Nature Springs into Life
By Albert Nolan
I begin my walk today beneath the familiar trees of the Peoples Park. The cold has temporarily lifted and the Daffodils have responded with a spurt of spring growth. Birds are also more active as the breeding season gets into full swing. Just inside the main gate a flock of Feral pigeons are feeding. Some of the males are displaying and trying to entice the females. They turn around in a tight circle while bowing their heads while uttering a rich throaty call. You can identify a male pigeon by his larger size. One of the advantages of city living is that they can breed throughout the year, the temperatures are warmer and there is more food available.
Up in a tree a female Chaffinch is cleaning her beak on a branch. Hygiene is very important for birds to prevent diseases and a large part of their day will be spent preening and cleaning their feathers. As I follow the paths I hear various birds singing. A duet of Starlings are entertaining passer byes with their repertoire of songs and a Robin also joins in.
The park mimics the countryside with large areas of grass that provide feeding opportunities for birds. Blackbirds are ground feeders and they probe in the leaf litter and soft mud for worms, slugs and grubs. I find four males throughout the park and each will claim a section of the park as his territory. This has to provide enough food to raise a family and will be fiercely defended. Younger birds are driven to the fringes and have to make do with less suitable habitats where there is less food and shelter. These sites are not attractive to females so they will be hard pushed to find a mate.
Rooks are also ground feeders and they nest each year in the tall trees. Unlike Blackbirds they are social nesters and you will often find several nests on the same tree. They share the resources of their home range and come autumn will form large flocks and travel to the fields at the edge of the city to forage for food.
I walk along by the by the tall apartment blocks that overlook the park. On the Balconies I see several feral pigeons. Their ancestors were once cliff dwellers but they have adapted and become very closely associated with buildings.
A little futher on two Woodpigeons are feeding on the newly emerging spring leaves of Dandelions. This flower is packed full of minerals and nutrients and they are the only bird in Ireland that provide their young with a rich and nutritious milk. A little Blue tit is calling from the branches of a tree.
By the Spring Rice Memorial I find five Starlings feeding in the grass. Only their heads are visible and they bob up and down as they feed. Overhead Jackdaws, Blackheaded gulls and more Starlings are flying. This part of the park near St Michaels Church has some of the tallest trees and also plenty of birdlife. Chaffinches, Greenfinches and a female Blackbird are busily going about their daily chores.
High up in a tree I can hear a Song Thrush singing. These are the gardener’s friends as they eat loads of snails. They have a favourite stone and will patiently smash the shell against the rock until it breaks and it can then devour its hard earned meal. It has to be quick as the larger Blackbirds will often wait till the hard work is done and then come in and rob the poor Thrushes meal. Another member of the Thrush family the Redwing is a scarce visitor to the park. Strangely I only every see one in the park while the countryside will be host to thousands of these winter visitors.
As I leave the park I spy three more Feral pigeons on the roof and another male Blackbird. I head along Barrington Street and see a Great tit on the ESB wire. He is calling and this helps with the identification as using binoculars in the urban environment can attract too much attention. I cross onto Newenham Street and admire the old doors of the houses. Many have tall railings and deep open basements. I peer into a few but they can support very little plant life.
I reach Henry Street and find a tall Horsechestnut tree that is slowly winning the battle against its surrounding wall. The stones are bulging out and it won’t be long before they are completely pushed out. A Silver birch tree is growing nearby and a Pied wagtail is flitting along the path. I head towards the Dock road and find a very interesting garden.
In a space barely big enough for two wheelie bins a beautiful Garden has been created. There is no soil but a vast assortment of pots, tubs and hanging Baskets have been used. On the wall there are timber frames ensuring that no space go to waste. There are still a few flowers, tomatoes and herbs growing and I will come this way again in the summer to see it in full bloom.
Before I head out the dock road I take a slight diversion along James Casey walk. Five Rooks are perched on the fence and you can get good views of the river from here. I return to the Dock road and soon see two Rooks drinking water from a full gutter. This is an important source of fresh water and the build-up of soil and plants filter the water and make it safe to drink.
