Going Wild in Laois: Portarlington Town Park
Portarlington Town Park.
For my family no visit to Portarlington would be complete without a visit to the town park. The River Barrow frames one side of the park, and across the river it opens out in to farmland with grazing cows.
A fine carpark creates plenty of room for human visitors, while nature find space between the mature trees and open formal lawns. Rooks are often found around the cars looking for a morsel of food. Where there are parks and playgrounds food is never far behind. Rooks rest in noisy spring colonies, and there is one located beside Super value car park.
Jackdaws are another common bird in the park, and together with rooks are collectively known as crows. Traditionally they would have nested in ruined buildings, or hollow trees, but an unguarded chimney pot makes an ideal substitute
Another car park bird is the pied wagtail. This environment seems to be built for them, as they flick their long tails, in search of an insect or wildflower seed.
Mountain ash trees have been planted, and these are a great species for an urban park. They don’t get to tall and provide red/yellow berries for birds in the autumn. Another attractive tree is the Larch. This has a bit of a mixed identity, been a conifer but with a deciduous nature. It loses its needle in the autumn, and can look stunning when planted in a garden or park, and given plenty of room to show off.
The lawns are well maintained, and only low growing wildflowers can survive. White clover is excellent for pollinators like bees and dandelion, and can also hug the ground with the most adaptable of plants. This means that they can avoid the blades of the lawnmower.
It would be brilliant to see some parts been left grow long, and the wildflowers that emerge. This is a one of the key recommendations under the national pollinators plan, and also a very easy and labour saving to implement.
Swallows visit the park in the summer months and sweep low to pick up insects. When the grass is cut all of the insects take flight, providing a bonanza for these bringers of long days.
Down by the river there is a fine uncut edge. This has a wide range of species from broad leaved plantain, bindweed and nettles. All of these flowers support nature. Nettles are the host plant for several species of our native butterflies and a few migrants.
We often find Meadow browns butterflies along the flowers by the river and this species like areas off long grass. Across the river two woodpigeons are down eating grit, where the cows have access to get a drink of water. Grit aids the digestion of a bellyful of berries
Heading back towards the car park we see Starlings flying. They will come down to gather up worms, when there are hungry chicks in the nests.
More wildflowers of the lawns reveal themselves. Self-heal as it name suggests was once a potent herb, and its bright purple flowers brighten up the endless green. Black medic has dainty yellow flowers but is brilliant for bees.
We are always in awe of the mighty Oak trees growing in the park. They must be at least 200 years old and have witnessed great changes over their lifetime. Oaks can live for up to 100 years, so these beauties are only reaching the prime of their lives.
Oak is a real wildlife community with over a 500 species of birds, insects and plants finding shelter among its branches, and countless other creatures feeding on its leaves and acorns.
Our last stop is at the playground and the wide range of slides, swings and spiny things gets the thumbs up from my crew. There is also a few moments to notice nature even under this challenging environment of countless feet and falls. Silverweed, narrow leaved plantain, creeping buttercup are all clinging around the edges of the bark mulch. This mulch keeps weeds down and also softens the impact of a tumbling child.
The most interesting flower is the pineapple mayweed. Not only does it look like the fruit but crush a piece between your finger and it smells like a pineapple too.
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