The Wild Side

Tortoiseshell

Up here in Nead an Iolair, in the townland of Cappaghglass, we luxuriate in the nature all around us. Our house was built in the 1980s on a piece of land which had belonged to the successors of the mining company – the copper mines were active for a few generations in the 19th century both here and on Horse Island, just across the water. The post-industrial landscape which surrounds us is alive: small, stone-enclosed fields are grazed by cattle, ponies and a few goats while in equal measure are large tracts of gorse, heather and rock. Here and there are the remains of the mine workings – a stump of a chimney, fenced-off and walled shafts, quarries, ruined workshops and cottages: the architecture of abandonment.

horse on horizon

Nick's Goat

nead birds

It seems to me that our house interrupts nature, with our lawns, our haggard, stone terrace, hedges and fences, but nature is well able to adapt and cope. Of course, we encourage this: we enthusiastically nurture all the little birds that visit our feeders – and the big ones: rooks, pheasants, magpies: they all get their share. And there are those that don’t come to the feeders but nevertheless forage the land – choughs (which perch on our roof and shout out their names – cheough – cheough… before flying off to give us an endless and entertaining display of dizzying acrobatics), starlings, blackbirds, thrushes and – always on a Sunday – Spiro the sparrowhawk who unsuccessfully dive-bombs the feeder, scattering – but never catching – the small birds. After the effort he rests on one leg on the low terrace wall and stares thoughtfully out to the Cove.

Can YOU see it?

Chough on the post

Spiro

From The Galleries

Michael, whose family has farmed the fields around us for generations, tells us that the land above us is known as The Galleries – possibly because there is such a spectacular view to be had from these fields to Rossbrin below us and to the islands of Roaringwater Bay beyond. The Cove itself is a paradise for the waders, especially at low tide, and for crustaceous life in the rock pools.

Muddy shanks

Curved beak

All around are the hedgerows that, in the spring, summer and autumn, support a wealth of wildflowers. In turn these are the haunt of nectar-seeking insects, especially bees and butterflies.

We are visited by four-legged mammals in all shapes and sizes: I’m pleased to see some of the decimated rabbit population returning after a recurrence of myxomatosis these past couple of years. We don’t get hares in the immediate neighbourhood: they seldom mix with the smaller Leporidae, but we sometimes catch a glimpse of them from the road that goes down to the village. Rats, mice and shrews are never far away, but are kept under control by our larger visitors – feral cats and foxes. Our own Ferdia has gone from us during this past year – he was an ancient fox who had made a pact with the human world: I’ll sit picturesquely on your terrace and entertain you provided you keep the food scraps coming – we did, of course. His descendants make fleeting visits, passing through but, as yet, never pausing to make our acquaintance.

Ferdia's Eyes

Bunny eyes a daisy

When it comes to observation of the natural world there’s never a dull moment here. We are fortunate that some globally threatened species seem to thrive around us – curlews can always be seen by the water, for example. The small birds crowd in, especially when I refill the feeders: sometimes we have to fight our way through the melee when we want to go out. It’s a great way to live, and a great place to live in. Thank you, Mother Nature.

RH and friend

Photographs (from the top down): Tortoiseshell butterfly; Cappaghglass field; Nick’s goat; Nead an Iolair with starlings; greenfinches; chough on our gatepost; Spiro the sparrowhawk; view across Roaringwater Bay from The Galleries; muddy shanks; curlew in the Cove; 2 x bees; Ferdia the fox; rabbit; Nead bird feeder with goldfinches, greenfinch, bluetits and great tit – and pheasant; Robert and friends; heron hairdo. Grateful thanks to Finola for many of these pics

Heron Mullet

23 thoughts

  1. Having lived most of my life in your environment but now a city dweller I can almost breathe in the air along with your beautiful images.. Happy New Year to you both.

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  2. Anyone still around who remembers the slightly mad Dutch family who tried to start a hotel at Cappaghglass? I think one of the girls still lives in Ireland.

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  3. Thank you, Robert, for this beautiful post. I live in the US, and do worry like your other poster Ginny about the current, sad political situation here. I hope our voters pay more attention and regain their normal reasonableness next time, and pray not too much damage is done in the next few years.
    Meanwhile, your stories and photos from Ireland are like a balm for our hearts and eyes. Happy New Year!

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    • Thank you for your comment, Mary. We hear so many similar expressions about the political situation over there – as you imply, there’s always hope for the future. Happy New Year to you!

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  4. This blog is a breath of fresh air to me . Thank you for sharing the beautiful, living, breathing land of Ireland with all of us, who long to be there.
    New Years Blessings to ye all

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  5. Robert, I often think of your posts as poetry. This was never more true than in this one which reached us on a sunny, chilly Canadian New Year’s Day. Many, many thanks for taking us ” far and away”.

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  6. Your photos (and writing) are stunningly beautiful and interesting; many thanks, and best wishes to you, may you prosper and enjoy 2017.. That part of the world is one of my favorite places on earth (after my own island, and next to the Hebrides along the west coast of Scotland); if our new administration is as bad as I think it will be, I’ll be plotting on how to find a place there. I love my island home here in America, my dear family and grandsons and the community, but Trump is a far step beyond horrible.

    You must live in a squirrel/skunk/raccoon free zone because one or all of them would have had those bird feeders down and/or cleaned out in a heart beat, [!} and the various rodents would have used those lovely looking treats as an open invitation to “come on down, move on in!” I had to stop feeding the birds because I was feeding far too many varmints; they were living in my cellar and attic and chowing down outside. Even without the bird feeders I’ve had to keep “rodent control” on patrol.
    Enjoy your winter ; it is the best time of year here because our world is the island and the islanders rather than billionaire hedge fund managers and real estate speculators. Sorry to sound sour as I know Ireland depends upon tourism. Unfortunately for us it is a mixed blessing because it has driven the cost of land into the stratosphere and islanders struggle to cope and to survive.

    Again, thanks and have a good New Year.

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    • Wow, Ginny – that’s quite a comment! We certainly worry about the machinations in the US and Europe – where will it all go? As to the birds… We are not troubled by rodents as I have made the feeder rat-proof. Larger birds can be a problem – rooks, magpies and the pheasants: they all get a look in and are very greedy, but the smaller birds don’t seem to be put off by them. I certainly enjoy the raptor visits as they are so beautiful – just look at that sparrowhawk! Sounds as though you live in a stunning place, too – east or west coast?

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