Discovering Spring in Castleconnell
By Albert Nolan.
A welcome moment of kindness around my missing phone and a chance conversation around an O Connell (rugby legend) of a different kind brought me out me out of the city and along the banks of the mighty Shannon. A few days earlier I had been walking along the Pollagh Nature Trail and had misplaced my phone. By chance I met another man who helped me to track it down and as we chatted he mentioned the stunning walks in Castleconnell and that I should pay a visit sometime. Also my young lady reminded me that I had promised to get her ears pierced and I would be literary killing two birds with the one stone. Her next step to woman hood took only a few seconds to do and left me as always with the conflicted feelings of pride that life is moving on but pangs that all parents must feel.
After I had dropped them of at their Nans I returned and parked on the main street. Despite its proximity to the city this town has retained its charm and mature trees and woods make it a pleasant environment for people and wildlife. Woodland birds are well represented and the beautiful song of a Blackbird was echoing along the street. This is one of our finest songsters and definitely on a par with the fabled nightingale.
Nesting Rooks are scattered in tall trees throughout the town and their raucous calls are one of my favourite sounds of the spring. They form noisy and messy colonies and use an assortment of branches to build their untidy nests. Tradition states that if they drop a stick they will not pick it up and under any rookery you will find an assortment of discarded branches. My own theory is that these are rejected as they are unsuitable for the nest. Rooks balance their ecological books by eating soil pests and if you get a dollop of spring blessing on you this is considered very good luck. A Wren and Great tit burst into song and I also hear the delicate singing of a Goldfinch. I walk along the street and pause at a statue dedicated to Mick Mackey who was a famous Limerick hurler in the 1930 and the last time that Limerick had a good team.
A pair of Jackdaws are busy recycling as they gather up pieces of paper to add the finishing touches to their nest. As I watch they fly to a nearby chimney pot and disappear inside. Paper is a very good insular and will absorb a lot of mess that babies of any kind create. I turn onto the Anacotty road and hear a Robin singing. Long stems of Ivy leaved toadflax are climbing along the wall. The growing tips are attracted to dark spaces and after a few weeks a new plant begins to grow. Each garden has a colourful assortment of flowers and the paths are lined with containers full of Spring Blooms showing a community in touch with their natural environment. Cherry Blossoms are just hinting at flowering and a Starling is singing on one of their branches.
On an old stone wall I find the fresh leaves of Navelworth. As it name suggests the leaves are shaped like your bellybutton. I peer over the wall into the shade of a garden that has not seen a spade for many years. It has developed into a mini oasis for nature. The yellow flowers of Lesser celandine carpet the floor and the leaves of Lord and ladies are just appearing. Witches ear fungus protrudes from an Elderberry bush and a Blue tit is calling. Across the road the top of a wall has been planted with a variety of flowers that thrive in dry environment and the colours and scents are divine.
I reach Coolbane woods and take a hidden path beneath the trees. Fresh nettles have new life wrapped up in their leaves. I carefully unfurl one and find a tiny caterpillar. This plant is host to many species of butterflies and moths and deserves it place in any community garden. Leave it to grow in a quiet corner or place in a bucket and watch the amazing journey of a hungry caterpillar transform into a stunning butterfly. Underneath the trees there is a rich understory of Elderberry, Ivy, Bramble, Primroses and Coltsfoot. This supports insects and birds and in comparison the nearby conifer wood it is barren and dead on the ground.
I see a Rook flying and the harsh call of Magpie. Insects are out in force as I spot a Hoverfly, a Green bottle and a massive Queen bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) out foraging for nectar to feed her hungry larva. If you see these large insects try not to panic and please don’t flatten them. Just step away and admire nature’s mothers hard at work.
I leave the woods and head for the open river. A young girl is feeding the birds with her parents and getting her first tentative contact with nature. Black headed gulls are swirling around while plump Greylag Geese wait patiently in the water. Mallards gobble up any stray pieces and a nervous pair of Lesser Black Backed gulls try to intimidate the other birds out of their food. Jackdaws are perched in the trees but do not come down till the family depart. I scan the river and see a Grey heron resting after a hard mornings fishing.
I walk along the bank and a Small tortoiseshell butterfly darts by and lands on Nettles. This is only the second one I have seen this year and brings a flash of colour to the walk. Soon I am standing beneath towering giants. Lime and Beech trees stretch up into the clouds and the graceful branches of a Horsechestnut tree curve out over the river.
I head onto the timber bridge that is encrusted with colourful lichens. A Grey wagtail is flicking from stone to stone in the raging foam and trying to snatch insects. Natural stone is jutting up out of the river and is pock marked with dozens of holes. It reminds me of a coral reef but this is above the surface of the water. Alder and Willow are slowly colonised the barren rock and these in turn will support insects and birds. A swan is resting on one of these mini islands and this will make a very safe roosting spot but would be unsuitable for nesting due to the risk of flooding. I lean on the railings and rest for a few minutes and this is a spot you could easily lose yourself for hours on end.
I return to the bank and find young Beech trees unfolding their first leaves and starting their journey through the centuries to reach the loft height of their parents. When they rule the skyline my time will have come to an end but hopefully my great grandchildren will enjoy their shade. I can hear a Song thrush giving a continuous warning call but he is soon silenced by the arrival of two dogs who jump in for their bath.
I move off quickly before I am given a shower and follow the path beneath the massive trees. High in the branches there are more Rooks nesting and they are quite agitated by my presence. The ground is full of woodland flowers from early Celandines to beautiful Primroses. All this nectar doesn’t go to waste and another plump queen appears (Bombus Lapidarius) appears for a quick drink.
An old gate marks the end as the trail opens up into the countryside. Goldcrests are singing and I can hear the mournful song of the Mistle thrush. A pair of Jackdaws are feeding and I see them flying towards their nests on an old house. I start to walk back and pause for a few moments to examine the remains of a tree. This is brilliant habitat for wildlife and I can see the tiny holes of the larva of wood boring Beetles and find Woodlice beneath the rotting bark. Smooth steps set into the high bank draw me up for a few moments but this path is for another days exploring. Dandelions are in flower and one is been visited by a Queen bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and these flowers are one of the best sources of early nectar in the countryside.
A large house with an impressive garden borders the public path. I peer in through a gap and spy a Wren on a branch. It has a tiny caterpillar in its mouth and flies towards its nest to feed its mate that is brooding. I reach the ferry playground and young children are hard at play and learning the skills that they will need as they progress through life.
I pass by the old Norman castle and find a botanical connection growing on the wall. Herb Robert was supposed to have been introduced by a Norman and he give his name to this delightful little flower.
The car looms too soon bringing to an end a hugely enjoyable walk and with nature stirring into life why not head out to see what wildlife is up to on your local patch. Happy hunting and I would love to hear any nature stories, observations or photos you may have.
For more information on Bees and training days for teachers and the public please check out www.limericksbuzzing.ie for upcoming events and projects.
What not take part in the Strawberry day’s project and see how the size of your Strawberry can be used to tell the health of the local bee population. A fun and tasty project for the summer that will also help your pollinating friends.
Please join me every Saturday at 4.30pm on Limerick City Community Radio for Wild about Limerick where I will be chatting to Mary Honan around what happening in the natural world to gardening for wildlife and much more. Tune in to 99.9fm or online at www.lccr.ie.