Terry FlanaganTerry's Eye
on Nature

compiled by Terry Flanagan

FEBRUARY

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February was named for the Roman God Februus, the God of purification and it is the only month of the year with just 28 days. However, every 4 years, there is a leap year and the next leap year occurs in 2008. If you want to find out if a year is a leap year or not, simply divide the last two numbers by 4. If you get an even number, then it's a leap year. If you don't get an even number, then it's not a leap year. 2006 is NOT a leap year!

1st February is St Brigid's Day!
St. Brigid was the daughter of an Irish chieftan and who became a nun. She was born in Co. Louth and she dedicated her life to the poor. Along with St. Patrick, she was one of the most influential figures in introducing Christianity to Ireland. Her feast is celebrated on the day of her death, February 1st , also known as the first day of Spring. Farmers often turned a sod of turf in the field on this day, in the hope of invoking good weather.

Eanna Ni Lamhna with a St. Brigid's cross The St. Brigid's Cross:
While visiting a dying pagan man, she tried to explain to him the Christian faith. In order to do this, she took some rushes and wove them into the shape of a cross. The cross is hung in the home, usually over a doorway and it is said to protect the home.

2nd February is Groundhog Day!
Groundhog Day is a traditional festival celebrated in the United States and Canada on this day. In traditional weather lore, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If the groundhog sees its shadow because the weather is bright and clear, it will be frightened and run back into its hole, and the winter will continue for six more weeks.

St. Valentine's statue in Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin On this side of the Atlantic, today is referred to as Candlemas Day and we have our own weather lore associated with this day:

If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.

14th February is St. Valentine's Day!
St. Valentine is remembered as a martyr, not a lover and for that reason, his feast day has been dropped from the church calender. RobinIt is believed that all birds chose their mate on this day. in fact, in the case of the robin, it is also believed that it is the female that choses her mate and does so on this day! So it doesn't require much of a leap to decide that humans should also pick their mates on this day also. The crocus, which starts to bloom in February, is called St. Valentine's flower. Did you know that St. Valentines remains are believed to lie in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street!

House sparrow feeding from feeder Feeding the birds!
When should you stop feeding the birds? This is the perennial question. Some people continue to feed the birds right thru'out the year. Others, including me, take a break. But when should you stop for the winter. Certainly not yet. Although the worst of the winter is now gone and the days are lengthening, there is still not enough food for the birds, especially if they have become dependent on your help. At the moment, they are building up for the mating season. A lot of energy is being expended on the spring and summer plumage and they will need plenty of nutrients for this. Although I've been feeding birds for many years now, I never cease to be amazed by them. Not just their antics, but also the species that visit. Just this week I saw a pair of long tailed tits in the garden feeding on nuts in a feeder, the first time i have ever seen this species in the garden. However, by far and away the most common species visiting at present are the humble sparrows. Although these are often viewed as dull brown birds, they are one of my favourites, especially as their numbers are dropping thru'out the country, it's great to see them doing well in West Co. Dublin.

Eanna Ni Lamhna with a St. Brigid's cross Spotting a barn owl!
February is the month of the year in which you are most likely to see a barn owl in daylight hours, especially early morning. At this time of year, their prey items, small mammals are at their lowest and owls need to spend more time hunting. Barn owls have favourite hunting places and if you know of such an area, an early morning visit at this time of year might be well worth it. Also listen out for the call of the male. It's eerie!

Waders on the mudflats with the tide out Say "Hello" to our waders before they depart!
This is the last month in which you have a chance to see our waders in big numbers before they decide to take flight to their summer homes. There are many (mostly coastal) sites around the country well worth a visit including, Lough Foyle, Co. Derry, Strangford Lough, Co. Down, the Shannon Estuary, Cork Harbour and the North Bull Island in Dublin.

Brent Geese on the North Bull IslandThe Bull Island was Ireland's first official Bird Sanctuary (1931) and it has since become a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.Eighteen Irish estuaries regularly hold internationally important numbers of wildfowl or waders and our wetlands support 44 species of wildfowl, 26 waders and ten types of gull. If you visit the Bull, don't forget to call into to Pat Corrigan in the Interpretive Centre, a most knowledgable and helpful warden. Everyone has a favourite, be it the oystercatcher or the curlew. However, to many Dubliner's our favourite visitor has to be the Brent Goose.

Gorse in flower Flowering gorse!
This is a good month to see the common gorse, or whin in flower. Gorse is a dense shrub growing up to ten feet tall with beautiful distinctive yellow flowers. But do take care when out walking alongside gorse. It might look nice, but it's very prickly!

A ringed dead greenfinch Death on our Roads:
Sadly at this time of year we often see dead animals along our roads. Regularly we come across dead foxes, badgers and rabbits as well as birds. It is a tough time for our wildlife. Food can be scarce and this forces animals closer to humans than they would normally like.

Rook flying in the Phoenix ParkAlso birds, like rooks, are carrying eggs at the moment and this extra weight makes it more difficult for them to take off and sadly many are killed and seen on our road verges at this time of the year. Recently I came across a dead greenfinch which was ringed. The ring was a BTO ring and it is important to get in touch with the BTO and inform them that you have found a dead ringed bird. This allows them build up information on the movements and lifespans of of our birds.

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