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January 2016

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

A January walk in The Pollaghs

The day was half reasonable and the sun had at least broken through the dark clouds. We were all mad to stretch our legs and get some fresh air into our lungs. We headed towards the Pollagh Trail as a mild January day can be a busy time in the natural world. Plants and insects have yet to stir but birds are starting to get ready for the breeding season and the competition is heating up for the best stretch of the hedgerow and partners.
The kids disappear into the distance ignoring my warning not to get too wet in the puddles. A Grey Hooded Crow passes overhead and these birds can form large winter flocks. They are common enough along the trail but I don't think they nest here. We see another member of the crow family, the Rook. It is smaller than the Hooded Crow and does not have Grey on its body.
I catch up with the kids who have completely ignored my instructions and are already soaked to the skin. Their loud splashing disturbs a Blackbird and Wren and they both give loud alarm calls. Along the trail these birds are found along the woodland edge where there is still plenty of light and food for them to feed on. Along a field hedgerow, I can hear the low call of a Dunnock. It sounds like a squeaking gate that badly needs a drop of oil. It is a very shy bird and rarely leaves deep cover. An old name was Shuffle Wings and if you watch a Dunnock moving it does shuffle its wings as it searches for food.
The dykes are still full of water and I have to keep a close watch on my over eager water babies. Bird song is increasing and if you count all the singing males you can get a good idea as to how many pairs are in the area. Throughout the walk I hear 6 Robins and 5 Wrens singing and these birds are marking their breeding territories. You can do this in your own garden or community and you will find that the birds generally sing in the same spot every day. A single Dandelion flower is in bloom in the middle of the path but the real glory of the Pollagh will be revealed during the summer months.
The buds of the Willow trees are just starting to swell and in a few weeks the long fluffy catkins will be hanging from the branches. A troop of Long Tailed Tits are feeding in one of the Willows as these trees are brilliant for insects. A Magpie is keeping a close watch on proceedings, to see if any easy meal comes his way.
A pair of Rooks are probing in the soft ground of a field for grubs and their peace is shattered by a shrieking Blackbird. Signs of the New Year are evident as long catkins hang from the branches of the Alder tree. I am just in time to see two Song Thrushes flying into the hedgerow. I reach the crossing point and the fields are still flooded. One of the Song thrushes breaks into song and you can recognise its song as it repeats each phrase two or three times. We pause for our picnic and my troops are starving. We empty out the wellies and ring the socks to get rid of excess water.
Gorse is in flower and I can hear the delicate calls of a Goldcrest from within its thorny branches. I map out some more singing birds and record Dunnock x 3 and two male and female Blackbirds. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if the numbers go up or down. Some white flowers are still on the bramble from last year showing what a mild winter we had so far. As we reach the car, I see eight Chaffinches perched in a tree. The Maggie comes near me, perhaps to confirm that I have left the trail and normal business in the natural world can resume. Dry clothes are very welcome and with the heating on in the car, the children start to warm again.

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