Learning outside the classroom

The Annual General Meeting of the Cabragh Wetlands Trust will be held at the Centre on Tuesday May 1st at 8.00pm. All members are encouraged to attend. There will be Election of Officers and Committee and reports by the current officers. The PRO and Secretary will report on how they see the Trust developing over the next few years, given the extension of the buildings and the new opportunities they see emerging. It will be proposed that membership fees are kept at the same level (€30 for families, €20 for individuals, for Junior), and we hope that memberships will be renewed at the AGM.

The Annual General Meeting of the Cabragh Wetlands Trust will be held at the Centre on Tuesday May 1st at 8.00pm. All members are encouraged to attend. There will be Election of Officers and Committee and reports by the current officers. The PRO and Secretary will report on how they see the Trust developing over the next few years, given the extension of the buildings and the new opportunities they see emerging. It will be proposed that membership fees are kept at the same level (€30 for families, €20 for individuals, for Junior), and we hope that memberships will be renewed at the AGM.

Sometimes it takes a child’s eyes to see what is really going on around us. Just as the slightest movement by a mouse in long grass 50 feet below is picked out by a hovering kestrel, and its tiny heartbeat heard by a barn owl gliding silently overhead, so the child will spot things in hidden corners that will escape you and I as we rush from place to place, heads cluttered by modern life. To the child the world is still a miraculous place, full of wonders to be discovered, knowledge to uncover and questions to be answered. The innocence of youth may be a cliché, but adults sometimes need reminding of the simple clarity of the child’s vision of the world, and that longevity and experience might have dragged us away from seeing what really matters around us.

So when three children came into the Centre last week, dog in tow on a lead (of course the dog was towing them), breathless with excitement, it was great to hear that they had found a nest in a crevice in a tree by the river. Inside, they reported, were many tiny eggs, white with red spots. We spent a few minutes looking in books about eggs and nests, and wondered if it might be a willow warbler. This initial conclusion is clearly wrong because the warblers normally nest in grass and reeds, constructing nests on or near the ground, using grasses and moss to create well-concealed, comfortable homes for their young.

What our children found is almost certainly a nest of one of the tit family, named from the old Icelandic word ‘tittr’, meaning small bird. They used to be more commonly known as titmice. Most tits build in early spring and make full use of holes in walls, banks and especially trees. It could be a blue tit, so common in our gardens and a great domesticator of the birdhouses that we put up. They are great adaptors, known to nest in such unlikely hollows as letterboxes and outdoor lamps.

Most likely the children found the nest of a great tit, less common than the blue but still quite numerous. They are a very early nester, with eggs often laid by the end of March, avid feeders on the peanuts and goodies on your birdtable, and great eaters of spring buds and insects, especially moth caterpillars. In winter they will peck at meat bones, and enjoy peas and seeds in season – regular omnivores, like humans. If it is a great tit, the eggs will soon hatch and the young fly by late May, leaving time for mum and dad to recover and have a second brood. With each brood producing up to 12 nestlings, both parents are kept busy feeding their gaping mouths.

So now, as the children understand, it is important to keep well away from that nest, and leave the parents to raise their young undisturbed. Schools are reminded to get in touch with Michael at cabraghwetlands@eircom.net , or on 0504-43879 to book a school visit. There is so much to learn out of the classroom and in the natural world.