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Winter Visitors

Notice Nature > Albert Nolan Essays

Welcoming our Winter Visitors.

October has dawned bright and warm and this is a beautiful time of the year to get out, go for a walk and see what nature is up to. We returned to the Pollagh Trail on a quiet Sunday afternoon to get some gentle exercise before the rigours of the working and school week rolls in with the early morning alarm clock.
A Wren was singing as we started our walk and these brave little birds are resident here throughout the year. During cold winters their numbers can plummet but they are prolific breeders and quickly bounce back. Pied Wagtails are more birds of the urban environment and can often be spotted on our city streets. Today there is one on the walk but he hasn't ventured past the unfinished house.
We search through the piles of leaves and find several Oak seedlings. Some of these are never going to survive in their current locations so we gently gather a few to plant in a safer place. Birds are still quite active and a Robin is singing and we also hear a Chaffinch and Rook calling. Signs of fresh growth are littered along the trail and the leaves of Cow Parsley are well advanced.
A commotion above the trees causes us to look up and we see Rooks and Jackdaws mobbing a Kestrel. Although this is a common falcon it never fails to excite me when I see one. We take the first turn and find Meadow Sweet still in flower. The Holly tree has produced a fine crop of berries but the birds will probably devour them before they are fully ripe to be used as decorations.
Redwings are calling in a field and these are regular visitors from Scandinavia during the winter months. They feed on soil grubs and on the berries on the trees. Another Robin breaks into song and is joined by a Wren. But the calls of the Redwing bring a welcomed variety to the bird song of the trail.
Grass grows in a narrow strip along the middle of some of the paths. Throughout the year this contains an interesting collection of hardy plants and flowers that provide nectar and pollen for insects. Dandelion is in flower at the moment and its deep tap root allows it to survive on the harsh surface of the path. Field puddles are starting to appear and the land will soon become waterlogged. A Dunnock is calling from a field hedgerow and we also hear the warning call of a Robin.
The Alder trees have plenty of seeds and these will attract flocks of Finches when they start to open. Underneath we discover a Mushroom with a big dinner-plate sized cap but despite several searches through the books and websites I cannot positively identify it. The white flowers of Yarrow are still fresh and we must be too near a Wren as he gives a sharp warning call. A small troop of Long Tailed Ttits x 3 passes overhead and in brambles by the entrance to a field a wren is singing. Pineapple Mayweed, Sow Thistle and Groundsel are all in flower and these hardy plants can survive in poor soils. They grow quickly and produce hundreds of seeds ensuring that some will go on to produce the next generation.
We reach the crossing point and a lone Meadow pipit flies up into the air. They look dull in flight but if you see one perched on a fence pole you will see that it has bright orange legs. The trees planted in the meadows are starting to mature and this has changed the nature of the Pollagh. Birds have moved in to the former grassland and we hear a Dunnock and wren calling. We pause at our picnic spot and while the kids eat I trace the path of tiny flies through Sally leaves. The Long Tailed Tits appear again and hang upside down from delicate branches as they forage for insects.
We reach the last track and potter on towards home. A large flock of 20 Rooks and Jackdaws are feeding in the field. The kids' loud calls disturb a Meadow Pipit and two male Blackbirds that fly noisily into the nearby field hedgerow. We can hear the Redwings calling and count ten in a tall tree. A Wren joins in with a loud warning call and a Magpie flies across the path.
As we near the car we pause by a Bramble patch and find a few red Blackberries. These will struggle to ripen as the daylight hours are shorter and the sun has lost the vigour of summer. A Meadow Pipit takes flight and shimmers against the evening light while two Chaffinches are calling from the hedgerow.

Evening stroll reveals the wonder of Nature.

November 23

The weeks have flown and it is late in the evening when we arrive at the Pollagh. The sun is getting ready to set and birds are starting to head to their nighttime roosts. This involves a lot of noise and clamour and Blackbirds are the most vocal. We hear one bustling around in the undergrowth and he gets more agitated when a Robin and a Wren join in.

