Locals enjoying the Glen of Aherlow.
The June bank holiday weekend lived up to its billing in Tipperary, as hot thundery showers accompanied us on our journey to the viewing point next to Christ the King statue in the Glen of Aherlow.
On this occasion, the nature walk with Mary Fitzpatrick was part of the Glen Walking Festival. While the braver and fitter souls sweated up the slopes of the Galtees, we took a gentle stroll through its nature. Including wildlife as part of any festival is an excellent idea, especially for families with young children.
After parking and slipping into wellies and wet gear, we watched as showers brushed off the mountains and forced us into the shelter of the trees. The kids played king of the mountains, and it always amazes me how some games can span the generations.
This nature walk brings you through a changing woodland, as the conifers trees are slowly been replaced by aak and birch. Your ears are essential here as bird songs and calls are often the only clue of their presence.
The kids found some froghoppers, and soon had a whole family on their hands. These greenish insects are found in what is commonly called ‘cuckoo spit’. The froghopper nymph creates the spit to protect itself from predators, and drying effects of the sun.
Flowers in a woodland habitat have to like shade, and the first plant we discovered was Herb Robert. Its older name of ‘cranes bill’ is far more descriptive, as its flower head does indeed look like the bird. It’s a member of the Geranium family, and when crushed its leaves smell like its household cousin.
One of the best experience of nature is when something new pops up or when you unravel something usually long forgotten. Mary and I were both stumped by a pretty plant with white flowers (and it wasn’t a daisy). Later, after consulting our flower guides, we discovered that it was a sanicle, a member of the carrot family.
A chaffinch was singing as we slowly descended the steep steps. This common garden bird is equally as happy in a woodland setting. The first tree we stopped at was the holly which needs a male and female to produce berries. We examined the tracks of leaf miner on the leaves.
The air in the woods felt cool and fresh, with tall scots pine trees stretching up into the sky. Red squirrels frequent these trees, eating the seeds from the cones and the berries from the holly. Their rough bark is home to countless insects, and these are gently picked out by the curved beak of the tree-creeper.
The paths are kept open with regular pruning of any offending branches. These have been stacked by the side of the path, creating a natural home for bugs and even hedgehogs. A healthy woodland needs a mixture of living trees and decaying wood.
Lots of oak and birch saplings were growing, another healthy sign of the changing woodland. Squirrels help spread oak trees as they bury the acorns for winter food, but in about 20% of cases forget the location. If the tree can avoid the deer for a few years, it will be tall and strong enough to reach the forest canopy. Holly again plays its part by proving a thorny defence that shelters small trees during their tender first years.
The oak might eventually reach 100 feet, but on its leaves there is a home for the smallest of creatures. We examined a small lump on one of the leaves, and we found a tiny wasp larva inside when we broke if open.
Honeysuckle is plentiful in the woods, with its dusk time scent attracting night time creatures like moths. It’s older name, ‘woodbine’, is still widely used. We reached the old Bianconi road, but the only wheeled traffic were two tourists on bicycles.
The damp woodland scene of towering beech and oak trees has been experienced by travellers with over a 100 years ago. By a fast stream, the kids have great fun fishing with the butterfly net. The oak here is also known as the hanging tree, and thankfully the only thing hanging from its branches were mosses and polypody ferns.
On the return journey, we discussed the important need to bring young children out to explore the natural world. Afterwards as the kids were eating their picnic, I got chatting to American tourists from Atlanta. They were at the end of a 13 week tour that had taken in most of Europe and Ireland, and were very interested in the wildlife and the lakes of the Galtees. Unfortunately their holiday was over, but they joked that they will have to come back and take a stroll through the woods and maybe up to the lakes. Their parting comment that we often take what is right on our doorstep for granted rings through in any country.