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Wildlife of the Pollagh Trail

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Wildlife of the Pollagh trail.


The sun had been shining all week and nature was on full display as we pulled into the Pollagh trail. The last time we were here we were kitted out in coats and hats and the children had to be carried across flooded roads and dykes. Today t-shirts were the order off the day and with a liberal coating of sun cream we began our walk.

The first part of this amazing walk is bordered by woodland. This provides a home for many species of birds and the trees were alive with bird song. As we strolled along we heard three male Blackcaps singing and these are summer visitors from Africa. They are very sulking and sing from deep cover. The male has a lovely black cap on his head while the females cap is brown. They feed on insects and in late summer head back to North Africa. Over the last decade a few birds have started to overwinter and if the mild winters continue there numbers will only increase. If you feed the birds in your garden you will often see a pair of Blackcaps.

Two Robins were also singing and these birds are very territorial. They defend their patch throughout the year and fierce fights break out between the rival males. Robins also have a sharp tic tic warning call and this is used when the birds feel they are in danger or a predator like a fox is on the prowl. A Blackbird gives a warning call and these are another woodland species. They forage in the nearby fields for worms and slugs.

Another summer visitor is the chiffchaff. It has a distinctive call and it sounds exactly like its name. It also keeps to deep cover and there are several pairs along the Pollagh during the breeding season.

Dandelions are in flower by the edge off the path. They have many uses and can be made into an herbal tea or heady wine. When houses were damp and cold and rheumatism was more common dandelion beer was drunk during the winter to alleviate the symptoms of this painful condition. Their flowers are very important for wildlife and we find a green veined white feeding on one. Dandelion flowers are large and flat and this makes it very easy for insects to access the nectar. Green veined white butterflies are very common along the flower rich borders and in the wet meadows of the Pollagh.

We pause to listen and hear the melodious song off the willow warbler. Like the blackcap and chiffchaff is arrives in spring and leaves in autumn. Its song is soft and beautiful and it rarely leaves the shade of its preferred trees.

The male Orange tip butterfly is very easy to identify as he has bright orange patches on his wings. They are active and strong flyers and like linear habitats like hedgerows and woodland rides. Their caterpillars feed on the cuckoo flower and this grows in damp areas. It has pale pink flowers and gets its name as it flowers at the same time as the arrival of the cuckoo.

We turn left and head deeper into the Pollagh. Along the paths there is plenty of willow growing. This is a great plant for queen bumblebees as it flowers early in the year and provides them with a rich source of nectar as they emerge from hibernation and start the busy process of setting up a new colony. Daises or days eyes are scattered along the path. They are also used by early insects

The white flowers of the Blackthorn are dotted along the hedge. Later in the year there should be a good crop of sloes. These are eaten by birds, foxes and badgers. A chaffinch is calling from a tree. The males have a slate blue head, a pinkish breast and thick white wing bars. They are also known as the wet wet bird as there call is suppose to be an indication of rain.

As we pass the wildflower meadows we hear two wrens singing. Birds use song to mark out their territory and warn other males to keep out. It is also a signal to females that the male is in good condition and has established a territory that can support a family.

Gorse is in flower in the fields and an old saying states that when gorse is in flower kissing is in fashion. Fortunately for all young lovers, gorse flowers throughout the year. Birds nest in gorse as its spines provide effective protection form predators. Another yellow flower is the primrose and we find only one clump on the entire walk. Primroses have a dark eye in the middle of their flowers and this helps bumblebees to find them.
Creeping thistles are just starting to appear and later in the year its seeds will be eaten by goldfinches. A lone Dunnock starts singing and they are another shy and retiring species.

We also hear another three blackbirds, Willow warbler x 5, chaffinch x 1 and spot a male orange tip. This shows the rich diversity of wildlife along this short stretch.

We climb over the metal steps and this short section brings you nicely across to the other path. Groundsel is flower and it can be found at any time off the year. Cuckoo flower is in bloom in the wet meadows and it is the food plant off the caterpillars of the orange tip butterflie.

Stonechats were badly hit by the very cold winter of 2012 and are slowly making a comeback. They like rough ground and the Pollagh is an ideal habitat for them. Their song is unique and sounds like two stones by banged together.

We stop under the shade of a tree to eat our picnic. A pair of skylarks is singing and they have become very scarce due to the loss of flower rich grasslands and early cutting.
They use the fence posts in the field as singing posts and as we listen one off the males flies high into the air. He hangs there for a few seconds while singing before descending to the ground.

A loud splash from the drainage ditch by the edge of the path catches our attention. These are usually full of water and connected to the stream. The weather has been so dry that they have nearly dried out and as we peer into a receding pool we spot a trapped eel. Another possibility is that these dykes are used as nurseries for baby eels. Blackbird and Robin singing.

We reach the last track and head towards the car. This section of the trail is bordered by open fields and it has fewer birds. We only hear chaffinch x 3 and blackbird x 2 singing.
We meet two ladies walking and they inform me that they heard the cuckoo singing a few days ago.

Along by the ditch Bush vetch is in flower. These are one off the best flowers for bumblebees and butterflies. They have the ability to climb and they scramble by strong tendrils up through the vegetation. Silverweed with its silvery leaves stays low and hugs the hard surface off the road.

The last surprise of our visit is a small tortoiseshell butterfly. They over winter as adults in our houses and are usually the first butterflies to emerge each year. Their caterpillars feed on the leaves of nettle

Comments/Questions to albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or 089 4230502.

Main Species List.
Birds.
Blackcap x 3.
Robin x 1.
Blackbird x 4.
Chiffchaff x 1.
Willow warbler x 5.
Chaffinch x 2.
Wren x 2.
Dunnock x 1.
Skylark x 2.

Butterflies.
Green veined white x 1.
Orange tip butterfly, Male x 4.
Small tortoiseshell x 1.

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