Hairy Wood Ants (Formica lugubris) photographic project
Over the last few years I been involved working on a project around county Tipperary,Ireland involving photographing nests of Irish Wood Ants (Formica lugubris), this has been one of the most interesting photo project I have ever worked on.
The images in this post are captured between 2014 and 2017 ….
These Ants are on the international endangered species list and exist in locations that are kept reasonably private, just to find and get to see these nests themselves is a task and an amazing feeling.
When you get closer to the nests for the first time you will notice just how large they are (3 feet off the ground) and how many Ants that each colony contains, each nest can hold tens of thousands of Ants, the entire surface of the nest is on the move with Ants coming and going from small entrance holes. This flow of movement is 24 hours long during the months that the Ants are active.
They create a clear trail through the woods as they clear a path, traveling both outwards from the nest and returning again with food for the Queen Ant living deep in the ground under the nest itself.
It is thought she lives in a protected area some two meters underground.
In order to protect themselves and nest with its queen, they can shoot out acid some four feet from their bodies.
I will be working on this project most of this summer and look forward to each return, watching these wonderful Wood Ants is an amazing experience and working around them with a camera is great fun.
Taken at Lunchtime today, this Spider was hiding in the hollow of a garden tree. I am not sure what kind of spider she is but am going through lots of websites and wildlife books I have.
At the moment I am keeping my Macro lens on my Camera all the time, I am missing taking some more general landscape images but truly enjoying spending sometime getting much closer to the nature that I find at home or very close to home. Macro photography is not easy and a true skill, so the more macro’s I find myself taking the more confident I am feeling in this area 🙂
I have visited Oak park in county Carlow many times over the years. The park is known for its native woodlands and its surrounding lakes and rivers but also for its wildlife including its swans.
The swans are to be found in the park all year round and as you can see from the first picture above I was lucky enough a couple of years ago in capturing one couple with many of their cygnets.
During one visit to the park last year, two very young swans approached me as I was standing on a bridge, there is a good chance that these two are from the same family group as in the top image, impossible to know but it would be a great thought !!!
My study of an Otter family on the river Suir, county Tipperary continued today Friday, Each time I visit this family I manage to get closer and closer, today being the most noticeable.
I managed to spend 40min with this one adult Otter as he or she hunted the river for fish, this process involved diving as deep as possible and spending about a minute below the water before coming back up for breath, during the 40 minutes I think two fish in total were retrieved.
I hope to keep returning many times of the winter months to monitor just how they are all doing, ist amazing to be able to get so close and exciting to study such wonderful wild animals.
Last weekend while on walk between Clonmel and Carrick-on-suir, both in county Tipperary, We came across a family of Otters, they had made one of the rivers contributor’s their home ( A Holt or Couch in otter terms ). We spent about an hour with them watching as two adults and four pups hunted and play in the waters. One of the Pups managed to catch a fish and then share this food with the other three pups on the river bank.
For a long time I have hopped to have an encounter with these otters, I knew they were around this location but had never been in luck when it came to seeing them, so this hour was a truly special time and one I will not forget 🙂 , it changes the way you feel about a river when you have the chance to view its wild life for such a long period of time.
Here are some basic facts about the otter in Ireland …..
Written by Dr Mathieu Lundy
The otter (Lutra lutra) is regarded as one of Ireland’s most charismatic native mammal species.
The otter is highly secretive and although widespread people tend to only get rare glimpses of the species in the wild. Otter populations declined throughout Europe after the 1960s and the species is now very rare or absent from many parts of its former range. The Irish otter population appears to have remained largely stable and is regarded as a European stronghold. In Ireland otters are found in a diverse array of aquatic habitats, from small streams to major rivers, upland lakes to coastal lagoons and sandy beaches. However, otters that live at the coast do need access to some freshwater habitat to bathe. Within these habitats otters feed on a range of both aquatic and terrestrial prey. Much of the information regarding distribution, habitat use and diet comes from spotting otter tracks and signs. Individual otters are highly territorial, using droppings called spraints to mark their home ranges. Favoured locations for leaving spraints are in-stream boulders, bridge footings and grass tussocks, these are called seats. These territorial signs are an ideal way to tell if otters are using an area. Within its territory an otter may have a number of resting sites, called couches and underground denning sites called holts, which can be a considerable distance (up to 1km) from a river, lake or the seashore.
