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December 2017

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Pollagh Trail: December 2017
As I step out of the car, an icy wind blows along the Pollagh Trail. I am glad of the extra layers, and especially a new fleece that is quickly becoming my favourite gift. I can hear Jackdaws calling, and like them, movement is the best way to keep warm.
Everything is cold and damp, and initially there is no sound of life. Sometimes patience is needed and nature will eventually discover you. A man passes by on his bicycle, and his dog is attached by a lead to the back of the bike. This is a novel way to exercise your pet.

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A Rook calling in the distance finally breaks the silence, and is quickly followed by the alarm calls of a blackbird. These birds are common along the walk, in the woodlands, and open fields where they forage for worms. Small trees that fell during the storms have been left to decay naturally, and both living and dead wood are needed to create a healthy woodland. Many more trees bear darkening scars, where a wind-knocked branch has been removed.

The gentle calls of the blue tit alerts me to its presence. It is methodically moving through a low hedge. From branch to branch its thin beak probes for spiders, insects and other larva.
The stream that borders the path is flooded after the torrential night's rain. Wrens remain along the pollagh throughout the winter, and I hear one calling from a field hedgerow. Elder trees stand bare and barren in the hedge, as all their berries have been stripped by hungry birds.
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I find the metal skeleton of an old field gate. It has become part of the hedgerow but the craftsmanship is still evident. Compared to modern gates that are now universal in style, design would have differed from parish to parish, based on the creativity of the local blacksmith.

Nearby, a large oak tree is covered in ivy and berries. This tree will be visited by countless birds in the coming months as they prepare for the breeding season. A robin hops underneath a gate, pauses for a second to view this two-legged intruder, and disappears into the hedge.
The land is flooded in parts and the dykes filled with dark water. This suits the Hartstongue Fern and they thrive along the pollagh. The banks beneath the hedgerow are showing signs of life. Fresh leaves of cow parsley already have a few inches of growth, and broad leaved dock appears unaffected by the frost. The hollow stems of tall Angelica are still standing, and they make a natural and snug bug hotel for insects.
Willow hedges are common here, as the wet soil suits this species, whereas Hawthorn prefers a dryer soil for its roots. The spring catkins will provide nectar and pollen for pollinators like bees.
Horses can be beneficial for birds, as they churn up the soil creating an inland mud flat. I see a pied wagtail, five blackbirds and a meadow pipit feeding in the muddy grass.
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The walk opens out into open fields with only a wire fence for scant protection. The icy wind blowing from the hills finds its way through my defences, and I keep my fingers and toes moving.

Nature always has a surprise and i see a raven flying. Not only is he uttering his normal guttural calls he is making a sound like a seaside wader. They do have a wide range of calls but this is a new one for me.
I hear another meadow pipit, robin and three wrens and a see a male blackbird on the path. He hops into a tree and waits till I get close, before flying into an alder tree. I reach the end of the path to the smell of silage and the sound of plastic flapping in the wind.
New gates have been erected making for easy access to the track that joins the two main paths. This part of the pollagh has been unfortunately planted over the last several years, and the diverse wildflower meadows replaced by conifer trees. Some natives like alder have been planted in front of the forestry, and these help to dry up the ground. Blackbirds are not fussy, and I hear one calling from deep within
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the woods.

I pause to peer into the deep pools of water as they often contain eels but there is no sign today. One of the fence posts has been coated in lichens and this is a sign of clean air.

Lichens on fence pole.

A bird appears on one of the posts holding up the wire fence. I quickly focus in my binoculars and I am delighted to see a stonechat. They like rough weedy grounds and have a short flicking tail. Overal,l he is a faded orange/brown colour with a faint white neck mark. This is a young male and his plumage will become more pronounced as the breeding season approaches. Not to be outdone, a robin appears and does a little bobbing dance.

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Stonechat male. Dunnock

I close the gate behind me and take the track back to the car. Gorse has yellow flowers and strangely there is only one shrub on the entire walk. It likes dry soils and there is not much of that along the walk.
The next stretch of the walk has mature woodland. I remember when we first started walking here with the twins and admiring fields full of flowers like meadow thistle. Woodland birds now dominate and I hear a robin, wren x 2 and Dunnock. Again oak, birch and alder have been planted at the front giving a small bit back to nature.

Two more Dunnocks are singing. One from the tangle of brambles by the side of the path and another from the next plantation. Along by the hedgerow a few ivy berries are left and a troop of long tailed tits are passing through an oak tree.
Back near the car, a robin flies across the path and across the main road I can hear a rook calling. A large flock of around 40 jackdaws flies over the trees and I had another fabulous day discovering the wildlife along the pollagh trail.
As I leave the trail for another day I see the flowers of winter heliotrope on the hedge bank. They smell divine but this plant is very invasive and like an invading army it waits at the gate to the pollagh. While wildlife is to be encouraged care must be taken that it does not gain a foothold and march across the pollagh.

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