This stretch of the walk feels very closed in due to the high buildings that border the path. Nature survives here as well and on top of a low wall I find Sow thistle and Dandelion flowers. These are very important for wildlife. The Sow thistle produces feathery seeds for birds and the Dandelion is one of the best sources of nectar for early bees and butterflies.
A pair of Magpies are perched in a tree. These intelligent birds are true urban survivors and build their strong nests in tall trees in parks and gardens. Nestled against a wall I find a very old sign. It is made out of stone and I can just make out some of the directions. Limerick is a quarter of a mile and Tarbet is on the road I am following. These traditional signs are scattered around the edges of the city and show how muck Limerick has expanded over the last hundred years.
I pass through a cross roads and notice a small path that disappears into a housing estate. A play area for the houses has been abandoned and willow trees and moss have taken over. Dozens of drink cans litter the area around the seats and different creatures of the night are hanging around. I decide to follow the path as curiosity overcomes my natural caution.
A battered and sorry looking Elderberry bush guards the entrance. Bramble is growing along the fence and this is an excellent plant for wildlife. The flowers attract butterflies and the berries are eaten by birds and animals. I push in deeper and hear a Robin and Starling singing. In a quiet corner a little wildlife haven has developed. Ivy, Dandelion, winter heliotrope, Sow thistle, Nettle and Nipple worth are all growing. Small trees are starting to establish and there are tall Birch trees and a young Sycamore sapling. Each of these plants is beneficial for nature and if we left areas like this in our communities nature would benefit as a result. I hear a Magpie calling before I return to the main road.
I am not familiar with this part of the city but follow my instincts and turn left. Tall Lime, Sycamore, Hawthorn and Horsechestnut trees line the path. Beneath their bare branches Lesser Celandine is growing. It has bright yellow flowers and is one of the first flowers of spring. It thrives in damp conditions and a field hedgerow must have been removed here many years ago leaving only a skeleton of trees and a few flowers.
I reach Mary immaculate college and pop inside for a look around the large grounds. A Starling and Robin are singing and the flowers of winter heliotrope are beginning to fade. Mature Lime trees are growing in the grounds and the Lime Street Theatre must be called after these. Many plays and dramas have taken place here over the years but the outdoor world of nature is just as dramatic and interesting.
A Holm oak is full of singing Starlings and this cast is joined by a Magpie. He only has a brief role before exiting the stage into the safety of a Yew tree. A musical troop of Goldfinches are singing and a Great tits “teacher teacher “call echoes throughout the grounds.
Two male Blackbirds provide the fighting scene as they square up over territory and females. A Jackdaw is on a street light while background music is provided by a calling Chaffinch and a singing Wren. Old trees border the inside of the wall and they consist of Horsechestnut, Limes, two sycamore, Silver birch and a contorted Cypress. A Robin is singing and the old branches from the trees have been stacked against the wall creating an interesting habitat for insects.
I leave a student pounding the tracks and soon arrive at the Catherine Mcqualey School. The gates are closed so I can’t go in. I see a tall Beech tree and hear the warning call of a Robin. The garden next door has a tall Sycamore tree that is covered in ivy. I head back towards town and pass by rows of houses and it is interesting to see the different plants growing in the gardens.
The branches of a weeping ash tree bend towards the ground. Variegated Holly has bright red berries and tall Beech, Lime and Sycamore trees soar up into the sky. In a Horsechestnut tree I hear a Blackbird calling and a Robin singing. A pair of Jackdaws are resting by their chimney pot and a woodpigeon is on the roof of another house. Four Chaffinches are safely hidden in the dense spines of a Holly tree.
I reach my starting point of the Peoples Park and see a male Blackbird and 13 Rooks but have little time left to do more exploring. At the junction of Sexton and Gerald Griffin Street there is an ivy covered wall and this is full of delicious Berries. Ten plump woodpigeons are feeding and they will soon strip it bare.
There is a little park across the road and I hear a Chaffinch calling. I reach my last street Rossa Avenue and wearily put my gear in the car. As I head in to collect the kids I hear the last call of a Magpie and the fading singing of a Starling.
Nature plays an incredible part in our celebration of Spring so why not head out and explore the city streets and see what wildlife you can discover.