The other morning, for the first time in a long time, an early morning mist hung over the wetlands. Autumn is arriving, albeit reluctantly but when the mist cleared, Cabragh once again showed its penchant for dramatic colour.
One particular vista from the pond jetty showed the dusky pink of the spindle in the foreground set against the brightness of the silver birch with the contrasting dark brown columns of the bulrushes completing the profile. A similar spectrum unfolds along the hedgerow where the berries of the Lords and Ladies at the base of the hedgerow are matched by the gleaming red of the dog rose hips and again the sparkling colours are set against the sloe berries growing darker by the day.
The seed eaters of course are attracted to Cabragh and none more so than the goldfinch. Hundreds of schoolchildren have availed of the wonderful weather to come to Cabragh over the last fortnight and enjoyed the easy access to such a wide range of habitats although the pond is far from its best through lack of water. Yet it must be one of the few places apart from rivers where the remaining swallows can still swoop and kiss the glistening water.
The children have loved the old story of the gold finch who, when created by god was just a dull grey but in its sadness all the other birds took pity on it and donated a little bit of colour each to give us one of the most beautiful birds of all.
The autumn is the peak time of year for berry production. Although the best known customers are birds , a wide range of other animals including mice, squirrels and badgers (pictured) will also take them. Berries are widely over produced like tree seeds but they cannot be stored for long without spoiling of which Seamus Heaney wrote his early poem Blackberry Picking. So most berry eaters simply take as much as they can. Blackbirds, song thrushes, starlings and wood pigeons compete. A few weeks, good eating can propel a bird into peak condition which is very important after its annual moult and needs energy replenishment. Binge eating, unlike humans, may well enhance its future chance of survival.
For some creatures, the bounty of autumn produces important weight gain. Badgers, for instance, eat more vegetable matter in autumn than at any other time of the year and this helps them to build up fat reserves for leaner times ahead. These reserves become crucial for the females who will become pregnant in late winter. They will eat plenty of acorns, clumps of elderberries, haws and blackberries which are a particular favourite.
So, if the bushes are emptied from the bottom up, it may well be the work of badgers who with its tough hide can reach all the berries on a prickly bramble. Many other animals from hedgehogs to bumblebees put on weight to get through the winter and in a way, their strategy for survival is the same as that of squirrels. The latter store their food in caches while the former store it in their bodies. While caches can be robbed, the food inside the fat reserves of a plump badger asleep on a cold winter’s night, its body replenished by the fruits of the Autumn, cannot be touched.
The hedgerows of Cabragh are full of fruits and berries. It has been noticed that in recent years the depredations of fieldfares and redwings, our winter visitors from Scandinavia have not been as great as heretofore. Could this be another aspect of climate change or will this winter see a return to the age old pattern of winter migration linked to food supply.
The calendar is filling up with events in October with many more organizations availing of the excellent facilities and location-this week sees us host a second level VEC school, a writers’ group, a transition year class and an Age Action group. The Cosmic Walk is proving a great attraction and is available whatever the weather. The Fás team continue to do excellent work and there is no reason why Cabragh Wetlands cannot be as excellent a winter destination as it has been this glorious summer and autumn.
Please support our Holycross –Ballycahill church gate collection next Sunday.
Slán go fóill.