The species of otter that occurs in Ireland is called the Eurasian otter and is found in Europe and across Asia to China and Japan. In other regions the otter shares aquatic habitats with species specialised to different habitats such as sea otters, but in Ireland the otters that live at the coast and those that occupy our rivers are the same species.
In Ireland the otter population is geographically widely spread. In local areas its presence will depend on the provision of suitable aquatic habitats, sufficient food and cover for resting and breeding. During different seasons male otters and juvenile otters will disperse and otter signs may be observed in areas where they have not been present hitherto.
Home ranging behaviour
The territories of otters can stretch for several kilometres; the total length of the home range depends on the availability of food. The smallest territories are thought to occur at coastal sites, where territories may be as small as 2km. The longest territories occur in upland streams where an individual may have to range more than 20km to find sufficient food. The territories of males tend to be larger than females and indeed may overlap with a number of female otters. The availability of suitable territories along the coast and inland at lakes and rivers is thought to maintain the otter population of Ireland. The entire population is estimated to be in the region of 10,000 adults.
Within their territories an individual otter may utilise a number of holts. These tend to be natural crevices, associated with the roots of trees growing along river and lake banks. These natural recesses provide the otter with a holt that has multiple entrances from which the otter can escape if disturbed. Whilst individual otters rarely dig their own holts they will use burrows made by other animals such as rabbits and foxes. It is possible to build artificial holts to attract otters to use certain areas. Artificial holts are built to resemble natural holts, with a resting compartment and multiple entrances, these are particularly important where the natural bank side vegetation has been removed.
Other resting sites are also used, frequently in dense vegetation and may be associated with frequently used runs and slides into the water.
Although otters can breed at any time of year most seem do so in spring or early summer. Scent markings by the females signal to male otters that the females are ready to mate. The pregnancy lasts for around two months after which a litter of cubs is born, usually two or three, but as many as five have been seen. The cubs remain in the natal holt for up to two months before venturing out on their own, although the mother may move the cubs between holts within her territory periodically. Unlike other resting sites the natal holts do not tend to be marked with spraints. The juvenile otters remain as a family group for around six months or longer before the young otters disperse to establish their own territories.
Otters that live in rivers and lakes tend to be completely nocturnal, described as being crepuscular – activity peaks at dusk and dawn. Foraging at night or in ‘muddy’ water is aided by their highly sensitive whiskers, which detect their prey items. Otters are principally piscivorous, relying predominantly on salmonids (salmon and trout), but also eel and small fish species such as stickleback. However, otters are not limited to fish and feed opportunistically on a range of prey when available: frogs are frequently eaten by otters, and the remains of invertebrates (crayfish), birds and small mammals have also been found in spraints. Otters that forage at the coast may have flexible foraging times linked to the tides. At low tide otters hunt in the exposed rock pools and seaweed covered rocks for fish and invertebrate prey.
The Irish otter population remains one of the most stable in Europe. There is some evidence to suggest that since initial national surveys in the early 1980s there have been declines in the prevalence of the species. It is hoped that the reasons for these declines will be addressed by the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), ongoing national assessments and by targeted intensive surveys. The risks to the current otter population are the availability of sufficient food within their habitats and provision of resting and denning sites. This species is protected under the Wildlife Act (1976) and Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000.
Otters have been found dead in illegal snares, which may not be intended for otters, but which still pose a threat to individual animals. A significant number of otters are also killed on our roads. There is some evidence that the incidence of these accidents increases during periods of flooding when fast flowing rivers at bridge crossing become impassable and otters must venture onto roads to find alternative routes. The occurrence of otters at any site relies on a complex interaction of the characteristics of the wider landscape and local site specific habitat factors. Broad-scale intensive agriculture and urbanisation of catchments reduces the likelihood that otters will occur, along with reduced diversity of river banks and lake shores. Maintaining prey populations and preserving the natural features of rivers, lakes and coasts will benefit the Irish otter population and ensure that the Irish population remains a European stronghold.
Throughout the last few weeks, when ever I sit outside in the our garden, I am often accompanied by this little Robin, always brave and very forward he gets lots of leftovers from the meals and snacks I take outside.
