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Albert's Biodiversity Walk

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Report from Biodiversity Walk
with Birdhill Tidy Towns.

Albert Nolan was invited by Birdhill Tidy towns to do a biodiversity walk through the railway garden and along the Pollagh trail. This habitat is rich in wildlife and the local community are looking at developing nature trails that will highlight the different species and best practices around conservation.

Railway station garden.

Pied wagtail. Cheeky little black and white bird with a long wagging tail. Feeds on insects during the summer and on seeds for the rest of the year. We saw one foraging in the car park and they are very common in urban habitats.

Summer Flowers of the Pollagh Trail

Food for the mind and wildlife. Our walk started in the secluded surrounds of Birdhill railway station garden. Ivy is one of the best climbers for wildlife. The flowers come out in late summer, and are a source of late nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. The hard black berries ripen in early spring. They are an important source of energy for birds just as they are getting ready for the breeding season. The dense tangle of branches are also excellent cover for nesting birds.

We found three birds in the garden and all are associated with ivy. Woodpigeons and Blackbirds will eat the berries while Wrens will nest in the tangle of branches.

Natural connections. This connection between plant, fruit and bird as the basis of a natural food chain is important to highlight.

Nature awakens. The first bulbs were emerging and we were delighted to find snowdrops. The fresh leaves of the poppy were unharmed despite the layer of ice in the bird bath.
Overhead we heard a Jackdaw and these birds build their nests in unguarded chimney pots. When the meadows in the Pollagh are cut large flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks will forage for worms and grubs in the dug up ground.

Who really owns the garden? A robin was perched on the sign and he scolded us with a harsh warning call. Both the male and female Robin are highly territorial and will defend their patch throughout the whole year. To a robin we are the intruders in his territory.
To our ears, bird song is beautiful but it also contains hidden messages that only other birds can understand. It conveys the health of the singer, his status, where are the boundaries of his territory and hopefully attracts a mate. Next time you hear a bird singing, try and work out what message he is trying to communicate.

Mini beasts. We lifted a stone and found a slug underneath. These creatures are not well liked, but they are nature's decomposers, and this is an essential free service that keeps our environment healthy. Slugs eat plant material, and return all the nutrients and minerals back into the soil, where they are available for other plants to use.

Beer trap. If you have a problem with slugs, try using beer traps instead of slug pellets. When the slug eats the pellet he does not die straight away. He is easy prey for hedgehogs and birds and the poison builds up in their systems.
To make an ecological friendly trap, wash out a butter container. Fill with stale beer or sugary watery. Place a few small sticks so that beetles that are great hunters of slugs can climb out. Leave by your plants and empty every few days.

Tiniest creatures are important. We found the tiny track of a moth on the leaf of a bramble. This micro moth lives inside the leaf, where it can feed and get protection from predators.

Shaded habitat. On the shaded side of the gate where the ground is wet and receives little sunlight Hartstongue and common fern are growing. This is a nice little micro habitat and deserves to be highlighted.

Children's game. Cleavers or itchy back is well known by children. The whole plant is sticky and it is great fun to throw the plant onto the back of an unsuspecting person. This is also an example of how plants use people and animals to get their seeds transported to new locations.
The wild dog rose is growing in the undergrowth. We found one ripe berry called a hip. It is high in vitamin C. Children were once sent out to gather the hips when fresh fruit was in short supply.

Moment of reflection. When we reached the trail we closed our eyes and took a minute to listen to the sounds of nature. This is probably one of the few quite times that we get during our busy and noisy days.

Budding artist. One of the young girls on the walk had brought along her sketch pad. She was hoping to sketch a robin and I hoped we would find one on the walk.

Complex life. One of the walkers found a marble gall growing on the Oak tree. This is a fascinating life story. In the autumn a tiny wasp lays an egg on the oak bud. When this starts to develop it does not grow into a leaf but a hard marble shaped structure. The wasp larva is safe from the weather and predators. When it is fully grown, it drills a hole and emerges to restart a new life. When we broke it open we found a tiny soft wasp larva inside.

Food for bees. Vetch is a common roadside flower that scrambles up through the hedge. Bees love its purple flowers and the tiny peas in hard black shells are perfectly edible.

