Hop To It – Spring is in the Air!

It was raining this morning when I first looked out on my garden pond but when the rain stopped and the pond was still bubbling I realised that it was that time of year again – the frogs were spawning. It was impossible to count them but I reckon that there were at least two dozen frogs participating in this activity. If I described in detail what was going on there is a danger that this blog might turn up in the wrong search engines! My understanding is that the males, or most of them, remain in the garden all year round. Then for these few amazing days females come into the garden presumably attracted by the croaking and I presume also that most, if not all of them, originated in this pond. Where do they come from though given that this is a suburban garden? There are hazards everywhere such as traffic, cats (I had to chase one away today) and herons (see my video below). This is the time of the year that I normally expect to see them although in 2013 it didn’t occur until March probably due to the exceptionally cold Spring. Irish Peatland Conservation Council carry out a national ‘Hop To It‘ frog survey every year.

24 February. Sunday (21st) would now seem to have been the peak day. There was a small bit of activity on Monday and some more overnight spawn. I was away from home for most of yesterday and today but my guess is that there was little or no activity. Although never long this was a particularly short burst this year which could have been influenced by the cold snap and the pond icing over? A few years ago when the pond iced over they came back for a second spawning.

3 March. The frogs returned in force two days ago in larger numbers than I’ve ever seen. There were at least 30 and I’ve never seen them less bothered by human proximity. There were only a few to be seen yesterday and virtually no activity today. Curiously, the amount of spawn in the pond hasn’t noticeably increased – so maybe they just came back for a day of fun and frolics before dispersing for the summer?

28 March. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tadpoles in the pond today!

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Garden Butterfly Survey 2015

Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s Annual Report 2015 has just been published. I get some mentions in the Garden Survey Report and the article I co-wrote on the Comma expansion is also included which I deal with elsewhere. There was no sign of 2014’s newcomers, Common Blue and Small Copper, or any Orange Tips but a late appearance by a lone battered looking Painted Lady on 2nd October brought my species count to 11. I ‘rescued’ the gutsy little Small Tortoiseshell seen here twice, bringing it into my conservatory, and each time it made its way out again. I then annoyed it so much photographing it that it flew up into the apple tree, literally on a wing and a prayer!

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On a wing and a prayer!

 

Overall numbers were down for the second year in a row and I’ll deal with this in more detail soon. This graph compares Red Admiral and Peacock numbers.

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Red Admiral and Peacock numbers

 

 

Comma expansion article

The story of the expansion of the Comma butterfly in Ireland is a fascinating one. I’ve been working on it since last year and bouncing ideas around with my three fellow authors. The article started to come together after Christmas and is now near ready for publication by Butterfly Conservation Ireland so I’ll wait for that before adding anything more.

It’s published!  http://www.butterflyconservation.ie/wordpress/?page_id=4455

ImmerSUN=Smiley House=Happy Pat!

This is my new favourite toy. My electrician Eoin (EK Electrical) connected the ImmerSUN controller last Friday and installed a new storage heater. ImmerSUN will divert excess electricity from my PV system to designated devices such as the storage (space) heater and immersion (water) heater before exporting to the grid. I’m doing this with the aim of increasing my ‘own use’ and reducing my exports as the cost of electricity goes up and with uncertainty hanging over the buy-back contracts for micro-generators like myself. It’s much more sophisticated than I expected and I’m still learning it’s full range of functions. It will also produce more recordings to work into my spreadsheets!

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This is the home screen yesterday morning when it was nice and sunny. It shows 1.2kW of electricity going from the house (my PV system) to the storage heater which I have designated as my number 1 priority. The ‘Savings’ at that point yesterday amounted to 0.6kWh. Zero electricity is coming from the grid into the house – that’s why it’s smiling!

Paris Agreement on Climate Change & Energy White Paper

I couldn’t let the Paris Agreement on Climate Change go without some comment in a category with ‘carbon’ in the title. It may not be perfect but to quote Barack Obama it may offer the best chance to save the one planet we have. However, I’m very afraid that COP21 will translate into Irish as cop-out. Enda Kenny’s speech in Paris was bland in the extreme, most likely a simple cut-and-paste job for a speech writer. It also confirmed George Lee’s (RTE environment correspondent) comment that without Europe we’d be doing nothing.

I found it general and vague, just like the Energy White Paper published yesterday which to me read more like a text book on energy rather than a plan with goals and milestones – ‘big on vision but lacking the how and the when’ as Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth put it. I actually heard the Minister for Energy Alex White say something about decarbonising our economy by 2100 – 2100!! I reckon that as of today my house is carbon neutral – see my post ‘Expansion of Domestic Photovoltaic (PV) System’. Things do move slowly. We (i.e. my former energy consultancy company/partnership ENTRAC) provided technical support to the Oireachtas Parliamentary Committee on Energy which produced its report in 2006 and informed the last Energy White Paper published in 2007 – I don’t think much has progressed in the interim apart from studies and reports?

2015/16 Garden Bird Survey underway

Birdwatch Ireland’s 2015/16 Garden Bird Survey is underway. I always look forward to it and there’s always something happening.

This is my week one count: Collarded Dove 2, Wren 1, Dunnock 1, Robin 1, Blackbird 2, Song Thrush 1, Blackcap 1, Goldcrest 1, Coal Tit 2, Blue Tit 4, Great Tit 2, Magpie 2, Starling 10, House Sparrow 30, Chaffinch 7, Greenfinch 5, Goldfinch 4, Bullfinch 2 & Redpoll 10 (abundance 88, species 19).

I won’t put my counts up every week but this is a fairly typical count and similar to last season’s first count. Numbers don’t tell the full story either; the 2 bullfinches were two beautiful males on some old raspberry canes and I only saw them once. At the same time a Song Thrush and Dunnock were just beneath them in the undergrowth and a Wren was flitting around – I tried to get them all in one shot but had to settle for the Song Thrush (from inside the house).

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6 January 2016. A Sparrowhawk flew into the garden yesterday and landed in an apple tree. It cleared the garden of birds more effectively than any cat! This is only my 7th time to record one and it’s three years since I last saw one in the garden. I was in my conservatory but when I tried to sneak into the house for my camera it flew away. I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t observe it for longer while I had the chance. Here’s a link to a video I took (from inside the house) four years ago of one that did linger.

11 January 2016. Four Siskins on the peanut feeder today, the first of the winter.

29 January 2016. A beautiful Goldcrest appeared briefly in my berberis, the first since week one. Still haven’t seen a Long-tailed Tit this winter.

12 February 2016. Watching two nice female Bullfinches today. One of them was playing around with a dried leaf – I wonder if her nesting instincts are starting to kick in? I am amused these days watching the Blackbirds in my garden trying to sort out their pairing arrangements for the summer. Got a couple of nice shots of a Siskin and a Wren – the latter in particular has proved elusive to me over the years as it never stays still for more than a second.

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