails forked

Suddenly uncorked.

“The Barn Owls of Tipperary”, talk by Áine Lynch of BirdWatch Ireland, Tirry Centre, Fethard, October 4th

In case a Blessing of the Animals is not enough for one day, there is a talk at 7.45 pm in the Tirry Community Centre, Fethard on the Barn Owls of Tipperary.:

The Tipperary Branch of BirdWatch Ireland will be hosting an illustrated talk on the Barn Owls of Tipperary on Thur 4th October at 7.45, Tirry Community Centre, Barrack Street, Fethard. This is a free event suitable for all. There will be also a raffle on the night for a couple of framed pictures of Barn Owls.

The only time I have seen a Barn Owl is in Tipperary so this seems appropriate. BirdWatch Ireland have an informative booklet on this species which does merit that overused word, iconic.

All September’s #ExtinctinIreland posts in one handy page

As demanded by absolutely no-one, here are all the posts I have done this month on species extinct in Ireland since the coming of humanity….

Extinct in Ireland: September 1st, the sturgeon

Extinct in Ireland: September 2, the wolf

Extinct in Ireland, September 3. The Capercaillie

Extinct in Ireland, September 4th, the Bittern

Extinct in Ireland, September 5th, the Barberry Carpet Moth – last seen in Clonmel!

Extinct in Ireland: September 6th, Perkin’s Mining Bee (Andrena rosae)

Extinct in Ireland, September 7th, the Corn Bunting

Extinct in Ireland, September 8th, Triple Spotted Clay Moth (Xestia ditrapezium)

Extinct in Ireland, September 9th, Black-necked Grebe

Extinct in Ireland, September 10th, the Great Auk

Extinct in Ireland, September 11th. Meadow Saxifrage

Extinct in Ireland September 12th – Spiral Chalk Moss (Pterygoneurum lamellatum)

Extinct in Ireland, September 13th – Lapidary snail, Heligonica lapicida

Extinct in Ireland, September 14th, The Diminutive Diver (Bidessus minutissimus)

Extinct in Ireland, September 15th, The Beautiful Moss Beetle, Hydraena pulchella

Extinct in Ireland, September 16th, the wild boar

Extinct in Ireland, September 17th, Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis annua)

Extinct in Ireland, September 18th – the Osprey

Extinct in Ireland, September 19th, Spotted crake

Extinct in Ireland, 20th September, the Woodlark

Extinct in Ireland, September 21st – the red squirrel

Extinct in Ireland, September 22nd – the purple sea urchin -Paracentrosus lividus

Extinct in Ireland, September 23rd, the North Atlantic right whale

Extinct in Ireland, September 24th- Rannoch rush (Scheuchzeria pallustris) and the life of John Moore

Extinct in Ireland, September 25th, the mud pond snail, Omphiscola glabra

Extinct in Ireland, September 26th, Large copper (Lycaena Dispar)

Extinct in Ireland, September 27th – Small mountain ringlet (Erebia epiphron)

Extinct in Ireland, September 28th – the golden eagle

Extinct in Ireland, September 29th, the Lynx

Extinct in Ireland, September 30th, the crane

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Extinct in Ireland, September 30th, the crane

The final species I have selected for this month of Irish extinctions is the crane. The crane only went extinct in late medieval times, and features much in Irish poetry and song before this. This 2011 Irish Times piece by Lorna Siggins deals with a sighting of a flock in Castletownroche, Co Cork (home of labyrinths, dinosaurs and spies):

While there have been occasional sightings, cranes have not bred here since the early 18th century and were under severe pressure for several centuries before. The majestic bird breeds across northern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine.

Cranes were once so prevalent here that their Irish name “corr” is recorded in hundreds of place names – such as “Curragh” or “crane meadow” in Co Kildare.

“Few native birds can rival the widespread cultural footprint and the connections with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, the druids, St Colmcille and the Book of Kells,” said Mr O’Toole.

Druids believed in transmigration of the soul and the cranes were said to carry the spirits of the dead. They are best known for their migratory trumpeting and their predilection for display.

“Research by Prof Fergus Kelly suggests that the ‘peata corr’ was the third commonest pet after dogs and cats during the Brehon Law period,” said Mr O’Toole. “The crane bag was a well known magical container in our ancient folklore, which had associations with Manannán Mac Lir, the great sea god, Lúgh and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.”

Its familiar bald red patch on its crown is depicted in the Book of Kells, and St Colmcille was known as the “crane cleric”, he added.

Colonisers from Viking and Anglo-Norman times who had no qualms about eating the bird may have contributed to its demise, along with an increase in the fox population, said Mr O’Toole.

Here is a 2015 piece from The Argus (Co. Louth local paper) on a crane flock in Louth:

There was great excitement among local bird watchers last week when a flock nine Cranes were seen near the M1 at the turn off for Ardee just west of Dunleer. There has only been one verified sighting of a Crane previously in Louth on March 19 2012 in Drogheda.

This most recent sighting was by Billy Clarke and has led to speculation that the birds may be relocating somewhere in Louth.

Cranes are long distance migrants from southern Europe to north eastern Europe. They have also been reintroduced in the UK. in Somerset where there is a flock of around 50 birds with colour rings on legs so as to record their movements.

Cranes are a common sight in much of Europe and are famous for their spectacular dancing display.

It’s believed that these majestic birds have been extinct in Ireland for over 300 years. Sightings at various parts of Ireland in recent years has led to speculation that the European Crane might return to Ireland to breed thanks to a warming climate, just as little egret has done.

I have posted before about some ambivalence at the spread of Little Egret. It is on one level still a little exotic and a bit thrilling, on another it is a sign that the climate is changing, with all that implies. The fact that flocks of cranes are being sighted, albeit sporadically, in Ireland is perhaps another mixed blessing.

On that possibly uplifting, possibly not note, this is the last Extinct in Ireland post. It has been a rather saddening, albeit educational process. Sadly there was no shortage of species to choose from, and in the end it was more a question of what to leave out (for instance out of the three raptors which the Golden Eagle Trust have reintroduced, only focusing on the Golden Eagle)

I hope readers have taken something from this – for Irish readers particularly, I hope any complacency about Ireland being a wonderful place for wildlife is dissipated.

#AnimalsinChurches: Birds in stained glass window, SS Peter and Paul, Clonmel

#AnimalsinChurches: Birds in stained glass window, SS Peter and Paul, Clonmel

The #AnimalsInChurches tag leads one into a fabulous world of, well, animals in Churches. Or more specifically (or at least usually) animals in stained glass or statuary in Churches.

Here is an example I found myself from SS Peter and Paul, Clonmel at the bottom of a window depicting the Nativity:

 

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Harry Clarke’s Stained Glass window of Our Lady of Fatima in the  Augustinian Priory, Fethard includes a fine example of sheep:

 

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Harry Clarke window of Our Lady of Fatima, Augustinian Abbey, Fethard, Co Tipperary