It is very foggy and it hangs just above the meadows. Birds appear briefly before being swallowed up by the white mists. I spot a Grey Hooded Crow in an Oak tree and a Robin sheltering in a hedge by the path.
The hedge has been cut but it could have been done in a more wildlife friendly manner. Another Robin appears on the path and there are ten Jackdaws in a small grove of Alder trees. The birds are sticking to the cover of the hedges and we hear the calls of two Wrens, a Robin and two Blackbirds coming from one.
The meadows are really soft and all the tracks from the tractors are now full of water. This muddy habitat has enticed in a pair of Pied Wagtails and they don't seem to mind the mess as they gather up insects and seeds.
We stumble our way to the crossing point and the Clare Hills have disappeared. A Meadow Pipit, Robin and two Wrens are calling but we cannot see them through the thick fog. Our picnic is skipped today with very little protest and I find a male Reed Bunting perched on a tree. Sow Thistle is still in flower but the whole plant is very ragged.
The fog lifts a little as we reach the last stretch of the walk. Birds are very vocal here in the young tree plantation. Three shy Dunnocks are calling, three wrens and a two robin. I see a male Reed Bunting in Sally tree but I am not sure if it is the same bird I saw earlier. A Grey Hooded Crow is resting in a tall tree. They like to be up high as it gives them a clear view of the surrounding countryside and allows them to spot potential predators or prey.
The sunset is beautiful and we forget about our tired legs for a few minutes. The holly berries are fully ripe and just in time for the festive season. As we reach the car we hear a two Robins, a Dunnock, a Blackbird and a Magpie calling.

Winter starts to fade.


Winter has finally shown its teeth and a sharp frost has been resident in my garden for the last week. The weak sun only brushes against my soil at this time of the year and this is one of the few disadvantages of being situated at the end of a shaded valley. On the plus side the wooded slopes are home to many species of birds and these regularly come into my garden. The colder temperature has seen an increase in appetites both outdoors and indoors and with food supplies running low we headed out to stock up.
Once our shopping was done, the day started to brighten up. We were passing by Birdhill and popped in for a long overdue walk along the Pollagh Nature Trail. As we put on the walking gear the first thing that struck me was the silence. No bird was calling and this is normal for this time of year, as with no mate to attract, energy spent singing would be wasted. Also with few leaves on the trees, the wind lacked that rustling effect.
We headed off and the trees were barren as all their berries had been eaten by hungry birds. Also without their leaves, the woods were more open and enticing trails were calling us from the path. After a few minutes we heard our first bird as a Robin broke into song. Robins keep their territory throughout the year and this bird did not like our intrusion. Overhead a Great Tit passed silently through the branches and in the distance Rooks and Jackdaws were calling.
A few drops of rain started to fall and we could see the rain clouds rolling down from the Clare Hills. Undeterred, we pushed on and the lovely smell of baled silage was drifting onto the path. White mushrooms were growing out through small tears in the plastic. They are hard to the touch unlike their softer meadow cousins.
The breeze was very cold and most of the birds were sheltering in the field hedgerows. We saw two male Blackbirds and heard Robin x 2, Wrens and a Dunnock. On the open meadows of the Pollagh, hedgerows provide vital cover from the harsh winter weather keeping birds safe and warm. A troop of Long-Tailed Tits marches by. They are searching for any hidden spiders and their eggs. They keep up a low musical call and disappear into the distance. A pair of Grey Hooded Crows is feeding in a field and these alert birds are like the sentries of the walk. They are quick to spot any potential predator and their harsh call warns other birds that danger is about.
We reach the short crossing point that connects the two main arms of the trail. The field has been ploughed up by animals and two male blackbirds are foraging for worms. We have a walking picnic as it is too cold to stop but leave a few crumbs for a robin who hops onto the path to scold us.
The rain is getting heavier and we scramble over the gate and onto the last track home. This area has been planted with a mixture of fast and slow growing trees and young plantations are a rich habitat for birds. A Dunnock and Chaffinch are calling but they are outnumbered by four wrens.
A few flowers are braving the elements and we find Shepherds Purse, Yarrow and Dandelion in flower. A beautiful charm of 15 Goldfinches are feeding on the seeds of the Alder trees. Their catkins are well developed and a welcome sign of the awakening countryside. In the branches there are Besoms but these nest-like structures are caused by a fungus. As we near the car we hear another Dunnock and see two more Blackbirds. The birds and people have missed a few berries on the holly tree and a white lichen is wrapped like a scarf around the branches of thin stems of a blackthorn tree.
Nature rewards a visit even at this the darkest time of the year.

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