29 Sept 2022

All About Wildlife: From the Dock Road to Westfields

All About Wildlife: From the Dock Road to Westfields

A view of Westfield Wetlands

IT had been a long time since I got the opportunity to explore the city and its wildlife and recently I got the chance for a great walk along the urban streets and out as far as Westfields. There is an amazing diversity of birds, plants and insects around every corner just waiting to be discovered. Also after years of visiting I think that Westfields is one of the top wetlands in the county in terms of ease of access and associated wildlife.
Nature takes advantage of any man made structure or misfortune. A leaking drain pipe created the ideal moist habitat for ferns and polypody to thrive. Both of these species need a constant trickle of water and are usually find in damp woodland.
I crossed over the Shannon Bridge and the tide was fully out. This daily cycle creates a rich feeding grounds of mud flats for birds. The mud is packed full of insect life and the birds probe in the mud as they search for worms and other tasty morsels.
I could see dozens of bird tracks zig zagging across the flats and there were large flocks of black headed and herring gulls along the edge of the water. The black headed name is a bit of a misnomer as in its summer breeding plumage its head is chocolate brown. This fades in the winter to a small brown dot and only mature adults are adorned with brown head.
Two fishermen told me that when they were younger they would carefully wade into the mud to catch eels for fishing. They would also use a primary or flight feather from a swan as a float when fishing. There was no such thing as going to the shop to buy a plastic float as the money was not there.
Along the North Circular road it was very busy with walkers and this is a favourite part of the city to walk. The pedestrian crossing makes a safe entrance into Westfields and I was excited to get exploring.
My nose was immediately drawn to the scent of winter helitrope. This starts flowering in December and has loose spikes of pale lilac flowers. The large leaves follow the flowers and they can block any other early spring flowers for growing.
On the leaves of a holly tree I found dozens of pale blotches. These are not caused by a lack of a mineral or nutrient but by a leaf miner. The larva of this insect live inside the leaf and feed on the carbohydrates or sugars produced by the plant. As most animals give the holly a wide berth due to its thorny leaves, it is wise choice to complete your life cycle on.
Out on the water there was plenty of bird activity. A pair of mute swans glided over when they saw me and they were followed by several cygnets. They were expecting food but I had come unprepared and they just silently watched me before realising I had nothing of interest for them. I did not feel bad as I know they get plenty of food for other people.
A local passed with a dog and one of the cygnets was very protective of its siblings.
He hissed at the dog but he only wanted a quick path and was soon out of the water. The responsible owner had the dog on a lease and this is good practice when out walking in any nature reserve
There were lots of mallards and also coots. These are all black with a white forehead and are very aggressive and territorial. The tufted ducks are more sociable and I also saw a few moorhen or water hens.
This is a magical place to escape for a little while the stresses of modern living and it was a pity to see that the new wildlife signs had already been vandalized.

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