By Albert Nolan
The shadows were lengthening as I slowly crossed over Sarsfield Bridge. The weather had been fabulous and a steady flow of people were heading home after a hard day’s work. Today I was following the river Shannon and discovering some of the wildlife that is found along its bank. It wasn’t long before I discovered my first bird. A Pied wagtail was feeding on the busy path and was not bothered by the pounding of city feet. They have a long tail and they search for morsels of food and the occasional insect. I leaned over the wall and spotted a feral pigeon drinking from a puddle. They have the unfavourable name of “flying rats” but this is unfair. They are adaptable and intelligent and these qualities have allowed them to thrive in the urban environment.
On the river mallards and black headed gulls were resting on a timber marina. This man-made island was created to keep boats secure but has the added bonus of being a safe and warm place for birds to rest on throughout the day. Along O’Callaghan strand the tide is out and a rich layer of mud has been exposed. This is packed full of worms and grubs and feeds flocks of hungry birds. Ducks also take advantage and feed on the exposed river vegetation, while we work by the mechanical hand of man, nature’s clock is set to the softer rhythm of the tidal Shannon.
Valerian is growing in the joints of the bridge wall. Its bright pink flowers attract butterflies and bees. The trees along the walkway gently rustle in the wind and are gradually changing colour to reflect the march of the seasons. Overhead I hear a swallow and in a few weeks they will be making their long journey back to Africa. I scan the tops of the buildings and spot a grey hooded crow on the roof. I envy his inhibited view of the city and the freedom to explore it at will.
The horse chestnut tree is a riot of colour but all of the conkers have been gathered up by younger eyes than mine. I find a few empty seed cases but there is no natural treasure inside. There are also mature Sycamore and Lime trees. These trees have witnessed generations of change in the surrounding landscape and its people. The yellow flowers of groundsel and pretty white daises are growing in a tiny patch of soil.
The swans are a huge attraction and any time I pass by there is a crowd of people feeding them. They are very tame and watch me with large pleading eyes but unfortunately I have no bread today. When they grow tired of eating they waddle up onto the ramp by the boat club and sleep for a few hours.
I pass under the bridge and start to leave the city behind. Dandelion is in flower and it is important plant for butterflies and bumblebees. There seed heads are called clocks and are used by children to tell the time. A blue fly lands on the flower but he is too alert and I can’t catch him. The mudflats are more extensive along this part of the river and are edged by willow trees. I can see the tracks of dozens of birds that have been enjoying the daily bounty.
The path is lined with a diverse range of trees, shrubs and flowers and this provide food for wildlife. Hidden by the leaves I hear the warning call of a robin and a blackbird. In a few weeks they will lose their cover and will be easier to spot. This year has been fantastic for berries and the Blackthorns, Hawthorns and Ash trees are covered in fruit. Underneath there is a rich carpet of wildflowers. Sow thistle, Harts tongue fern, Valerian, Ragworth and Meadow sweet provide nectar for insects. Ivy is just coming into flower and this provides a last burst of energy for late flying insects. A common wasp is feeding and shows no interest in this curious naturalist. To the sound of the wind blowing through the reeds I retrace my steps back to the city and I will finish my walk out to Westfield’s in the coming days.
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