Out and About in Laois
Exploring the Derryounce bog walk.
The shortening days of July might found us in the beautiful town of Portalington. We were up to visit my Sister and Nephews, and collect my son, who likes to escape from his family for a few days each summer. Just up from her house the beautiful Derryounce bog walk waits to be explored, and before we begin the long journey home, we always takes a few hours to explore its trails and wildlife.
Cars are well accommodated with ample parking by the nature reserve. The sign on a tree reads that work is ongoing and nature is the work of generations and passing on a habitat in better condition that was inherited.
The first bird of the day is a Blackcap singing. These used to be mainly summer migrants, but over the last ten years have started to overwinter and are now common visitors to gardens. The local birds are not going to be outdone by this blow-in, and a wren responds with a song of his own.
We cross the road and start the journey through the Derryounce bog walk. A living willow hedge has been planted along by the edge of the path. Willow is very pliable, and can be weaved into different shapes. Its spring catkins are a great early source of nectar for bees.
The part of the path is bordered with a mature hedgerow with a mixture of hawthorn, elderberry, ivy, bramble and sycamore. This creates a linear habitat and attracts species that live in a woodland edge. As we walk along we hear a wren and robin singing and find a female blackbird on the path. Behind the hedgerow there is open farmland and the woodpigeon is a common bird of the fields bordered by trees. They feed on leaves of wildflowers and especially dandelion and in the autumn dine on the berries of the ivy.
The beautiful scent of silage reaches our noses smelling of fragrant grasses and flowers. In a nature walk you get to test out all your senses including your nose.
A lone swallow swoops low over the path as he hawks another insect. He was a feature throughout the walk, and all the flowers with their associated insects, are a haven for this species. This walk is a botanical lover’s heaven and every few feet there is a new treasure awaiting discovery.
Meadow vetchling with its climbing yellow flowers and creeping thistle whose purple flower attract bees and seeds are devoured by goldfinches. Ragwort is the host plant of the caterpillars of the daytime flying cinnabar moth while the white umbel flowers of common hogweed hum with insects. Dog rose has delicate pink flowers are red hips in late summer. These are packed full of vitamin C and were gathered during the lean war time years. Cleavers and butterfly are unwelcome in moat gardens but found a home along the Derryounce walk.
Birds often remain hidden and a bit of detective work is needed to revel what specie are in your area. Broken snail shells lay scattered on the path and these are the wok of a song thrush. They use a stone called an anvil to break open the hard shells and get at the soft body inside. Bigger blackbirds often wait in the wings till all the work is done and then step in to rob the thrush’s meal.
Horses are grazing in a field and these are great green lawnmowers. They keep the rank grass under control and this allows the wildflowers to grow. I find the bright yellow flowers of bird’s foot trefoil and the tall narrow leaved plantain. This plant was once used for the game of solders. Armed with a long stem and its hard seed head you took turns and tried to knock off your opponent’s seed head.
With legs getting tired and the protests for dinner getting louder we return to the car and leave our exploring till the next day.
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