Tag Archive: Belfast

The darling buds of may

Hawthorn flowers, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

This kind of may! The hawthorn bushes begin to bud and bloom

A fresh, sunny, hazy afternoon walk in Glencairn Park yesterday left me feeling a bit more springish. A lot of trees and shrubs were putting out leaves, and some flowers, like this hawthorn. [Update: no, it’s blackthorn.] May [Update: not May], but no nuts to collect for quite a while. (Not that I generally go collecting nuts, but still…)

Daffodilism was well underway…

Woodland daffodils, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

Daffodils spring up in the woodland, catching the afternoon sun

…and moss was beginning its conquest of every nook and cranny…

Moss shoots on tree, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

Moss begins to spring from the nook of a tree

…purple, white and yellow crocuses were adding a splash of brillig…

Crocuses, Glencairn Park, 19 Feb 2013

The perfect waxy petals of crocuses start to colour Glencairn Park

…and I noticed some strange features on one of the more permanent woodland residents.

Interesting tree, Glencairn Park

A warty, weird bit of woodland woodwork

The chaffinches were singing, greenfinches were once again garnishing the auditory experience with their reassuring zhewwwwwwwwwww, their numbers evidently recovering from the “tricks” epidemic. Even a treecreeper, which doesn’t usually draw attention to itself, was singing a high-pitched, wavering trill from a yew tree while blue tits pipped and chuckled and a dog walker explained to his friend that he didn’t [expletive] owe John ten quid.

And a song thrush sung its pick-and-mix, completely unpredictable, mockingbird warble.

That, folks, is the dawning of spring in Belfast. 🙂

Treecreeper and song thrush make the year list…
2013 BIRDS: 48

Glencairn Road, 20 Jan 2013

The snowy Glencairn Road

This year’s snowfall was nay too bad up our way – last weekend a few inches fell and mostly thawed overnight, followed by a few fresh flurries, ice on pavements and a final thaw yesterday as a warm front pushed in.

Up in Glencairn Park (above) last Sunday, the snow crunched deeper underfoot as I gained altitude, listening out for birdsong as I went. At the bottom of the park the piping calls of blue tits and coal tits, and the more strident vocalisations of great tits, filled the trees. A herring gull flew solemnly over while black-headed gulls gallavanted by the housing estate.

On the first hill hooded crows picked through the grass and argued loudly with magpies in their skyscraping conifers. A jackdaw also put in an appearance.

As I climbed the hill, listening out for new finds, the round-winged, long-tailed silhouette of a sparrowhawk swooped across the sky. (I probably could have just watched it rather than trying to focus through a hopeless pair of pocket binoculars!)

Soon enough I heard the robin… and perhaps a goldfinch, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t hear it again. Likewise a rattle from the trees could have been a mistle thrush… but probably just a magpie.

I’d been keeping a beady eye out on the bramble bushes. If you remember, last year I really got into leafmining micro-moths, and one of the most common of those is Stigmella aurella. Its tiny orange caterpillar mines bramble leaves, making brown-white squiggles on them. So far on my walk I’d seen plenty of old vacated leafmines that the caterpillars had already left long ago. But what I was really hoping to see was a tenanted mine – one with a caterpillar in it.

And after a while, I had success!

Stigmella aurella larva in mine, 20 Jan 2013

Literate larva!

Not one, but two little caterpillars huddled in their mines, in the freezing cold.

After a few minutes’ worth of fiddling with my camera and hand lens, my hands were going cryogenic so I put my gloves back on and left the caterpillars to their sleep.

As I was rebooting my hands, a bird started calling very loudly from the tree above me.

“Chick…      chick…      chick…”

I peered up to see what it could be, but before I could get my eye in it was off. I chased the sound down the road a bit… it was father away and still calling. Then it flew back the way it had come, revealing itself to be a thrush of some kind.

Didn’t sound like a blackbird,
or a song thrush,
or a mistle thrush…
fieldfare maybe? That would be quite a find.

But as I later found out on the RSPB’s newly-revamped website, fieldfares chuckle not chick, and the only thrush that it really could have been was a redwing. Quite pleased to find this winter visitor.

Before I headed back down to the urban jungle, I had a close encounter with a friendly robin which perched no more than a metre or two away from me, then flew right past me to the other side of the road and back.

It appeared so interested in me that I raised my arm, thinking there might be a possibility it might even come and perch on me, but as it turned out, he wasn’t quite as tame as that common darter dragonfly!

Descending through the woods, I was arrested by a flash of white, black and pink. It couldn’t be… it was! A jay! It flew silently away from me, from tree to tree.