So I thought today I would share him with on my blog , I am sure if he could do so he would get his own WordPress pages, I bet his post would be amazing 🙂 🙂
Last week we took sometime to visit my Family in a holiday home in South Wales, it was a great week together and very special as we have a new baby in the family 🙂
Before we left for Wales, spring was just staring but on our return it was in full flow with so much new life all around, the cycle of life continues in so many different ways 🙂
During this week, I just wanted to return to some of my most loved Irish Landscape locations and Monday today’s post I want to share some images I have taken since 2014, these relate to the Irish Bog and Peat lands of the Irish Midlands and the West coast.
Ireland has internationally important peat/bog lands but they are always under serious threat. Over the last few years the Irish government has protected areas of special conservation from historic family rights to cut peat in these areas, a decision that created problems for some but one that was very much needed in order to start the process of returning the bog’s to a point of growth and sustainability.
I love these locations, they are remote and full of life both plant and wild life and I feel like many others that they do need very special care and support.
When you visit locations like the Bog of Allen, you can see a contrast between the areas that are still wild and untouched and the areas that have been harvested for peat, when you see this contrast and its different effects on local bio-diversity you would only hope that one day we can find a less damaging way to heat our homes and produce energy.
Irish Bog-lands Gallery
There are so many wild species at Fota Wildlife park, county Cork – but few as sweet and attractive as the little Meerkat’s. Like many of animals they occupy their own island and you view them from across the water of a lake.
I spent a good time during my visit with these little creatures and found it difficult to move on, they are such great fun to watch 🙂 🙂
Here is their introduction and details, provided by Fota wildlife park themselves !
About the Meerkat
A favourite of visitors young and old, the Meerkat is a smaller member of the Mongoose family. Measuring up to 35cm in length and weighing up to 730grams, it has four long, strong claws on each paw to aid with burrowing and likes to stand on its hind legs from high vantage points when possible.
The Meerkat is found across southern Africa in the wild, particularly around the savannahs and open plains of Botswana, Namibia, Angola and South Africa.
The Meerkat is a social and curious animal that lives underground in groups called mobs, gangs or clans. Much of its time is spent digging and foraging for food including insects, roots, eggs, small reptiles and scorpions – the Meerkat is immune to the latter’s poison unlike mankind.
While pack members are feeding, at least one of the mob will be on guard, standing on its back legs and watching for predators such as eagles, foxes for jackals. Should any danger arise, an alarm call will alert the entire group who will then quickly venture underground.
Meerkats share the job of looking after their young. When born, the pups are mostly hairless and cannot see or hear. They generally open their eyes after two weeks and start to eat food other than milk a week later. Females tend to be larger than males and can have as many as four litters of up to five pups a year – generally around rainy season when food is plentiful.
Considered to be of Least Concern, local populations of the species are susceptible to disturbances and habitat loss caused by mankind.
Did you know?
The fur on the Meerkat’s belly is thin and helps it to regulate its own body temperature. It sits up or lies on warm ground in order to increase its temperature and reduces it by lying belly-down in a cool, dark burrow.
The Fota Connection
The Park’s Meerkat clan arrived in 2010 and took up residence in a new exhibit near the main entrance. Its habitat has since been revamped further with the addition of a new viewing house, allowing visitors more intimate interaction with one of the world’s most interesting and active species. The original group, Tippy and her three daughters, came from Belfast Zoo but Fota’s numbers have since increased into double figures.
There are so many different Species of Wildlife at Corks Fota Wildlife park that you would need many visits in order to get to know as much as you can about them all, along with getting enough time to observer their individual personalities.
During last weekends visit I found so much that I liked about them all but for me the Red Ruffed Lemurs were very special fun to spend some time with. They never stopped moving around their island and their climbing and balancing skills were just amazing to take in.
Here are some basic details about these wonderful Lemur’s
About the Red Ruffed Lemur
Named for the long thick fur that grows around its head and body, the Red Ruffed Lemur is an agile primate that has made the island of Madagascar its home. Males and females look the same – its body is close to its feet, the animal has piercing (sometimes reddish) eyes and it usually weighs between seven and 12 pounds.
