Africa, January/February 2020, Vol. 85 No. 1

January…in the family of things

A murmuration of starlings at Cloughbawn, Co Wexford, Ireland. (Photo: M. Kane) 

Michael Kane

Whether the weather be fine

Or whether the weather be not,

Whether the weather be cold

Or whether the weather be hot,

We’ll weather the weather

Whatever the weather,

Whether we like it or not.

This anonymous piece fits January and February weather when we expect things to change for the better but know that winter is still with us. In the family of things all is hushed. But we and all about us will weather the weather.


Christmas is over and we are back to normal which is midwinter. The cold crisp days give a clarity to everything from the stars at night to the slanting sun of the day and on damp, wet, cold days we can buoy ourselves up by reminding ourselves that spring is around the corner.


Snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are making a showing. Buds are also forming on some trees under the hopeful and expectant eye of the bullfinch. But he still has to wait for his favourites which are the blossoms.


Fields and hedges are alive with our winter visitors from more northern and colder climes. They add to the number of our resident thrushes, blackbirds, robins, starlings and such. It is the time for safety in numbers. Small birds like the chaffinch flock together and are joined by other finches and buntings. 


The geese and swans that came in October are well settled at this stage on lakes, wetlands, bogs and rivers in various parts of the country. The Slob Lands in Wexford are a must for anyone who can make it there. Up to 10,000 (one third of the world population) of white-fronted Greenland geese spend from October to March in and around the area of the Wexford Wildlife Reserve or the “Slobs” as they are locally called. Birdwatch Ireland gives good information on your local patch.


Fieldfares and redwings – of the thrush family – can be seen in flocks in open fields. Wood Quests (pigeons} flock in stubble or in fields with green cover and make a noisy clatter with their coming and going. It is the time of the year to watch murmurations of starlings. They come together at evening time for communal roostings. To witness thousands of birds swooping and turning in unison is an amazing sight. 


On our lake, here in St Patrick’s, the swans have the company of the few resident water or moorhens with some seasonal visitors. Whether they are local or from over the water is not known. Four small grebe are regular winter visitors and thankfully they are back again this year. 


Our bird feeders continue to attract our smaller feathered friends and at times some of the bigger variety. Old stands of docks and grasses still offer meagre titbits. Their seeds can be found on the ground – but that can also be cat territory!


One plant that does offer food and shelter at this time is the much maligned ivy. It is accused of wrecking walls and trees and even bringing them down. It can do so but only when they become top heavy in wind or rain. It is not a parasite – like its friend the mistletoe – and its benefits to wildlife far outweigh possible damage. It is evergreen and so offers shelter all the year round to many birds and insects. It produces its berries in mid winter for thrushes, blackbirds, doves, starlings and others. So leave the trimming of it till its berries have gone. Many of our friends “…in the family of things” will thank you. 

Fr Michael Kane from Co Wexford was ordained in 1968. He worked for many years in Kitui, Kenya. He is now based in Kiltegan. 

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