Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weird pigeon

What the heck is that!? Was my thought as I passed a car with an odd looking pigeon sitting on it whilst on my way into town a couple of months back. This odd individual had me confused for a moment as it didn’t look like any of our regular Columba pigeons. Turns out it was just a young woodpigeon, a really odd looking bird considering how different it looks to the adult. The massive iris/stoned look gives it away as the older ones have that going on too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New beginnings

Well, as some of you may know I recently had my camera equipment stolen right from my living room whilst the four residents slept in nearby bedrooms. Creepy stuff! As you might imagine this has had a bit of an effect on my picture taking. 

I choose to look on the bright side; I was in the process of outgrowing my canon 1000d camera anyway so this is a chance to upgrade. If only money fell from the sky. Anyway in the hiatus between cameras, friends have kindly lent me their equipment to continue taking snaps. Still whilst I wait to afford a new machine I see no sense in trying to run two blogs. Consequently I am dissolving my Mini-Ireland blog and recombining it with this one. I hope to be back in business soon but when that happens I will be taking a new approach to this whole blogging business. Please excuse the 5 posts I have transferred over. I still have countless unshown pictures floating around so keeping this place open should be more then possible. 

Lots of stuff to come on my Facebook page too!

I'll leave you with this recent pic of an (old world) swallowtail from Tuscany, Italy

Lizards and Frogs

This is the viviparous lizard, Ireland’s only widespread reptile species. Its latin name is Zootoca vivipara, even though it used to be placed in the genus Lacerta. Its name ‘viviparous’ comes from the fact that it lays its eggs only moments before they are due to hatch. Most of the maturation occurs inside the female, most European reptiles lay their eggs well before they are ready to hatch. Interestingly some European populations of the same species lay their eggs as normal, presumably because bad weather is less of a threat to their eggs in those parts of the continent.
As such viviparous lizards are uniquely well adapted to places with remarkably little sunshine (such as Ireland) and can hibernate for much of the winter if their climate doesn’t allow them enough sunshine to maintain their body heat.

The individuals below where encountered in Ballycotton, Cork, where they seem quite at home in the long grass, basking whilst perfectly camouflaged with their surroundings. If something should grab them before they can make their escape their tail is designed to break off, allowing for the lizard to escape unharmed.
Viviparous lizards are common in Ireland (which coincidently is their other name, common lizard) but can be very hard to find, despite the fact that they live in many different habitats, forest, bog, cliffs, grassland, etc... I feel quite privileged to have gotten this close to this species and get these photographs which frankly I would have never thought possible. Usually one sees no more then a glimpse of this little lizard before it dissapears.

As well, here are some common frogs (Rana temporaria) I encountered a couple of months ago. These two frogs where nice enough to pose for my camera. Common frogs are one of three amphibian species in Ireland and are by far its most common. Interestingly of the three most common groups of amphibians, we have one of each, one newt (common/smooth), one toad (natterjack) and one frog (common). Compared to even England that’s very little (slowworm, common lizard, grass snake, common toad, natterjack, common frog, pool frog, great crested newt, smooth newt, the list goes on...). The reason for this lack in diversity has a lot to do with the fact that Ireland has long been isolated from the rest of Europe and many species did not have opportunity to spread here. Snakes are a prime example of common European species that simply never made it across the sea.

Crab species

(originally published 23 May, 2012)
A trip to Ballycotton some weeks ago allowed for some rock pooling, the searching of rock pools for interesting life. What turned up amongst other things where several of Irelands crab species. It is suprising just how many species of crab you can find, even by turning just a few rocks on the shore line.

First off, my favourite of the irish species, this is a velvet swimming crab (Necora puber), part of a family of crabs with specially adapted back legs for swimming in the water. As you can imagine this gives them a great advantage over other crabs that are limited to living on or near the sea floor since they can swim up to the surface. Velvet swimmers are particularly evil looking with those red eyes and are quite aggressive. This one was not full grown and unfortunately I didn’t actually get a chance to photograph its adapted legs. Anyway, it gets its name because hairs give it a soft velvety feel.
Note the purple/blue tinges and red eyes that give this crab a colourful and quite evil apearance,

The shore crab (Carcinus maenas) is Ireland’s most common crab and is probably one of the planets most widespread and invasive species. Adults are quite large (size of your hand) and are always green with an orangy tinge whilst the young come in an array of different colours and patterns, presumably to blend in with multicoloured sediment. If you’re near any shore line with rocks (or even sand) you are bound to find them under almost every stone below the tide line. Adults can be harder to find but become more common closer to the sea’s edge at low tide.
Handle with care, those claws can draw blood
A female, the triangular area on its belly is wide to allow her to carry eggs, the male has a narrow strip

The edible crab (Cancer pagurus) is amongst the largest Irish species. Full grown adults are rarely found in rock pools and prefer deeper water but young ones are quite common. When approached they tend to play dead by curling their legs inwards and staying motionless but this tactic is often abandoned in favour of aggression. As their name suggests these crabs are edible and are often caught by fishermen.
Not a friendly crab by any means
Playing dead behaviour

Montagu’s crab (Lophozozymus incises) is a small species of crab quite commonly found in rock pools, as this picture shows it has some impressive claw strength going on. It refused to let go of that rock, which was bigger then its body and could easily hold on to it. Like the edible crabs they play dead.
Body builder crab

The broad clawed porcelein crab (Porcellana platycheles) despite its tiny size has some impressive claw strength and can actually give quite a potent nip. It’s a very common rock pool species that often goes unnoticed because of its small size and great camouflage.
This crab has lost a claw, usually this happens when they fight with other crabs, luckily for the crab, they grow back.

