Albert Nolan, wildlife and nature correspondent for The Clare Herald, travels the highways and byways of Clare to study and write about the County’s rich biodiversity. This month, Albert examines the sights and sounds of the fields and hedgerows of County Clare during autumn.
The recent beautiful spell of weather lifted everyone spirits and even the dreaded return to school was made a little bit easier by the sunlight streaming into the rooms in the morning.
The daily routine changed to a blur of packing lunches, rooting out soccer gear and much to the amusement of my young daughter struggling through 3rd class maths that test the limit of my adult brain.
The days might be warm but there is a definite chill to the mornings. I always open the front door first to take in the fresh morning air and try and size up how the weather is going to turn out. Other creatures have adapted to these early morning starts and as soon as I open my door in the morning I can hear the Rooks and Jackdaws arriving. They perch on the swaying wires and wait patiently for breakfast to finish.
Feeding birds in the morning is such a pleasure but even after years of doing this I still get a great kick out of this simple act. After I scatter the remains of breakfast in front of the house I stand with the door half opened to watch the natural drama unfold. The birds are still cautious of people and this comes for living in a farming area where they would not receive a warm welcome form all members of the community.
One bird always takes a risk and flies down to grab a piece of bread. Next second the storm breaks and the sky is full of darkened wings. The Magpies always wait till I go indoors and lately a pair of grey hooded crows had started to watch from across the road. They have yet to work up the courage to come down but I have been slowly tempting them by throwing bread across the road. My resident Robin does not like all these birds in his territory and he will scold the birds in a vain attempt to drive them away.
After collecting the kids from school we head of too visit a friend who lives in rural Clare. After Ennis I like to take the country roads as you never know what might turn up. The journey is suddenly broken by some exciting wildlife. As I round a bend a small bird flies in front of the car followed by a Sparrowhawk. The Dunnocks is fighting for his life and I slow the car to watch the action. The hawk is only a few feet off the ground and gaining rapidly but at the last moment the Dunnocks dives into a hedge. The Sparowhawk perches on a branch but I think his breakfast will have to wait a little longer.
Only around one in ten chases are successful and this is for adults. Young inexperienced birds trying to make their way in the world for the first time had a hard first year and many of them will succumb to cold and hunger.
I recently had a call from a woman who is very observant of the natural world. She is a school teacher and when I visit her class her students are always very well informed and interested in wildlife. She was unpacking shopping when she noticed a large bird perched on the wire at the back of her house. The shopping was dropped and replaced with a pair of binoculars. She had often seen Sparrow-hawks skimming along hedgerows but never up close.
Sparrow-hawks are now very common in our gardens as they have come to realise that there is a good supply of well-fed birds. The hawk might catch one or two but the survivors quickly realize that it pays to be wary and not to hang around when a large shadow passes.
Later in the evening we are sitting outside a shop and enjoying an ice-cream that the children have persuaded me to buy. A tiny spider is on the edge of the bench and as we watch he begins an epic adventure. There are large gaps between the timbers of the bench and the spider has found an ingenious way of crossing them.
He walks along the edge till he comes to a single thread that he has spun across the gap. This allows him to scramble across and like a like a human climber he has to cross these large crevasses and while we use ropes and ladders he uses a silken thread. Occasional he falls but he has a safety line and quickly climbs back up.
There is a large puddle nearby and as we watch Starlings and House sparrows come down for a bath. With all the dirt and dust in a town their feathers can become clogged and this can be fatal as they keep out the wind and the rain.
Regular preening is essential to keep their plumage in excellent working order.
The sparrows also have a dust bath before and plunge straight into the water.
After the kids have collapsed into bed we position ourselves at the kitchen window and armed with a glass of wine wait for a creature of the night to arrive. Over the last month my friend had found that her compost bucket had been knocked over in the morning and had put it down to a curious dog. This all changed when she was coming into the house one night and he saw a big animal with a long snout that was greyish in colour. Her first reaction was that it was dangerous and over along chat on the phone I explained that as long as you left it alone and did not block its escape route they will retreat.
Also her house cat in keeping with his awkward nature has been demanding his dinner be served outside and this rich food must also be an added attraction. I have only seen a handful of badgers over the years and one right on the doorstep was to interesting to resist. The large crescent moon and nearby streetlight lit up the whole front so I had a clear view of everything but still no sign of any Badger. But patience is eventually rewarded and the badger appeared for its evening meal.
She was devouring the cat food and taking long drinks of milk that was in the bowl. This was hard as her long snout was difficult to fit into the small bowl. I watched entranced and soon realized that I could move around and make a certain amount of noise before her ears went up. Not even the ash bucket escaped her attention and the long nose burrowed into it to find the remains of a long forgotten dinner.
My eldest son was still up and every time a loud song came on the television she would pause for a few seconds but has come to accept this as part of the feeding ritual. Passing cars and their lights did not bother her and after about half an hour every morsel was gone and with a last quick sniff she was soon swallowed up by the night.
Wearily I retired to my bed but was delighted to have become acquainted with of Clare’s hidden creature of the night.
We are up early the following morning and over a hearty breakfast we examine a wasp’s nest that was found inside the garden shed. It is an amazing structure and made out of paper. The wasps chew up bark and timber and make it into a pulp and using their mouths fashion it into a home for their larva. We can see the remains of several larval chambers and there are still a few wasps inside. They are perfectly formed but unfortunately the summer and life ran out for these insects.
Wasps have a bad reputation but they feed on greenfly and this helps the gardener and the farmer.
We head into Milltown Malbay to do a bit of shopping and stretch our legs. Along church road we find some delicious blackberries and these are quickly devoured. We remember just in time to leave a few for the birds
We return home for lunch and the sun comes out. My friend has planted a few buddleia bushes near her patio and it is full of beautiful butterflies. The Small tortoiseshell is the commonest and when the nights get cold it comes into our houses to pass the winter. It finds a quite dry corner and will hibernate till the return of the warm spring weather. The caterpillars feed on nettles so it is worth while leaving a few around your garden to encourage butterflies.
We also see the Peacock and this has a very effective defence. On its wings there are four false eyes. When a bird approaches it flashes open its wings and the bird sees the eyes. It pauses giving the butterfly time to escape.
On the way home we call into Ennis Town Park for a quick run around and to let the kids have fun. As we are leaving Harry says he can hear something coming from the grass. I initially think that he is just trying to stay longer but when I go to investigate I can also hear a noise. We carefully part the grass and find a wasp attacking a hoverfly. I know they eat greenfly but dint think they would attack and eat prey as large as this hoverfly.
Soon it is time to head home and I can’t wait to return and discover more of Clare’s amazing wildlife.