A clan of bullfinches escorted me down the hill.


Yesterday, while I was at school and the rain was clearing the last of the snow, my parents got quite a treat. Just look who showed up in our garden!

Waxwings in the garden! 25 Jan 2013


The Internet is always awash with waxwing photos at this time of year. They come over to the British Isles from Scandinavia during winter, to feast on berries. And I can tell you they did a pretty good job clearing out our cotoneaster!

Apparently the collective term for waxwings is “a grosbeaks of waxwings”. Some people, like me, prefer “an earful of waxwings”. 🙂

If you haven’t yet seen these fantastic fellows, it’s well worth checking online to see if any have been spotted near you. They are fabulous!

And don’t forget the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend!

Home Garden, 26 Jan 2013

What’s-a-in your garden today?

2013 MOTHS: 1L
2013 BIRDS: 33

A Butterfly in December

Some butterflies, such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral, hibernate as adults over the winter. Others, such as the Small White, don’t. Pity no-one told this one.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 28 Nov 2012

Well that was smart

Two Wednesdays ago, my mum found this fellow fluttering about in our back entrance hall.  He was pristine, with the scale fringe on his wings unspoilt, so he had obviously just emerged from his chrysalis and finished drying his wings. In the wild, Small White butterflies (Pieris rapae) hibernate in the chrysalis stage, suspended from a hard vertical surface.

Evidently, a caterpillar from my garden must have found its way indoors and pupated, but when the expected winter didn’t materialise, gone ahead with metamorphosis and emerged when it did, in late November.

Or, it escaped from a broccoli from Tesco.

Either way, it’s doing quite well in our back window, with sugary fluid to drink and an occasional period under an incandescent lamp to warm it up. It’s now 11 days old.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 28 Nov 2012

Here’s looking at you

Small White, Highfield Drive, 01 Dec 2012

Opening his wings to bask under the lamp. The fact that he has one black spot on each forewing shows he’s a he – the female has two.

Small White, Highfield Drive, 08 Dec 2012

Still going strong

Small White, Highfield Drive, 08 Dec 2012

His “butterfly house” – a windowsill covered with a net curtain, oriented to catch the afternoon sun. You can see him basking under the lamp.

You can find out more about this butterfly at the UK Butterflies site:



Micropterix aruncella, Glencairn Park, 21 May 2012

Micropterix aruncella, Glencairn Park, 21 May

This week has been blessed with heavenly weather across the UK. To wind down after my AS Chemistry practical exam on Monday, I took to Glencairn Park where warm and mostly cloudy conditions made ideal dayflying-micro-spotting conditions. I bagged no less than four new species for my list [NFM]: Micropterix calthella, Micropterix aruncella, Psychoides filicivora and the Nettle-tap Anthophila fabriciana.

Cryptic Wood White, Cinnabar and Ancylis badiana showed up too, all [NFY]! (“New For my Year list” for anyone unfamiliar with mothing terminology.)

Psychoides filicivora [NFG] (New For Garden) showed up again as I was putting the 25W Blacklight trap out in the garden last night. It sat on a rosemary plant for a photo shoot but didn’t come to the trap when it went on. Probably for the best – the dew on the trap is pretty dangerous for micros and flies, they tend to get stuck to the lid and perish!


Some light fog rolled in overnight but the morning revealed:

Ancylis badiana : 1
Silver-ground Carpet : 1

and a couple of unidentifiable micros (one too fast, the other too bedraggled)

Common Pug : 1 [NFY]
Spectacle : 1 [NFY] Not a Dark Spec! What????
Silver-ground Carpet : 2
Mompha subbistrigella : 1 [NFY]
Grey Pine Carpet : 1 [NFY][NFG][NFM] 
Common Marbled Carpet : 1

All in all my best catch so far this year!

Grey Pine Carpet, trapped in garden 22-23 May 2012

Grey Pine Carpet, with a sticky-up bottom

Grey Pine Carpet  and too many micro-moths to list again make it:
2012 MOTHS: 24

Cryptic Wood White boosts the butterfly total to:


Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012


As I walked up the road through Glencairn Park this morning, I agonised about the cool breeze; braced myself for disappointment; tried to convince myself that I could still have a nice walk without butterflies…

No need to worry. The Orange-tip was braver than I was. It fluttered down the lane towards me, felt the wind then settled on a nettle. Kneeling down, ignoring the stings of the nettles, I said hello.

Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012

Bracing himself against the wind...

Orange-tip male, Glencairn Park, 10 Apr 2012


Orange-tip brings my year list to…

Taking advantage

This is a photo of some seagulls. SEAGULLS, I SAY.