Bumblebees in April

(originally published April 26, 2012) Ok you may have to bear with me on this subject, I am very slowly getting the hang of bumblebees but since this is my first year of attempting to identify them I may well get one or two wrong. This applies to all insects really. I find it hard to tell some species apart so mistakes and revisions are bound to happen. If I am at any point unsure about an ID I will make a note next to the picture so that people can tell when something is not certain.

Ahem, anyway, this blog will cover the members of the genus Bombus, which covers the carder, cuckoo and bumblebees of Ireland. First is my favourite species, the carder bee, I like the reddish colouration. It’s quite common and I have found several in the city as well as in Ballycotton.

Most common around the city are these two species, the white tailed and the buff tailed bumblebee, these two are a bit too similar for my taste with the tail and stripes being of a slightly different colouration. I have only confidently split the ones with extremely yellow and extremely orange stripes from each other. It is their queens that are easiest to tell apart and there’s been plenty of them around for the past month.

White tailed bumblebees

Buff tailed bumblebees

The also common red tailed bumblebee is a bit easier to identify, seeing that its mostly black with a red tail. There is a rare species up the country that looks quite similar but down here in Cork it’s probably safe to assume that these are red tails.

And now for the complicated bees, I think....and I do mean think that this is a garden bumblebee given that its a long looking specimen and has a joined stripe on the thorax and the abdomen indicating that its not a white or buff tailed. I could be wrong...

This bee I am finding much harder to identify. Its tiny and looks at first glance almost black. Its reddish tail seem to suggest that its an early bumblebee but frankly I am just not sure. Hopefully with further research I will be able to pin this one down.

Most of my fevered attempts at identifying these fat little insects comes from this website, a great way to get started if your interested in Irelands diverse bee species.

Butterflies in April

(Originally published April 7, 2012) Well I’m finally getting to this blog, I had intended to have a number of posts here by now, but that’s life I guess. As its now spring the insects have began to return to the city. Specifically I have been looking at bumblebees and butterflies and trying to photograph the various species that have now taken to the air. Today I’ll show you my first butterflies of summer 2012. With any luck at all it’s only the beginning.

This is a small white (Pieris rapae), one of a number of white butterfly species. I spotted this individual and 4 others in Ballycotton last week out on the cliffwalk. Soon this species will be everywhere. It was great to see it again since the butterflies disappeared around October last year.

This peacock butterfly (Inachis io) was seen in the Fota gardens, little island last week. It’s a great looking butterfly and also coincidently one of Ireland’s most common species. Note its brown camouflage with wings closed making it almost invisible when on a tree or on leaf litter which stands in stark contrast to its vivid red wing patters and false eyes when open. I don’t quite remember the specifics but this presumably is designed to startle would be predators and confuse them as to where to bite, attacking the false eyes allows for escape. This individual started vibrating when I approached it which I took to be either its attempt to lure a nearby mate or a threatening display towards me, based on my books it seems to be the latter. I have never witnessed them doing this before!

The third and by far most common species currently I have seen recently is the small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) which is similar in size to the peacock but less bold. It is this species that one usually finds hibernating in houses. I quite like the blue rims on this species. The first individual below seems a bit worse for wear but the second one shows off some of this butterflies beauty a bit more.

I have already seen glimpses of holly blues and orange tips around the city. These two species are top of my list of species to photograph this month.

Large red & Azure damselflies

(originally published May 19, 2012)
Whilst taking a stroll around Little island near Cork last week I managed to find a sizeable group of large red damselflies in Fota gardens. At first I feared that getting close to them might be problematic and therefore I wouldn’t get a good shot. This fear was soon laid to rest as I discovered a minimum of 50 of these lovely damselflies. I never saw this species before which made the day all the better. This is Ireland’s only red species of damselfly aside from the rufescens form blue tailed damselfly I found last year. These are my first Odontates of 2012. Hopefully there will be plenty more to follow.

Amongst them where a small number of blue type damselflies. Once home and looking through the pictures I quickly ruled out blue tailed and common blue damselflies which left only azure and variable damselflies as candidates. I can’t say it was easy since some of the diagnostic features are hard to figure out from these shots. With some help at dragonflyireland’s facebook page however they were pinned down to azure’s.