In this time of trivial pursuits, jigsaws and endless crosswords, the question sometimes appears about the highest flying bird.
We must go back to Aesop to find that it is the wren who hitched a ride on the eagle’s wing and then at the optimal moment flew a little higher to win the accolade.
An old Irish tale from Béaloideas tells of the eagle hitting him a rap on the way down so that now it only flies in the lower undergrowth.
The bird whom the Boys of Barr na Sráide hunted or who along with the dearg a daol pointed the way to the Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsamene is one of about six million in Ireland flitting about among the wet cold lichen encrusted twigs of the hedgerow around Cabragh.
Like the even smaller goldcrest it easily becomes victim of the cold and so is often found huddled together with many other wrens in its nest or bird box.
Looking back on the year, all the activities seem to have fallen away one by one. Perhaps the one felt most keenly was the absence of children in organized groups although the Ursuline Secondary Transition Year got great value from the outdoor sessions.
Yet , Cabragh was the place where families came to walk and watch a world otherwise closed down open and unfold before their eyes where the children in the family became the parents’ teachers.
Their wonder and awe lit up so many mornings. Cabragh was within the 5Km limit and the people of Thurles began to slowly realise that on their very doorstep was a gargantuan treasure chest of natural wonders.
They jumped at the sudden emergence into the air of the giant grey heron, admired the brilliant white of the little egret or wondered how the metallic green heads of hundreds of mallards come to be.
The overriding comments of teenagers on bikes was: “I never knew this was here.”At a time when social distancing, separation was taking its toll particularly on the young, Cabragh was a soothing balm.
Although organised visits had stopped since mid March, our excellent community employment scheme took the ball on the hop and under Stephanie Durack’s leadership, it was probably the most productive year since the refurbishment of the main building.
Martin, Donal, Ger, David, our new IT man and Eileen put their shoulders to the wheel. With the help of the Heritage Officer the bird hide was magnificently transformed with now almost 360 views available for bird spotters and photographers in a spacious comfortable setting looking out on the only substantial wetland between the Waterford coast and the Shannon Callows.
Soon the identification panels and bird feeders will be in place and providing a facility par excellence.
Of course the monthly recording of bird species going on in Cabragh since the 1950’s continued apace with Alec Copeland and Áine Lynch while John Lusby and Vinny O Meara kept an eye on the barn owls. We all noticed an increase in activity in the natural world.
The other Sunday morning I watched a sparrowhawk being mobbed by crows as they soared and swooped above and through the fen carr of the little river and now binoculars and spotting scope will be available.
Major work was also completed on both ponds. As the pandemic wore on through troughs and crises the inevitable link between human and environmental health was beginning to be made and will surely be part of the solution notwithstanding the efficacy of vaccines.
One of the main shows still missing from Cabragh is the murmuration of thousands of starlings above the reedbeds in autumn. Like Fungie the dolphin, we have no idea why they left a number of years ago but live in hope that they will return.
A big well done to all the fundraising activities with wonderful work completed with the production of a calendar which thanks to our sponsors and retail outlets sold out in a short space of time.
We dipped our toes in the on line marketing with the hamper raffle.
At the end of the year we produced a DVD of the music night and we send best wishes to the couple who married in Cabragh now celebrating their first Christmas.
The main lesson is that Cabragh Wetlands with its quiet, fresh air and natural gems is always there and you are always welcome.
Stay safe, wash your hands,wear a mask, social distance. Slán go fóill.