Lately I’ve noticed that the most popular post on this blog has been “The next best thing to a Long-tailed Duck“.

What a nice pattern.

I would be overjoyed to know that people are finally taking an interest in Long-tailed Ducks.

Epileptics beware.

Although there is the very slight possibility…

This is the most interesting thing I saw today.



2012 TITANORAKS: 1.8 million

My first new bird of 2012

Sorry, no photos today. 😦

I went to count the birds at Springfield Lake after my first day back at school today. I was greeted by a nice sunset, coots, moorhens, mallards, mute swans, … and a juvenile male Goldeneye duck!

He was very like a Tufty duck except for the sharply-defined white oval under his eye, which was what caught mine. I was quite close to him, in the narrow east end of the lake, and although he was a bit wary he stayed, allowing me to get a good sketch of his features.

Accompanying him were 6 other more regular species which I was seeing for the first time this year, including the surprisingly small Song Thrush. One skulked by the path while another was melodiously warbling in the young woodland behind between the lake and the Tech. I wondered why it instantly made me think of America, but I’ve just realised how similar it sounded to the Mockingbird we found singing from atop a lamppost by the Reflecting Pools in central Washington DC, last April.

So this luvaduck, the pseudo-yanks and their friends brought my year’s bird total so far to…


life list BRITISH BIRDS: 111 


As I was saying, guillemots weren’t the only thing I saw at the Lagan. I also saw several thousand starlings. And this time I had my camera with me!

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Diamagnetism DemoOn Wednesday, some of our physics class went to a lecture about superconductivity, where I accidentally put my finger in liquid nitrogen. The demonstration was a magnet levitating above a dish of yttrium barium copper oxide superconductors (which required cooling to -150C in order to actually work, hence the need for liquid nitrogen). Superconductors are materials with zero electrical resistance, so once a current is flowing in one, it can keep going for billions of years. A magnet placed near a superconductor will induce a current in the superconductor with an associated magnetic field that directly opposes it, and hence the magnet levitates. But as the superconductor had warmed up, the magnet fell down and became attached to it. So when I tried to lift the magnet, the superconductors and dish of liquid nitrogen came with it, and the rest is history.

But putting my finger in liquid nitrogen was actually not as bad as standing beside the Abercorn Basin later that day in a December gale, looking for a female Long-tailed Duck!

07Dec11 Lagan Ferry Docks

When I arrived at the Lagan, walking under the M3, I though I’d found it – a black-and-white bird swimming and diving in the river beside the Odyssey Arena. On closer inspection it was actually a kind of auk which I’d never seen before.

07Dec11 Guillemot

There were two of them, both with a distinctive black eye line through their white faces. I headed on round the path, past a young cormorant fishing in the Abercorn Basin, past the Titanic Museum, down the road to the Titanic dock before I realised I had overestimated the amount of time I had, and had to turn back.

07Dec11 Titanic Museum Belfast

Returning to the Odyssey, I found three of the auks now present – plus a mottled-white Tystie… and then I had my doubts. Were the unidentified auks simply Tysties in winter plumage?

Looking at my RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe, it turns out all Tysties / Black Guillemots have mottled-white plumage in winter, and the black-and-white auk I saw was actually a Guillemot – my 110th British bird!

But wait! That’s not all I saw at the Lagan…

07Dec11 Starling Murmuration

To be continued…

Birding on the Lagan

29Nov11 Black-headed Gull (adult winter) at the Lagan Weir

For the past few weeks a female Long-tailed Duck has been frequenting the Lagan Weir in central Belfast, along with a Kingfisher kingfishing off the pontoons. See NI Birding and NI Birds.

I went down there last Tuesday afternoon to try and find them. (The duck would be a new species for me, and the kingfisher a new tick for the year.) I had a nice time watching black-headed gulls under a clear blue sky (the one in the picture seemed fascinated with little eddies at the side of the weir, and was oblivious to the huge ceramic fish creeping up on him) but I didn’t see any duck or coraciiform of any kind.

But I got a cracker shot of Nula With The Hula (otherwise known as the Lady of Thanksgiving, my favourite sculpture in the entire country).

Lady of Thanksgiving

I mentioned in my post two Sundays ago that our family missed the evening Murmuration of starlings at their roost under the Albert Bridge (just upriver from the weir). Well, a few days later I trotted down the street after school, and rounding the Waterfront Hall saw a



                  stormcloud of starlings…

… but I will leave that story for another day, when I have the sense to bring a camera.

I’ll say this much: it was amazing…

Albert Bridge, Belfast. Not a starling to be seen, but you could certainly hear them.