By Albert Nolan.
I arrive in Arthurs Quay Park to the ringing of a church bell celebrating in my mind the glory of spring. It is coming from across the river and is just audible above the constant flow of traffic. Tradition calls like bells that were once such a familiar part of our daily lives are slowly disappearing from the city. The park is strangely empty and for a few precious moments I have it completely to myself.
The display of Daffodils is stunning and covers a large part of the green areas. A few children are probing around the edges and although they are eager to run through the flowers they seem unsure of what is the right thing to do. The wind is strong today and the Swans have taken shelter from the choppy water in the Marina.
Bright yellow Dandelions and Groundsel have so far escaped the lawnmowers and these are a great source of food for early Butterflies and Bumblebees. Many early spring flowers are yellow because this helps advertise to the few insects that are flying where they are so that they can be pollinated. A green flower would be impossible to find and would have died out a long time ago.
This park is a great location to become familiar with members of the Crow family. Rooks are feeding between the flowers and searching for their favourite food, leatherjackets that are the larva of the Daddy long legs. Earlier in the year they briefly nested in the trees but they were soon abandoned. The same happened last year and it must be down to some sort of night-time interference as they are well used to being in the public eye. I see two more members of this family, the shyer Grey hooded crow and the cheeky Jackdaw. Across the road the Horsechestnut tree is coming into leaf and hopefully people will be sheltering beneath its canopy from the sun rather than the beating rain.
I head off towards the Peoples Park and can see the beautiful colour of the Cherry blossoms as I approach. This is one of my favourite trees even though the flowers disappear in the gentlest breeze. The Rooks have been busy building their nests and one of them is located in a small tree by the main entrance. They nest together in noisy and messy colonies. Discarded sticks soon build up on the path but they are quickly cleared away. Each spring they build their nests in different trees around the park and this year I count 37 nests.
I have a good look through the Heather that is in flower but unfortunately find no Queen bumblebees. The strong winds and cold might be putting them off but nature’s mothers are very determined and hopefully I will find one before the end of the day. Birds are plentiful and I see a Male Blackbird and hear a Dunnocks and Chaffinch singing. Parks are a great location when you are starting to learn about birds as they can be quite tame and contain a wide range of different species.
A ‘Please Do Not Pick the Daffodils’ sign is being blissfully ignored by a child who is too young to read. I follow the path and underneath a tall Sycamore tree I find dozens of tree seedlings that have no chance of survival. Nature is amazing but there is a necessary reality in the way that different species have to struggle for limited resources. More birds appear as a Jackdaw flies overhead and a Starling is singing from a nearby tree.
I pause at another bed of Heather and it has a beautiful scent. Too late I glimpse a queen bumblebee but she moves too quickly and disappears deeper into the park. Further on I see a small flock of feral pigeons feeding on some scraps left by the edge of the path. A regular supple of free food is one of the many benefits of city living.
Chaffinches are birds of woods and the mixture of trees in the park is ideal for them. The males have a beautiful plumage. There are mainly pinkish with a slate blue head and thick white wing bars. Females are a dull brown because they need to be camouflaged while sitting on the eggs. I pass beneath the arching branches of the Horsechestnut tree and find a single yellow rose in flower. Roses need full sun and I wonder if this one was self-sown by a bird or an interested gardener.
The magical song of a Blackbird stops me in my tracks. He is singing on the wall and is only a few feet away. For me, they are our finest singers and his song is perfectly balanced by the throaty call of a nearby Rook. This peaceful nature of the park is another advantage for the urban naturalist as it allows us to hear the bird singing and appreciate the sounds of nature.
A lone Magpie hops across the grass. Like the Rooks they are now more common in our gardens and parks but have sensibly kept a wary respect for their human neighbours. Around 50 Starlings are wheeling around the park and I hear the costal cries of a Herring gull echoing from the roof of a nearby building.
I reach the boundary wall with St Michael’s church and hear the delightful calls of Goldfinches. These were once highly prized and captured and kept as songbirds. Thankfully this practice has nearly died out and we admire the birds in their proper and natural habitats.
I gently lift a stone and life crawls away from the light. Dozens of legs scuttle in all direction as Woodlice, Millipedes, Beetles and slugs head for cover. These smallest creatures are as important in maintaining a healthy environment as the tallest tree. They recycle all the leaves and branches and are also eaten by birds. While we don’t have to like them, it is important to appreciate and understand the role they play in the natural world.
Next is a Lawson cypress tree and it has no real value for wildlife. Its one saving grace are its attractive flowers that are red and black and look like tiny ladybirds. Being evergreen, it provides good cover for birds throughout the year from the weather. I can hear a Blackbird and Woodpigeon calling from the tree but they are well concealed. Flowers are also in bloom throughout the grass and I admire the Lesser celandine and the Dandelion.
I watch as a Rook picks up a large branch for his nest. He adjusts it to the right position in his beak so that he is well balanced but it takes him a feet steps to get airborne. He heads away from his nest and circles around through the trees gaining the necessary height. Unfortunately all his hard work doesn’t pay off as when he tries to weave it into his nest, it slips into the playground. A small boy picks it and runs off to play, much to the disgust of the Rook. Competition for building materials has taken on a new twist.
A loud snapping noise catches my attention, and I see Rooks in a tree breaking off small twigs for finishing off their nests. Some of the trees are very popular and the birds are quarrelsome as they queue up for this precious resource. Over near the restaurant the blossoms are out on the Flowering currant, but again there are no bees but I am compensated by its beautiful smell and colour.
With time against me I decide to revisit the heather beds for a last look. I am delighted when I see a Queen bumblebee and with trembling hands I manage to catch her in my insect net. I carefully slip her into a bug jar and identify her as Bombus terrestris.
She buzzes nosily and I quickly release her as care of the wild creatures is paramount when studying nature. She flies away and it is amazing to think that here in the heart of Limerick city nature abounds, from the tallest trees to the singing birds. Hidden creatures beneath stones to foraging bees, our city is alive with nature so why not head out and see what you can discover today? Cold and hungry I start the long walk home, but completely satisfied with my walk around Limerick.
If you have comments or questions, you can contact Albert Nolan at [email protected] or 089 4230502.
Read more of Albert Nolan’s nature articles here.