Cabragh Wetlands

Celebrating National Trails Day

Celebrating National Trails Day

Sunday October 7th is National Trails Day, and plans are underway to celebrate the occasion with a 2-3 hour walk from Thurles out to Cabragh Wetlands, as far as possible keeping off the roads. This will be a good day out for all grades of trekkers, from mountain men and women, to power-walking fitness fanatics and casual family Sunday afternoon strollers. It’s a chance for all of those interested in walking in all its guises to get together and share experiences. Make a note in your diary; more details will be published later.

An e-mail reached us two weeks ago from a Holycross resident, who found what appeared to be a young kestrel cowering in the shade of a large bush near his bird table, where they had often seen kestrels either waiting patiently to seize their next meal as some unsuspecting visitor came in to feed, or busily disembowelling what they had already caught. This particular bird seemed to be keeping its head down, probably frightened after being mobbed by swallows who were trying to scare it away.

Our intrepid observer tried to drive it into the air and away, but his rusty shooing technique must have been sadly neglected, because the young fellow flew straight past him through the open door and into the kitchen, settling on the sill by a closed window, to have its photograph taken. It parked itself on a glove and got its claws tangled, but made no attempt to fly away or attack while the brave man disentangled it. When his would-be rescuer leant across to open the window, it seemed totally relaxed, did not flinch and made no effort to get out of the way. Eventually, with door and windows open, it flew outside to be set upon immediately by two dozen swallows and martins, acting together to drive off this potential threat.

From the pictures it was an immature female kestrel, on a very early flight and not yet sufficiently experienced and worldly-wise to know where it was safe to go. Clearly she had not yet built up any fear of man, but neither did she have the flying experience to deal with small birds flocking around her, any of which a fully fledged kestrel would sort out in no time. Rusty-brown back and tail feathers, with black bands, confirm that she was female; immature males have grey tail feathers for up to three years before adult plumage appears.

Kestrels are the smallest of the hawks, and have adapted better than most creatures to urban sprawl and human encroachment. In the country they nest in tree holes or use abandoned nests built by other birds, while in towns they are to be found nesting on ledges on tall buildings, on towers, domes and rooftops, where they can spy on sparrows and other small birds. They eat feral pigeons and small mammals, hence the commonest sight we have of them – hovering apparently motionless over a field or verge looking for mice and voles. In the Middle Ages, when falconry was a common sport, kestrels were dismissed as mere mousers and placed at the bottom of the hawk hierarchy of falcon, hobby, merlin and peregrine. They were the bird of the servant, or knave, hence Barry Hines’ book “A Kestrel for a Knave”, turned into a wonderful film in 1969 –“Kes”. If you have the chance, both read the book and see the film – they are classics of their kind.

Let’s hope our Holycross kestrel has learned her lesson and is now able to cope better with the travails of daily life!