Now, as I begin to wrap up this column over the next three months, various “last hurrahs” that may entertain my remaining readers come to mind. First, provide a selection of the best 800-word essays I’ve written during this time. There are 1,508 such columns to choose from, and picking the best dozen is impossible. So I decided to select an encompassing theme for the swan song themes. My last column will be on May 23 and will appear in the paper edition, like all my columns for 30 years.
Nostalgia could be a theme. As I have written about everything from hyacinths to blue whales to bumblebees and blackbirds, a journal of nature, its appearances, disappearances and reappearances in my patch might be worth retailing; my instinct is to inform and entertain, rather than depress my readers. Selected columns from the archives may be of “historical” interest, such as, simply, the observations of a rural Irishman who throughout his life was, and still is, fascinated by the diversity, wonders and workings of the world. human and natural.
A second theme can be travel. I know from personal contact with readers – I have made no secret of where I live – that many have greatly appreciated my articles from La Gomera, our family’s second home in the Canary Islands. About Gomera I have written more than 180 articles, but I have also written about many other places, islands in the Mediterranean and the Aegean; Caribbean Islands; eight islands in the Canaries; many in Indonesia, including Java, the Gili Islands, Lombok; on Japan; India and Sri Lanka; Namibia and Ethiopia; Thailand, Cambodia, etc.. ; and arriving in New York at dawn on a flight from London and, awake, heading to Central Park in the pre-dawn light to hear the dawn chorus and see the joggers jogging and the ragged sleepers on the benches waking up in the new day.
For today, I will start at home. Readers mourn, and so do I, the continued disappearance of familiar sights in nature in West Cork. It’s not just the often-heard lament “Driving on summer nights, I no longer see a single bug smash into my windshield where not so long ago there used to be tens” or “Where did that mackerel go that used to invade the bays in the summer?” or “The white barn owls we would see at night, where are they?” Many creatures that were common now missing. William Wordsworth wrote the line immortal “Turn where I can, By night or by day, The things I have seen, I can see no more. He lamented the loss of childhood and the innocent sight of the child. Now, for the children – and for ourselves – many things that humanity loved and respected in the nature of our country can no longer be found. Attached is an example of such views recorded at the time….
The grass on the lawn is blooming, the daffodils are blooming, the tadpoles are swimming and we haven’t had a winter in West Cork.
Can this continue? I have friends arriving this weekend; this is their first time in Ireland. Naturally, I would like them to see the place in its best light. Plus, I regaled them with tales of life on the Irish Riviera.
Two weeks ago we found frogs laying eggs in a forest in Coolkelure, near the source of the Bandon River. It’s not early, although temperature matters, and our Cork and Kerry frogs are likely to spawn earlier than those in Donegal. A few tadpoles had already emerged from the frost and were swimming, their little tails propelling them around the pool. The body is smaller than a match head. We marvel at the little engine that can make them turn at such knot speed!
Curiously, one is likely to find the first frog spawn on higher ground; not on the mountains but at heights of up to, say, 800 feet. You would think that these pools would be colder and more likely to freeze over. Ice doesn’t really matter; spawn can be frozen and thawed and survive. Frogs have been seen swimming and spawning under the ice. Plus, jump on the ice and try to find a way to lay eggs underneath.
I remember coming home to Bantry from Ballydehob on what must have been a frog Sunday. Frogs were jumping all over the road, with many being run over by cars. My daughters became quite upset. Talk about helping the old ladies cross the road – they insisted that whenever the headlights pick up a jumping frog I should pull over and let them help it off the tarmac. Not being in a hurry, I let them do it. It was a very slow ride home. Then one of my sons came back from a foray with five big croakers hooked up in his ganzie. He put them in the back sink; we had a VW Camper at the time. When we got back to Bantry and set about releasing them, we found two pairs that were firmly “stuck together”. They didn’t care about driving through a closed sink in a German motorhome. The envy was upon them, and such subtleties were ignored.
At spawning time, the male actually develops grasping thumbs to hold the female and clasps his hands around her body. Other males will try to dislodge it; it kicks with its powerful hind legs. It sits on the back of the female ready to impregnate the spawn as soon as she produces it. Sometimes she will carry him on the migration – nice for him! Until the eggs are laid and fertilized, he will not loosen his grip. Fertilization must take place as soon as the eggs appear before they swell in water and become impregnable for sperm. A female lays up to 4,000 eggs; the male will breed with many females. Yet frogs are in decline. Breeding ponds are poisoned by fertilizer and silage runoff and acid rain. Twenty-five percent of a frog’s diet is slugs, so they are gardener’s and farmer’s friends.
The same breeding ponds are used year after year. Deep water is avoided; generally, the pools are shallow and exposed to the sun. This promotes algae, the primary diet of tadpoles. Spawning will be delayed until algae develops, which delays spawning date more than temperature.
There are thousands of birds in the estuary. When our friends arrive, I hope they will be as lucky with the weather!