Friday 15 November 2019

Time to spring into action

Gemma O'Doherty

After a winter that put us all to the test, mercurial March spared us her usual chill and ushered in days of golden sunshine and the promise of an early summer.

The clocks have gone forward, the evenings are brighter and daylight hours are now longer than the hours of darkness, increasing by four or five minutes every night.

These glorious days of spring, when nature is stirring into action again, are perfect for discovering life's simple pleasures.

Long bracing hikes along the coast, riverside strolls, rambles in the mountains -- outings like these don't take much planning or cost a cent.

The next few weeks are the busiest in the natural world and the best time to see the Irish countryside at its most vivid and intense. As the grey cloak of winter lifts, the earliest blooms of spring have brought a welcome burst of colour back to the landscape.

Wild, creamy hawthorn is starting to appear around the perimeter of fields, filling the air with its heavenly scent. White and pink cherry-blossom are at their peak, and spectacular swathes of bluebells and primroses will soon carpet our woodlands.

Pop your head over a hedgerow and you'll spot fields of scampering lambs and foals. Visit your nearest pond and look out for the first wobbly mounds of frogspawn transforming into tadpoles any day.

In the next few weeks, the dawn chorus will reach fever pitch as male birds search for mates and mark their territories, choosing suitable sites to raise their young.

The first swallows, swifts, corncrakes and cuckoos have already arrived for summer, and, in the coves and bays along our rugged coastline, new visitors are checking in for the season.

The good weather has caused the marine food chain to bloom, leading to the first sightings of basking sharks this year. In the past fortnight alone, the planet's second-largest fish has been spotted off the coast of Kerry, Waterford and Wicklow, one of them a leviathan stretching eight metres in length.

On a calm day, watch out for their dorsal fins creeping above the surface when it's time for dinner. It's a sight you'll never forget and beats a trip to an Orlando water park any day.

In less than three months, the nights will start drawing in again and midsummer will cast her seasonal warning that the long days cannot last. So pack a hot flask, some crusty rolls and a warm fleece and head for the great outdoors.

Walk gently and you never know what you might see: a family of newborn fox cubs creeping out of their den to play; an elusive otter darting along a river bank, or a pair of majestic boxing hares -- Ireland's fastest mammal and one of nature's most beautiful sights.

The breathtaking spectacle of spring will pass in the blink of an eye.

Now is the time to celebrate its arrival.

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