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Summer Blooms 2015

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Summer Blooms along the Pollagh.

June 2015

I arrive at the Pollagh trail in beautiful sunshine and it is a strange feeling as I have no children with me today. They are busy at their summer camps and this gives me a few precious hours of freedom and I intend to make the most of every minute.
A Swallow is swooping low over the path and this year has been poor for insects as the weather has been cold and wet. Having habitats like the Pollagh with their wide range of wildflowers is very important for birds as they attract insects and produce seeds for them. These species-rich meadows have disappeared from most of the Irish landscape. Female Swallows will not reach breeding condition unless they have a regular supply of protein-rich insects. While they do not nest in the Pollagh, it is a vital feeding ground for them.
In the woods I can hear a Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff x 2, Robin and Wren singing. This is one of the last months to enjoy birdsong as once the breeding season is over they will not waste energy on singing and our walks become strangely silent. Red and White Clover has attracted a White-Tailed Bumblebee and these insects can travel up to 2km when searching for food. The males will be appearing soon and their brief existence involves mating with the new queens before they are expelled from the colony where they die from exposure and lack of food.
The Cow Parsley flowers have faded and their small black seeds are eaten by birds like Chaffinches. But as one flower completes its lifecycle, another comes into bloom to replace it. The white flowers of Brambles have opened and these are full of busy bees, hoverflies and other insects. This succession of flowers provides a stable supply of nectar and pollen throughout the summer and early autumn.
Along the base of the hedge, Figworth, Greater birdsfoot trefoil, Herb Robert, Common Hogweed are all in flower. Two of my favourite are also out the Foxglove and the Dog Rose. Despite its unfortunate name, the Dog Rose has beautiful pink/white flowers and they have a wonderful scent. It scrambles up through the hedges and trees and later in the year it will produce bright red Haws for birds and animals. The stately Foxglove can grow under the shade of trees and if caught out in a shower of rain a Bumblebee will seek shelter in one of its large flowers.
A Helicopter is flying overhead and while this might be a quick way to travel and gives you a fabulous view of the landscape, you miss the tiny details of nature. On the leaf of an Elm tree I find tiny red galls that have been caused by a wasp that lives inside the leaf. As I check under more leaves, I find tiny green eggs. These are laid by the Green Shield Bug and they are so well camouflaged that predators like birds would be hard pushed to find them.
The scents from the wildflowers is divine and especially from the white fluffy flowers of the Meadowsweet. Common Valerian has pink flowers and grows in the wetter parts of the walk. While it has interesting flowers they have no noticeable scent. In a field hedgerow, a Wren is singing and Hoverflies flit between the flowers.
The Elderberry has white flowers that have many different uses from refreshing cordials to delicious lemonade. They are still gathered and with the added interest in foraging for wild food, their use will hopefully increase. Marsh Thistles have weak spines and clusters of people flowers that have white flecks. Some of them are very tall and stretch over two meters above the Bush and Meadow Vetchling growing underneath. Flag Iris are just starting to bloom and they grow in shallow water by the edge of the stream.
Insects are plentiful today and in the shaded areas I find a Speckled Wood. Active and a strong flyer the Small Tortoiseshell darts away quickly while the Meadow Brown has a more languid flight over the tall grasses. The Nettle Tap Moth as it name suggests is found on nettles but they are quick and agile and hard to catch. A Black Lipped Snail is slowly making his way up a leaf no doubt looking for a tender bite.
Birds are also active and I hear a Chaffinch, Wren x 3, Reed bunting x 2, Sedge warbler, Blackcap, Robin and see six Rooks in a field. The middle of the path is a hard environment and only the tough Dandelion, Daisies, Broad Leaved Plantain, Black Medic and Pineapple Mayweed can survive the daily trampling. A Speckled Wood is flying around near a field gate that is bordered by a thick patch of brambles and nettles.
I pause to listen to the singing Skylark and I never tire of their beautiful song. I hope that the meadows will continue to be cut late well into the future but new plantations are been planted and I fear for the future of these natural treasures. An unusual call above the meadow catches my attention. It sounds like Chuck Chuck and as I look up I am just in time to see s displaying Snipe fly overhead. Among the Creeping Thistles, a Stonechat is calling and this species suffered terribly during the very hard winters but is now slowly returning to its former haunts. In the trees a Willow Warbler is singing and a male Pheasant pops up out of the grass for a few seconds. Meadow Pipit and Blackbird calling. Swallow flying and Wren singing.
On the stems of thistles I find colonies of black aphids. They must get some protection while living on this plant but not from Ladybirds. I find an adult Seven Spot Ladybird and its well-fed larva on a clean stem and they are searching for more aphids. It is only a matter of time before they discover them on the next plant. I find a tiny fly with the most extraordinary cobalt blue body. On a leaf a pair of 22 spot ladybirds are mating and I count 15 Rooks/Jackdaws in a field.
I reach the crossing point and hop the fence into the uncut meadow. Beautiful wildflowers burst up through the swaying grasses. Meadowsweet, Creeping buttercup, Common valerian, Groundsel and Marsh bedstraw. A Buff Tailed Bumblebee is gathering nectar while a Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood are disturbed by my feet. My feet leave large tracks in the meadow and it will take several days for them to disappear. Other flowers are rarer like the Meadow Thistle and the Lesser Spearworth that is a member of the buttercup family. But the real surprise is a Spring Squill with blue flowers and I have never come across it before.
I spot a Common Blue Damselfly and its bright blue colours draw me deeper into the meadow. I catch one in my bug jar and marvel at its beauty before setting it free. I am conscious of the nesting birds and when a pair off Skylarks start to harass me I start back towards the path. On the way I find a beautiful Common Spotted Orchid and all these flowers are a sign of a very old meadow. The day is hot so I sit in the grass for a few moments and take it the gentle sights and sounds of nature. A Grey Heron passes overhead on his way to feed in the river.
As I emerge onto the path I meet a lady out walking. We chat idly for a few minutes and she parts with the delightful comment that Butterflies are her angels. The ground is very dry this year and perhaps all the trees that have been planted and drains dug are taking their toll on this fragile environment.
I reach the last track and in the woods I hear a Song Thrush, Blackcap and Wren x 2 singing. By the side of the path I find Yellow Rattle and this is the only place on the walk where it grows. It is semi parasitic and lives on the roots of grasses and other plants. If you pick the seed pods when they are ripe and shake them they sound like a child's rattle. More insects appear and I find a Specked Wood, Scorpion fly. Carder Bumblebee Queen and Worker and a Ringlet.
As I walk along I hear birds singing. A Magpie is calling from a tree and a Wren and Whitethroat are singing. The most interesting bird is a Grasshopper Warbler. Its sings from deep cover and its song sounds like an old fashioned fishing reel been slowly wound. The noise carries along the walk and can continue for hours and even into the summer's night.
I touch the leaves of Marsh Woundworth but its leaves have an unpleasant texture. A small group of three Bluetits are hunting through the trees and I hear a Dunnock singing and the alarm call of the Blackbird. Ringlet butterflies are plentiful and I count eight during the walk.
As I return to the car I realize that I did not hear the singing of the grasshopper so far this year. I will return on a warm and sunny day and hopefully their songs will be echoing throughout the meadows.

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