Animal information panel. We paused to look at the creatures on the panel and dispel some of the myths.
Many householders now feed foxes and they have become very common around houses and in urban areas. It is worth remembering that they are not domesticated like dogs and should be admired at a distance. Foxes feed on small rodents like rats and mice and help keep their population is under control. One man has even donated three of his chickens from his garden to feed a fox.
Bats are extremely important creatures. Each night they eat hundreds of flies and this helps keep their population under control. Many people still believe that that bats fly into your hair. The reason they swoop down over your head is that they are catching the insects that are attracted by your body heat. Years ago an old lady told me that this myth was put out to stop young couple taking long romantic strolls.
We saw a Wren flying into the hedgerow. This bird often takes the title of Ireland's smallest bird but the real winner is the Goldcrest.

Community in a tree. The large oak tree, growing by the paths, supports hundreds of species of insects. These trees can live for a thousand years and an old rhyme describes their lifecycle.
300 years a growing,
300 years maturing,
300 years dyeing.

Mature oak tree along path.

Nettles growing along the pollagh trail are the host plant for the
caterpillars of several native butterflies. These peacock
caterpillars were found last summer on the trail.

Angelica blooms in late summer on the damp ground
and is a magnet for insects.

Exploring the underworld. The kids on the walks had great fun throwing stones into the stream. There is so much life that we don't see that lives in the stream and on the river bed. Encourage the parents and kids to dip a jam jar or container into the water, leave it sit for a minute and see what wildlife they find.
Unfortunately compost has been dumped in the stream and this source of pollution should be removed.

Food for caterpillars. Broad leaved dock is a brilliant larval food plant. The caterpillars of several moth species and the beautiful small copper butterfly feed on the leaves. Also the emerald green potbellied beetle live on the leaves of the dock and lay clusters of orange eggs on the underside.
From the age we can crawl, we can recognise docks as a relieving cure for the painful nettle sting. Nettles are also an excellent larval food plant for several species of butterfly.

Traditional crafts. A big willow tree straddles the path and is a least a 100 years old. This is pension age for willow trees. The pliable Willow branches are used for the making of baskets.

Home for insects. Willow is one of the best trees for insects and supports over 200 species.
The appreciated named Willowherb has masses of pink flowers and also grows in wet places. The soft downy seed heads are used by birds to line their nests.

Birds of the Pollagh.

Rooks are regular visitors to the Pollagh to forage for grubs and worms. They don't nest here but in the trees around Birdhill village.
We heard several Robins singing and each of these birds is establishing a breeding territory.

The Dunnock is a shy species that stays close to the bases of hedges and bramble patches.

The stream by the path is also a nursery for fish and eels. They stay here till they are big enough to survive in the mighty Shannon.

Crossing point

Importance of wet meadows. The flower rich meadows are the true gems of the pollagh trail. This type of habitat is now very rare as most are drained and planted up with forestry. Because the ground is we,t the meadows are cut late in the summer. This allows birds to raise their chicks in the long grass and for flowers to set seeds.

Skylark. This iconic bird of meadows flies high into the air and hovers while it sings. Two pairs nest in the pollagh each summer and this species is becoming increasingly scarce.

Grasshoppers. The chirping of grasshoppers is still a common sound along the Pollagh trail.

Cuckoo flowers grow in damp grassland and they are the food plant for the caterpillars of the orange tip butterfly.

I have often seen hares along the trail and they will rest in the long grass.

The rare meadow thistle grows in the pollagh wet meadows.

Orchids are a sign of ancient meadows.

Awareness of creatures of the night.
The caterpillars of Moths feed on all the plants along the walk. These in turn are eaten by bats and the larva are fed to chicks as high protein food. The Common Carpet and the Latticed Heath are day flying species that are regularly encountered on a walk.

The dramatic and also perfectly harmless Popular Hawk Moth flies from late April.

All these flowers support insects and these in turn are eaten by birds. This natural food chain and connections between the different creatures is important to highlight.
One of the best ways to get to know the creatures of the meadows is to find a quite spot in the middle of the meadow. Sit down to get level with the flowers and wait. After a few minutes the meadow will start to move, slither and bite with countless legs and mouths.

Man-made fence. The man made fence along by the path is a barrier for creatures like, hedgehogs, hares, and rabbits. A few gaps could be created to allow creatures to get through. A brilliant suggestion from one of the walkers is to use a four inch pipe in your
garden boundary wall for safe access for hedgehogs.

Benefits on mental health. The role of natural places like the pollagh in helping our mental health is another positive benefit. Fresh air, access to green spaces and contact with wildlife is a major part of our overall health.

The Pollagh is a place of wonder and curiosity for young and old.

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