The Birds of An Tairseach
What a Winter! The year 2010 began with very severe weather bringing with it an abundance of snow and frost for many weeks. Wicklow town being near the sea escaped the worst of it even though we had some snow and plenty of severe frosts too which made life difficult for the birds in the gardens and on the farm.
January and February brought hundreds of thrushes and other migrants from northern Europe. Redwings and Fieldfares were here in abundance. The redwings, the smallest of our thrushes, with their lovely red wing patches and white eye stripes could be seen for many weeks in the fields and even in the gardens. Fieldfares were feeding with them but were not as numerous.
Lapwings haven’t been seen on the farm for many years. Their numbers are now in general decline. However last Winter a few were sighted feeding in the fields overlooking the sea. Their lovely blue- green plumage and spectacular crest makes them one of our most beautiful plovers.They are also a most useful bird to have on the farm. Their food consists mainly of wireworms and other harmful insects and as a result these birds are very popular with farmers.
Hundreds of oystercatchers from the seashore were frequenlly observed feeding on the farm and a few redshanks and snipe were often seen in the wet meadow in the Conservation Area.
As Winter gradually gave way to Spring the smaller birds that survived the harsh winter weather took on a new lease of life. Birdsong increased as the days got longer and the busy nesting season got underway. During the Winter and early Spring many of the small birds came to the bird tables in our two gardens. Goldfinches were very plentiful and according to the annual survey of garden birds carried out by members of Birdwatch Ireland they are on the increase in recent years. Blackbirds,song thrushes,finches, members of the tit family and of course robins were among the most frequent visitors to the bird tables. A family of long tailed tits in the lime trees in front of the house were seen but didn’t stay around for long.
One of the aims in establishing the Cosmic Garden was to plant as many berried trees and shrubs as possible so as to increase the food supply for birds. This too was our intention when we established the woodland plantations on the farm. These plantations are now over ten years old and are developing into valuable habitats not only for birds but for a host of other wild creatures as well.
March/ April saw our first summer visitors arrive. One of the earliest migrants to fly in from Africa is the wheatear. Walking along by the shingle beech on the Murrough one can usually see a few of these lovely birds with their striking blue- grey plumage and
white rump evident in flight. They visited the farm too but only stayed to rest for a short while before travelling further inland to nest. They can be seen again on the farm in September before making their return flight to Africa.
This past summer a great joy awaited me when one morning I was walking near the wildlife pond when I saw a female mallard duck and six baby ducklings swimming along.
This is the first time to my knowledge that mallards built a nest and reared a family on the farm. I hope they will feel welcome again next year and every year from now on.
Whitethroats were often seen and heard in the hedgerows during the summer months as well as chiffchaffs and willow warblers in the willow trees along by the stream.
One of our resident species the yellowhammer is still with us. It is one of the farmland birds that is in serious decline. Like other buntings it is a seed eater but perhaps one of the reasons for its decline in general is the practice of using pesticides and herbicides in cereals crops on non- organic farms. Likewise many farmers now favour growing winter cereal crops rather than spring- sown cereals which has resulted in the loss of stubble fields where seed- eating birds can feed on grain over the winter months.
On the Farm we have planted a number of new hedges during recent years – all of them native Irish hedges consisting of hawthorn,holly hazel ash and blackthorn.Hedgerows are vitally important as habitats for birds and other wild life. They provide shelter, nesting sites and of course an abundance of food.
The wildlife pond on the farm is a great attraction for the swallows and martins during the summer months. They can be seen swooping low over the water in quest of flies and other insects which make up their diet. The swallows find the farmyard barn and sheds a suitable place for building their nests and rearing their young.
Now that Winter is upon us once again many people are getting ready to set up their bird tables which help provide food for the birds that visit their gardens during the next few months. Let us hope that the weather won’t be as severe as last winter and that many birds will live through it and into a new successful breeding season in 2011.