You are viewing the content for Monday 18 March 2013

Slow worm makes its entrance

A COUPLE of weeks ago on this page I wrote about lizards and I mentioned that slow worms, a species of legless lizard, had been illegally introduce to the Burren about 20 or 25 years ago and that I was curious to know whether they still survived there.

I got a very interesting email from a reader in response to this.

"I have seen little lizards a few times near the river where we live in Clare. However, last spring myself, my husband and our two boys aged six and seven were in the bog turning our turf. The boys were playing in the dry grass near a drain. Our eldest boy came towards us running and shouting with a terrified look on his face. He insisted he had seen a brownish snake that rose up its head and neck and hissed at him. He was shaken and I believed he had seen something. We went online afterwards and eventually discovered the slow worm. He insisted that is what he saw. We have never seen one since but maybe more live in the bogs in Clare, and even further afield. This one was seen in east Clare — a small bog known locally as ‘The Red Bog’ just outside O’Briensbridge, at least 40 miles from the Burren."

I find this a very convincing report of a slow worm a long way away from where they were originally introduced. Rearing up and hissing aggressively is not, to my knowledge, typical behaviour, but one can allow a terrified seven year old a little exaggeration.

I got some other emails reporting native, four-legged, lizards from various parts of the country. Reports of lizards and, in particular, slow worms are always good to get.

Meanwhile, back home, the small dramas surrounding my bird feeders continue to unfold. The main cause of trouble is my niger seed feeder, which is a type that can only accommodate two birds at a time. The goldfinches, who are the main customers, tend to arrive in flocks of half a dozen or more and there is much squabbling and fighting over the two perches.

Up until now the only other birds to show any interest in niger seed have been the siskins. They’re not lacking in courage, but they’re even smaller than the goldfinches so they tend to end up fairly well down in the pecking order.

But last week out of the blue the greenfinches discovered the niger seed feeder and developed a taste for its contents. There are four of them, two males and two females, and up to now they have only been interested in peanuts. Greenfinches are the largest finches using the feeding station and they have bulky shoulders and massive beaks. The balance of power has changed completely.

Nature table

PERCH (Perca fluviatilis)

Perch are one of the commonest and most widespread Irish freshwater fish. They are found in rivers, lakes, ponds and canals everywhere, except where the water is very acidic or runs very fast. They are often the first species a young angler catches. At this time of year they are spawning, draping strings of eggs over underwater plants or submerged tree branches. It’s often possible to spot these strings in clear water. They are an easy fish to recognise with a spiny dorsal fin, red lower fins and tail and black bars, normally five of them, down their deep flanks. They are usually found in shoals made up of fish of the same age and size. In this country they don’t grow very large — a fish weighing 1kg is a very good one, though the official record is 2.75 kg. They are predators, eating underwater invertebrates and small fish, including their own fry. They are seldom eaten in Ireland, though elsewhere they are a delicacy.