Marlfield Lake in winter

Albert Nolan


Albert Nolan


Marlfield Lake in winter

A precious free day found me on the outskirts of Clonmel.

I was on my way to the Marlfield Lake, several years since my last visit. The weather was dry and sunny and conditions were perfect for birdwatching. Parking was a bit tricky due to the many families who were out enjoying nature. After a few minutes I squeezed into a spot, grabbed my gear and started my walk. 

The lake borders a road with a wide grassy verge. Birdwatching can have its hazards especially if you get too engrossed and step back onto the road. A sharp beep of a horn reminded me that I didn’t have the lake all to myself. Across the water was a woodland edge where Marlfield village straddled the western side. 

Mallards were unmistakable and there was a least a 100 birds on the lake. Little groups coalesced into larger ones, and they continuously moved and quacked. A few people were throwing in bread, with the competition between the gulls and ducks was fierce.       

Mute swans were the largest birds on the lake and I was fascinated by their aggressive behaviour. One pair (I presume resident birds) were chasing away another pair of swans or perhaps this year’s offspring. They focused on one bird at a time and ducks were scattered as the battle raged across the water. The unfortunate swan was driven towards the side of the lake, and as he took flight he barely cleared the surrounding trees. He flew to the other end but was soon followed by his tormentors.          

I turned my attention for a few minutes to the woodland edge behind the road. It was growing on a steep slope, and the main species were ash sycamore and beech. I could hear a robin and wren singing, but the woodland was otherwise silent compared to the noise coming from the ducks. I found a very tall and impressive ash tree and the biggest hartstongue fern I have ever seen.      

There were only around a dozen birds, with black headed gulls swirling overhead. They probably come here at peak people times in the hope of getting an easy meal. Teal were quite brave and approached close to the road. They are a favourite duck for hunting but thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any shooting going on here. Jackdaws fly overhead despite their preferred feeding grounds in gardens and streets of the nearby houses.   

A grey wagtail flies suddenly out of the low bushes and disappears up the road. The hedge cutter was busy a few hundred metres away and at least the trees are kept low so that people can enjoy views of the lake.  

Many of the ducks were upending as they feed and I quickly become an expert on ducks backsides and naming the species.  Many of the ducks were resident, but shovelers only visit our shores in the winter. They will leave in March, but we do have a small breeding population based around the Shannon basin. Little grebes swam very low in the water; if there were any waves it would prove difficult for them. 

I walked beneath an oak tree and many of its acorns have been crushed beneath the wheels of cars. I pocketed a few to sow in pots at home. A chaffinch called in its branches and the leaves of winter heliotrope were emerging from the ground.  

A moorhen broke cover, and despite living near people they have yet to lose their shyness. Coots, larger and more aggressive, don’t seem to put in or out with us. 

Holly, hawthorn, elderberry, bramble and rosehip all provided food for the birds. A male blackbird was searching through the leaf litter and he scolded me as he flew away. Ivy flowers were just finishing and the hard black fruits will appear in spring for the breeding season. 

A few farm yard liaisons had been going on and their offspring were bigger than a regular duck but their plumage was all mixed up. I wondered if their bigger size gave them an advantage over their smaller rival males. The last duck I saw was a gadwall; I’m not familiar with this specie and it’s always nice to add something new to your list. The winter migrants reside at Marlfield each year.