Ruffed Lemurs are found exclusively on the island of Madagascar off the continent of African, and are generally found in the upper canopy of the tropical rainforests on the eastern side of the island.
The species is considered to be crepuscular, which simply means that they are most active at dawn and dusk. Their diet consists mainly of fruits, seeds, nectar and plant matter and the animal scent marks its territories and uses an elaborate system of alarm calls to alert other group members if predators are nearby.
Female Red Ruffed Lemurs don’t carry their offspring like most other primates; instead, mothers give birth and leave their young in nests that are generally found between ten and 20 metres above ground level. However, infant mortality is high with about 65% of newborns not reaching three months.
The species is listed as being Critically Endangered after a significant decline in population in recent decades because of agriculture, logging and mining activities across its habitat. In fact, over 90% of Madagascar’s original rainforest is gone.
It is estimated that there could be as few as 1,000 to 10,000 left in the wild, while the Black & White Lemur is the most Endangered of the two Ruffed Lemurs.
Did you know?
The Ruffed Lemur feeds on nectar by sticking its long nose deep into the flower. The Lemur’s snout becomes coated with pollen in the process, which is then transported to other flowers – making the animal an important pollinator within its local habitat.
The Fota Connection
The Park is home to three of the 16 species of Lemur and two varieties of the Ruffed Lemur – the Red and Black and White species.
The Ruffed Lemurs are maintained on separate islands alongside each other in the lakes area as they are territorial animals, while Fota has been actively involved in a series of projects aimed at preserving what remains of their natural habitat in Madagascar.
The Rise Of The Blue Swan
He hid in the shadows of his life
For the world hurt him and all that he wanted
A mind shattered into the shards of hurt that burned
His skin at the merest thought
The blue swan laid low
Like a sunset hidden in the midday sun
Or a full moon ready in the depths of the darkest hollow
His time would come
The blossom would break and his beating wings would soon rise
For he was the blue swan
His pen ready yet she was hidden in the clouds of his uncleared mind
A mate for his remainder
Swan so blue please wake from your bitter
Shine like the kindred spirit you had before the storm
Swan of the day
Love of the night
Your future is waiting
So bright is your fire
The day has come for the blue swan to fly
So beat like the earth on the run
Rise to the mountains
Shout to the sky
Feb 23, 2014
January can seem so quite in the Irish Hedgerows, very little is moving or growing, yet there is still signs of life to be found in the remains of last years summer season.
I took these images at lunch-time while out on a walk, I feel that there is still much to see and capture, even so long after these flowers would have been at their colourful best …..
A reminder of the cycle of life …….
Poem by Michael Shepherd
The hover fly
that’s just demonstrated
that it’s one of the Creation’s greatest
and smallest, most compact miracles of lawful
imagination (imagine flying, then stopping
quite still in the air, no slowing down,
just, zap, like that, dead steady,
and it’s smaller (!) than a helicopter, wow)
right here in front of me in silhouette, but
illuminated on one wing by the PC screen,
and pausing for a freeze-frame moment of eternity
as if to tell me something
(illumination, too?) –
all this, and yet it
doesn’t know I’m writing about it.
Kingdom Falconry is based and located at Crag caves, Castle-island, Co. Kerry, 2km from the Town.
They offer you the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of very majestic and awe-inspiring birds of prey.
The photos here are of a pair of Harris hawks.
I had a chance to get a private viewing of these Hawks and to take them on a “Hawk walk” around the grounds at Crag caves.
It was a fantastic experience and one I will not forget for a long time, just to get close to these birds of prey and learn lots about them and get to know their unique nature was very special.
Kingdom Falconry can be contacted from this link.
If you are in county Kerry and near Castle-island and have sometime , I would very much recommend dropping in to meet these birds.
A few days ago while out walking , I took a rest and sat-down for a while in the corner of a field.
I noticed these Dandelions and that they were providing a feast for all kinds of insects, so I took lots of images a few of which I post here.
I love this time of year as life is everywhere, so why not just take a moment or two and take a look at all that surround you.
Tatton park near Knutsford in the county of Cheshire is located about 10 miles from my childhood home town of Altrincham. As a family we would visit the park here many times as kids, spending the day walking around the grounds and viewing the landscape along with the wild life.
