Friday 27 June 2008

Amazing orchids

They are the most fascinating, the sexiest flowers in the world. Lovely, pouting prima donnas with very special requirements.

Four species of orchids grow on a small patch of grassland right here in my parish. All four are in flower right now.

They are: Common spotted orchid,(dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Bee orchid, (ophrys apifera)

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

and Twayblade (Listera ovata)

This patch of land is part of the grounds surrounding the Catholic church and National School in Mount Merrion. It is carefully maintained by wild-life conscious citizens. Every year in late June an Orchid Walk is held to share with the general public the extraordinary beauty and diversity of limestone grassland: this one little plot surviving in the midst of a suburban wasteland of ryegrass and ornamentals and noxious weeds.

Species-diverse grassland is one of the most colourful and beautiful of all our ecosystems.
Self-heal, bird's-foot trefoil, oxeye daisy, knapweed, white and red clover, hawkweeds, fairy flax, - the list goes on. My heart lifts up when I spot a patch of it. Long may it last!

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Bird dogs

Nice summer afternoon, today about half past four. Halftail slumped on the neighbour's lawn, quite near the house, much closer than usual to me and my binocs. In front of her, a cocky magpie, stalking up and down, jerking its chin up, challenging. Halftail watches, alert but not on standby: it is as though she waits to see what this conceited creature will do next. I watched this show for a while, but I've seen it before and I was very tired and sleepy. I went off for a much-needed nap, just like any sensible fox would do.

An hour late, Halftail had fallen back to a favourite perch on top of a pile of grass-clippings, - a young haystack, really; must be warm and soft. Over on our side the garden, two magpies jerked and chattered, apparently showing each other insect places around a flower planter.

I've often watched magpies interacting with foxes. It's ten years ago now since we began to see foxes regularly in our own and neighbouring gardens, and the very first summer was when I saw magpies mobbing a fox. It was about seven o clock on a June morning and my attention had been caught by the fierce Gattling-gun chatter. Looking out, I saw the dog fox pursued by a crowd of magpies: more sat on branches of trees nearby, making loud noise; the ringleaders fluttered above him as he walked down towards the breeding earth. Every now and again, a braver young buck would flutter down and aim a peck at the tail end. Really, you'd think they had heard of the expression "a kick up the arse".

Mr Fox was a bit annoyed and rattled, so to speak, but not on the run: he did get out of the way pretty smartly, probably by going underground.

Later that summer, I managed to peep behind the shed and saw many magpie feathers, aming many others. We had seen cubs play with feathers - they love toys! And I had seen foxes, on two occasions, aim a swipe at a bird, one even jumping high with outstretched paws like a cat. They never had a hope, of course.

One of my sons saw a fox walking down our suburban street on the footpath, one evening in broad daylight: a dead magpie carried in it's jaws as it jumped the front gate and onto a party wall, and so into the Martins back garden, presumably to feed the cubs. I'm guessing that that's where the feathers come from: roadkill!

So the strutting show-off magpies might have saved their posturing. A fox won't really catch a healthy magpie, but it won't turn down a dead one. Halftail wasn't scared!

Saturday 7 June 2008

CSI Offaly

Nothing much to say on the suburban fox scene...we see them all the time, snoozing peacefully in the fine weather. Every night one of them will check the feeding station in my garden, finding something about every second night. At times we hear noises of yelping and scrabbling - maybe those cubs do come out at night, if they exist...(pout!)

We had some different nature study last weekend, down in the country.

you may recall that I got some replacement frogspawn from a bucket that had been left outside the cottage. (That batch of spawn, too, is all gone)

Well, the bucket had been left in situ, and now become all green and slimy. So I went to empty it out as we were cutting grass and tidying up, etc. It smelt quite rank and rotten. I poured it into a basin and was a bit shocked when the body of a dead mouse poured over the rim. Poor little thing, I thought, fell in headfirst and couldn't climb out! I tossed the tiny body far away into the shrubbery and carried on. Oh, no! Another one! Just went to get a drink, I suppose, and two drownings! Musing on the tragedy, I continued and now what's this? Skeletal bones? The unmistakeably hand-like outline was quickly followed by the pale and swollen body of a dead frog.

No wonder the water smelt rotten. Bucket of Death, indeed!

Yet, what had caused this carnage? I didn't think that frogs could drown. Or that they couldn't jump out of a bucket in which they had spawned. Here at home, our frog seems to live underwater in the pond for much of the time, stirring it up in agitation if we disturb it too much. (Well, it floats at water level, fixing us with a beady eye.)

And the mice: Why would they climb up a steep slope and dive headfirst into a bucket, when there is a stream a few yards away and a canal a few yards more? with sloping banks and grass to grip, etc?

It all got cleaned up anyway, but I am sobered by the contemplation of that slaughterhouse of slime!

Better be careful next winter to leave nothing out except maybe a shallow pan with sloping sides.