The dawn breaks over Cabragh Wetlands
If you are lucky, in the eerie stillness, you may hear the hiss of barn owl chicks as they call for food or the sight of the parent quartering the reeds around Cabragh Wetlands.
The glare of the neon, the country and western emanating from every second door, the bustle of pizza vans, taxis and buses depositing excited groups of chattering teenagers beside the ATM machines, the elderly couples walking dogs and dreaming of youthful days all make up the canvas that is Liberty Square on any Saturday summer evening.
But allow me to invite you to a different type of dream-Cabragh Wetlands as dusk falls and beyond.
If you start early you can watch the swifts go to sleep and as mentioned last week, they do not retire to an earthbound roost but to some zone of cool air about 100m-2000m above the ground where they alternate long glides with occasional flaps and take power naps until dawn. As the sky darkens, they disappear from view into the height. On most June nights, daytime birds stay out late with the blackbird and robin, using their comparatively large eyes, sing their last songs until they fade into silhouettes. If you are lucky, in the eerie stillness, you may hear the hiss of barn owl chicks as they call for food or the sight of the parent quartering the reeds.
One of the many magnificent images of Cabragh Wetlands captured by local photographic genius, Eamon Brennan.
Bats will be plying the skies. Dusk is rush hour for bats because it is one of the best times of the entire night for insects. There is a tiny gap in the cladding around the bird hide at Cabragh. The tell tale droppings tell us that it is home to 65 bats that we estimate will consume a million insects in a week. Insect flight times follow precise patterns ,many species fly only at twilight and rest when it’s truly dark. Others work shifts throughout the night ,prompted by fluctuations in temperature and moisture. The bats follow the insects’ lead alternating bouts of frenetic hunting with periods of upside down rest. You may be able to hear their kicking squeaks as they zone in on their quarry. Bats are so fascinating and we will return to them in a future article.
Thousands of gnats will dance above your head but do not tar them all with the one brush. Years of summer days footing turf on the bog only to be compensated with mottled faces, arms and legs have given tiny flies a bad name. They form smoke-like plumes this time of year, blown by breezes too gentle for us to feel. Most of these flies will be non-biting species but their individual and choreographed dance reminds us of the whirl of clubbing teenagers at the Junior Cert disco.
Other senses come into play in Cabragh on a Summers night. Many of the wet meadow and hedgerow flowers open their petals to enrich the night air with an explosion of scent like the Honeysuckle which in Cabragh is only ten steps from the centre. Most are trying to attract moths for pollination. Perhaps that soft shuffling noise at the bottom of the hedgerow is the nocturnal hedgehog.
A visit to the pond at night is a must. They are so active in darkness that it is like visiting an all night Café. If you have a torch the numerous plops you hear will be the leaping frogs. Pond Snails, Water Boatmen and Pond Skaters are all active after dark.
There is always a chance that your beam will reflect the eyes of a fox transfixed with a slightly yellow glow. This eye shine is caused by light bouncing off a sort of mirror at the back of the retina which shows that light is detected twice by the fox; once on the way in, once on the way out which increases the fox’s light sensitivity. However, you are effectively dazzling the animal, so move on quickly. Oddly enough spiders are similarly endowed.
Cabragh Wetlands at night is a feast for all the senses and you will be safe if you keep to the paths.
In thanking everyone for their generous contributions at our recent Church gate collection, Cabragh is gearing up for a very active summer. Hosting Primary Schools Summer Camp, part of the Teacher’s Heritage Course, a science discovery programme, many schools, Spanish students and a very interesting and varied Heritage Week programme in August. The sponsored cycle is on Sunday 25th June and the clothes collection on the 23rd June.
Take your own individual moment at Cabragh or join us on one or more of the many activities over the Summer months.
Slán go fóill.