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Harmony in Nature

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Insects and Birds of July

The sun was shining and we were in the middle of a mini heatwave as we pulled into the Pollagh trail. All though we have been here many times before and in all weathers, the lure of the walk is as strong as ever. Each visit brings fresh discoveries and a new understanding around how all the plants, insects and birds work together in perfect harmony. The varied landscape also creates a rich mosaic of hedgerows, wild field edges and the vital ingredient for life, an abundance of water.
A new house is being built and a rough stone road gives access to the house. Few plants can grow in such harsh conditions but Broad leaved Plantain is very tough and can survive being trampled on. We head off into the trail and pass by the flowers of Herb Robert. Common hogweed has produced a bumper crop of seeds and there is a rich leaf litter underneath the Beech tree. The twigs of the ash tree are heavy with their fruits called keys and even the strong breeze causes only a slight rustling.
Underneath the tall trees there is the shrub layer. Elderberries are perfectly happy in the shade but will not have the biggest crop of berries. Willows have found their own niche and grow in the wetter parts of the walk. Their roots filter the water and remove impurities and toxins, cleaning the water in the process. They are brilliant for insects and we find lots of spiders and their webs hung between the branches. There are a few oak trees growing by the entrance but these are only around 30 years old. On the underside of some of the leaves there are little raised red circles called spangle galls. These are created by a gall wasp called Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. Some of the leaves of the wytch elm have been eaten and the culprit is more than likely a caterpillar of one of the many species of moth that feed on its leaves.
We take the trail to the right and find Purple loosestrife and Angelica in flower. These are two of the best flowers for insects and this gives us hints as to what we can grow in our gardens. If you have an area that has wet soil these two flowers are ideal and will attract in butterflies. The tufted vetch is finished flowering and gone to seed. Spindle is a rare tree and is found in a few locations along the trail. Its timber was once used to make spindles for weaving and in the autumn it bears bright orange berries. These are fine for birds but toxic for humans.
The farming year is gaining pace and the meadows of the Pollagh are being cut. Thankfully the last meter by the ditches is too wet for the heavy machines and is left uncut for nature. A wren starts to sing from a hedge and they are resident here all year round. Dandelions were scarce this year and there is only one in flower along the whole walk.
A speckled wood is perched on a bramble leaf. They sip the nectar of the flowers and will drink the juices of the berries when they ripen. Two broods are common and in a very good year there are sometimes three. Along by the tall grasses a meadow brown is flying. With the meadows cut it has been forced out into these linear fields.
A moth breaks cover and flies rapidly away. We follow and it drops like a stone into the grass. After a few minutes of careful searching I spot a shaded broad bar. This has a thick brown bar across its wings and their caterpillars feed on various grasses and legumes like bush/tufted vetch. Another wren breaks into song and the creeping thistles are releasing their fluffy seeds. We hear a jackdaw calling in the distance.
Bumblebees are out enjoying the sunshine and the common carder bee (Bombus pascurum) is feeding in a bindweed flower. A robin is singing but stays in deep cover and we cannot see him. A spider has built his web with a large funnel at the back. He scurries deep into his tunnel as we approach. Wasps' duties of rearing the larva are nearly over and they search the countryside looking for anything sweet to quench their sugar thirst. Sow thistle, Red dead nettle, Knapweed, Red and white clover are in flower. Willow warbler is singing and we find a common leaf hopper on a leaf.
We reach the metal steps and head across to the next trail. Angelica and purple loosestrife are in flower and have attracted a whole host of bees. While the kids eat their treat I do a bit of bee watching and discover four different species. Bombus pascurum x 5, Bombus terrestris x 1, Bombus lucorum x 1 and Bombus pratorum x 1. With bees in decline throughout much of the country the flowers of the pollagh are becoming more important. Robin gives a warning call as we linger too long.
In a recently cut field there are 70 Jackdaws and Rooks feeding. They are searching for soil grubs and especially leatherjackets. These are the larva of the daddy long legs and they live in the soil for up to two years. They eat the roots of grasses and crops and can cause a lot of problems if left unchecked. Birds provide a free pest-removable service. Swallow is flying and feeding on insects. By the entrance to the field we find the Greater knapweed.
We jump over the gate and start back towards the car. The beautiful scent of meadow sweet lingers in the air and a willow warbler and robin are singing. A Meadow pipit is calling from the field and we see three more swallows. The dog rose is in flower and two buff tailed bumblebee are on the flowers.
We find more butterflies. A meadow brown x 2 and two green veined whites. The biggest surprise is the first small copper butterfly we have ever seen on the trail. It is feeding on a creeping thistle flower and they are very approachable. We pause and have a good look and humbly realize that all though we have discovered so much we have barely scratched the surface.

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