The grounds are open all summer and this is a wonderful place to spend a summers day, boating on the lakes or having a good old fashioned picnic.
If you want to get a feel for the county of Cheshire in the north west of England then a visit to Tatton park and the villages that surround it are a great place to make a start.
There is evidence of human habitation in the area of the estate going back to the Iron Age. In medieval times the village of Tatton was on the site. This has since disappeared but the area of the village and its roadways are a Scheduled Ancient Monument. By the end of the 15th century the estate was owned by the Stanley family who built and occupied the Old Hall. By the 1580s this building had been enlarged and it was owned by the Brereton family. In 1598 the estate was bought by Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Chancellor of England. Sir Thomas and his children rarely visited the estate and it was loaned to tenants. At the end of the 17th century the estate was owned by John Egerton, Sir Thomas’ grandson, who built a new house on the site of the present mansion, some 0.75 miles (1 km) to the west of the Old Hall. This mansion, Tatton Hall, was extensively altered and extended between 1780 and 1813.
In 1795 the estate covered 251,000 acres (1,020 km2) (392 sq.miles). The estate remained in the ownership of the Egerton family until the last Lord Egerton died without issue in 1958. He left the house to the National Trust and gave them the park in lieu of death duties. However, as the estate itself was sold by his executors, Cheshire County Council committed to a 99-year lease in place of an endowment to ensure that it was preserved for the benefit of the nation. The Trust’s ownership (run now by Cheshire East Council) is some 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) (3.1 sq.miles).
Tatton park, a Gallery
The images below I hope show something of just how great a day spent here can be.
Teifi MarshesNature Reserve
I am getting out of Ireland for this Monday and posting about one of my favourite wildlife and nature reserves just across the water in south west Wales.
Last year I visited the reserve in the early summer time and it was just full of life, the observation huts located around the long paths offer some great views of the river and lake birds that nest here.
There is a wonderful visitors centre and restaurant so you can make a full days visit, stopping at lunch and then if the welsh weather will allow you can return to the outside afterwards. The hides around the reserve do however offer you shelter from the rain so it is possible to visit in the winter as well so you can view the wintering birds that arrive here from much colder countries.
The two very different seasonal ‘faces’ of Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve make this an excellent place to visit all year round. In winter the marsh is subject to extensive flooding and becomes a haven for numerous wildfowl, whilst in summer a visit to the reserve reveals an entirely different range of habitats and wildlife.
The site is owned by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and is also home to their Welsh Wildlife Centre. This magnificent building, constructed mainly of wood, won an award for its architecture when it was built in 1993.
Teifi Marches Gallery
With wingspan so large
I did not see you
until you got up to go
In the night
You flapped your wings
And went out of sight
I did not know you were there
Right in front of me
This whole time
Seeming to be watching
But you withstood your time
And gave up
Before I could even
Then flew away
But the view
Of a great opportunity
One sight I love to see in the summertime is the Peacock butterfly as I walk through the local county kilkenny woodlands, They add so much life and colour to the green of the hedgerows and paths.
Unlike some wildlife they are not hard to find or take pictures of, you do need to move very slowly in order not to disturbed them and you need a camera with a macro lens.
The butterfly conservation website has the following details.
Scientific name: Aglais io
Red wings with black markings and distinctive eyespots on tips of fore and hind wings.
The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots, evolved to startle or confuse predators, make it one of the most easily recognized and best known species. It is from these wing markings that the butterfly gained its common name. Undersides of the wings are very dark and look like dead leaves. A fairly large butterfly and a strong flyer.
Although a familiar visitor to garden buddleias in late summer, the Peacock’s strong flight and nomadic instincts lead it to range widely through the countryside, often finding its preferred habitats in the shelter of woodland clearings, rides, and edges.
The species is widespread and has continued to expand its range in northern parts of Britain and Ireland.
Size and Family
Family – Nymphalids
Wing Span Range (male to female) – 63-69mm
UK BAP status: Not listed
Butterfly Conservation priority: Low
European status: Not threatened
Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), although eggs and larvae are occasionally reported on Small Nettle (U. urens) and Hop (Humulus lupulus)
Countries – England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales
Throughout Britain and Ireland
Distribution Trend Since 1970’s = +17%
Common and found in a range of habitats.