The dawn chorus was just beginning as I stepped into the car.
A wren had broken the dark silence and was joined by a half awake robin. Even at this early hour the day was looking good, and it turned out to be one of the hottest of the year so far.
After a long journey I arrived in the village of Grangemockler to bring the pupils on a nature walk.
The junior classes done their exploring in the safety of the school grounds, and fortunately there was lots of wildlife for them to discover. By the side of the school there was a well-stocked bird feeder, and the students told me all about the blue tit who regularly visits the school. I introduced them to the male house sparrow, with his brown cap and sooty black chest.
On a heather plant we got to meet royalty as a queen bee was out foraging. She was quickly put into a bug jar and passed around to the unsure but amazed pupils. For the rest of the day she was my guest, proudly displayed to the rest of the classes.
A mature hedgerow divides up the main school buildings from the large playing field and we talked about how bats, birds and animals use this habitat for food and shelter.
Next we headed to a quiet corner of the school where a home for hedgehogs had been built using logs. This is also a home for frogs, and when we peeled away the bark we found woodlice.
Nearby we gently unrolled some nettle leaves and found tiny caterpillars inside. I explained to the kids that if we get rid of all the nettles, our butterflies will suffer.
Our last stop was by the school compost bin; it's great to see the school involved in recycling its organic waste. I dangled a worm from my hand, and this was one of the most important creatures that we found during the day. Worms help create healthy soil for people to grow their crops in.
After a welcome cup of tea and ice-cream, it was time for the bigger classes to take a short walk and explore the banks of the local River Linguan. To the sounds of the rooks in their nests, we squeezed through the right of way, hopped a gate and into the field by the river.
This proved to be a wonderful outdoor classroom, full of natural surprises awaiting to be discovered. We started off by looking at some early spring flowers. Dandelions are one of the best early sources of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, and were happily growing by the edges of the field. Lesser celandine prefers the damper ground, and its leaves are heart shaped.
We discussed how we can help our rivers by not littering, and been mindful of what we flush down our sinks and toilets. The hollow stems of angelica were still standing, and these make excellent bug hotels for creatures like ladybirds. When we broke one open we felt how warm and insulated the insect must feel.
As we walked along we found some green beetles on the dock. They lay their yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves. They shimmered like emeralds in the sunshine; these one’s more precious than the ones we wear.
The hedgerow around the field provided a happy hunting ground. Fungi were hard at work decomposing an old branch. Wild roses provided berries for birds and animals. When we smelt the crushed leaves of elderberry we got a whip of its insect repellent properties. Bats will patrol along the top, birds in the middle and hedgehogs and foxes at the bases.
Insects were on show, and we found hard working bumblebees on the catkins of the willow, while small tortoiseshell butterflies flitted from flower to flower.
The students did their own scavenging, and kept back with different plants from the field and hedgerow. We made a circle and took a quiet moment to enjoy the sounds of nature, a great way to tune into any habitat. Despite the heat the slopes of Slievenamon were still covered in snow.
The last surprise were primroses growing at the base of the hedgerow. This flower is becoming increasingly scarce and is a real jewel of early spring.
If only all days could be like this with beautiful sunshine, wonderful habitats and engaged and enthusiastic staff and pupils. A big Thank You to the school’s parents association who arranged my visit, and for the school for taking time out from their packed schedule to learn about nature on their doorstep.