Going wild in Laois: Mountrath
Going wild in Mountrath.
Our exploration of the wildlife gems of Laois continued, with a stop in the beautiful town of Mountrath. We parked in the centre of town, and the recycling bins are located in this prominent location. This encourages and reminds people to bring their old clothes and bottles to be reused, helping towards a sustainable environment.
It is not long before we met our first bird. Swallows are swooping above the car park, hawking insects in the warm morning air. As we left the car park the market across the road was just closing. These country markets are now a feature of most towns and villages. The variety of ware on sale is amazing from fresh vegetables, honey and crafts.
The flower bed in front of the market is just as interesting. A common carder bee has found a good source of nectar and pollen, but I can’t remember the name of the plant. We head into town and hear a Jackdaw calling. These are common urban birds, and nest in unguarded chimney pots and holes in buildings. Nature makes its home in the urban environment with or without help.
The river walk along by the White Horse river is our destination. I have never been here before, and the excitement of exploring somewhere new starts to surface. The vegetation along the riverbank has been left long. This has allowed ragwort to flourish, and we find a red tailed bumblebee feeding on the flowers.
As we head into the park, I am not surprised to read an information panel that says that this area is managed for bees. The enlightened management regime has produced a flush of wildflowers. The white heads of yarrow, tall angelica, greater rosebay willow herb and narrow leaved plantain are all a source of food for pollinators. Succession of flowers throughout the bee year is vital, and especially the vulnerable times, of early spring and late summer.
Apple trees have be planted in the long grass of the meadow, and the fruits if not picked by people will be appreciated by birds, insects and animals. The trees will all be pollinated by the bees.
I also find the much maligned nettle. Yes it does give a nasty sting, but the caterpillars of several of our native butterflies, feed on the leaves of nettles. In early spring if you carefully examine a clump of nettles, you will see that some of the leaves are rolled up, and sealed with a web. Unfurl one, and inside they will be a tiny caterpillar.
A hawthorn hedge, around a meter wide runs parallel to the path. It is good and thick and suitable for nesting birds. The path continues along by the river. More trees have been planted. Mountain ash and elderberry will provide berries for birds.
The wind picks up causing the leaves to rustle, and the grass to sway. Sound is such an important part of any nature walk. A wren bursts into song from deep cover, and this woodland species finds a good home in mature parks and gardens. Creeping thistle has gone to seed. These are large, white and fluffy, and easily catch in the wind. Finches love to eat them, and you will often find the beautiful goldfinch devouring the thistle seeds.
A series of wide stepping stones brings you across to the opposite side. The water is not deep, and the kids love the whole experience of the river crossing. This is a really impressive entrance to the playground. While they enjoyed the walk, they have been waiting all day for the playground. They run to the swings and soon excited calls echo through the day.
There are some fine trees in the playground, and I think they were left and the slides and swings built around them. A very tall hawthorn shows what this tree can achieve if given the opportunity, and birch has its attractive silvery bark. These trees give a mature feel to the park and also provide homes for nature.
Broad leaved plantain is growing on the well-used bark mulch track, and this hardy plant can survive a lot of trampling. We are only brief visitors, and the resident robin lets us know that we are intruding on his patch, with a series of harsh warning ticks.
The grass path by the riverbank entices me on, and I have to use a lot of persuasion to get my two to follow. There is a small woodland, and 3 blackbirds are foraging on the ground underneath. Swallows fly over the river gathering insects, and tall popular trees are covered with colourful lichens. I hear the calls of a dipper as it flies upstream. This is a plump bird with a white underbelly, and overall brown plumage. Alder is also growing along this stretch and this tree thrive along river banks. The seeds are eaten by a wide range of species including redpolls and siskins. Oak and hazel stand has been planted. These trees are brilliant for birds and insects, and I love the whole approach to planting throughout the park.
A wild edge has been left along by the riverbank and is full of colourful flowers. Knapweed, common hogweed, broad leaved dock and silverweed all create an interesting plant life. More birds start to sing, and we hear the delicate calls of a Goldcrest, and the more strident calls of the great tit. It shows the importance of knowing your bird songs, especially with summer cover everywhere.
We reach the end of the walk and head back to the playground for more fun. Song thrushes are shy birds, but we hear one singing for a tree. They use a stone called an anvil to break open the shells of snails and get at their soft bodies.
With the promise of a treat we head towards the main entrance. For the fit and motivated there is an outdoor gym, but early morning is not the best time to be trying anything to physical.
The flower bed by the gate has been planted up with nectar rich plants. Nepeta has attracted a Peacock butterfly. This species has four false eyes on its wings, and when a predator approaches it flashes open its wings. This momentarily distracted the predator, and the butterfly can get away. A quick visit to the toilets reveals cellar spiders in the corners of the building. They hunt other spiders and are also common in houses.
A large Buddleia bush welcomes us to the next part of the river pack. The water is very shallow, and barely covers the kid’s shoes, and a wide path borders the river. The high walls of houses run parallel to the path, and I wonder what secret gardens remain out of view. Some plants have gotten a foothold on the wall, and ivy leaved toadflax is trailing out of a small hole. It has pretty purple flowers and it also known as mother of thousands. This name comes for its ability to colonise large areas of a wall.
The river bank here is also managed for insects and dandelions, daises, sow thistle and white clover are all beneficial. Green veined white butterflies are feeding on ragwort.
Willows grow alongside the path, and like the alder they trees are adapted to grow in wet conditions. Beech trees have also been planted, and these provide autumn colour, and will keep their leaves till a winter storm stripes them bare.
The walk brings us back to town via the Quakers garden, and while the bodies remain in the ground, the headstones have been moved to a safer location. Gravel paths wind beneath tall trees and wildlife is now resident is this tranquil garden.
We pause for a few minutes to enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. Housesparrows are singing and a blackbird gives an alarm call. In a sunny flower filled corner a buff tailed bumblebee, red admiral and peacock butterfly are all busy with nectar and pollen.
The kids spot a small shop across the road that is no bigger than my sitting room but at least you are served by a person. The kids take a while to decide on their treat, but the man is in no hurry and we chat about the weather and wildlife.
To the sounds of singing starlings we reach the car. We all had a wonderful time discovering Mountrath and wildlife is at the centre of the community and well done to all involved.
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