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Thursday 21 September 2017

Opinion: Spring arrives with a flurry of slurry and a bevy of birdlife

Faded pastures were covered wall to wall with a heavy brown underlay of slurry
Faded pastures were covered wall to wall with a heavy brown underlay of slurry
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Spring is springing. But how do I know? Is it the snowdrops stirring, daffodils dancing or weeds awakening? No, it's because of the slurry hurry. And other poopy stuff!

The majority of farmers were permitted to spread fertiliser from either January 12 or 15 and, in the blink of an eye, faded pastures were covered wall to wall with a heavy brown underlay of slurry, the hope being that this will quickly give way to deep-pile carpets of lush green grass.

The picture that comes to mind is Formula 1 cars on the starting grid, with the drivers fidgeting and gunning their engines, stealing surreptitious glances at the opposition.

I actually wonder if some farmers load their tanks the night before the closed period ends - and even go to bed in their overalls - so they can get out spreading as early as is humanly possible, or at least neighbourly acceptable.

Of course, one of the best signs of spring is the strengthening of the dawn chorus, as birds either defend a breeding territory or try to attract a mate.

This has been happening over the past few weeks and it brings a welcome sense of freshness, energy and hope to the new day.

I'll leave talk about birdsong to those more talented in such matters and move instead to what comes out birds' other end.

Local birdwatching circles have been aflutter recently with news that a small flock of waxwings have been spotted eating berries on the mountain ash trees opposite the Killeshin Hotel in Portlaoise.

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More commonly seen near the sea, they obviously made an exception in this case.

Waxwings are natives of Northern Europe and make occasional forays here, usually towards the end of winter, when their own food stores run low.

Between a finch and a thrush in size, they are a stunningly flamboyant bird - from the primrose-yellow tail through to the silky, pale grey body bearing waxy red-tipped secondary wings and on up to the cinnamon-brown head, with its cheeky Jedward-like quiff and black and white goggles.

The most remarkable feature of the waxwings is their appetite. They can consume up to three times their own weight in six hours. With so much going in, an awful lot has to come out too, and they have been dubbed 'poop birds'.

Another bird more commonly associated with water - this time fast streams - is the grey wagtail. These birds are slightly larger than the common pied ('willy') wagtail and, while they have plenty of grey on their back, what's far more striking is their bright yellow undercarriage.

One of these arresting birds has become obsessed with looking at itself in my car's wing mirror. He runs along the joint between the door and the window, hops onto the mirror, pooing as he goes, then peers over for a close-up of his reflection.

This kind of behaviour is pretty common but is most pronounced at this time of year, in the run-up to the mating season.

It seems that the birds sometimes think their reflection is an adversary. In this case, though, it appears to be more about vanity and we have dubbed our visitor 'Narcissus'.

"And Spring arose on the garden fair,

Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;

And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast

Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest."

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

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