Wednesday 15 May 2013

We saw a Sparrow!!!!

OK, probably not the most exciting subject for a blog post, especially for my UK readers where the good old common or garden House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is as common as muck. In our garden in Kent, where we did the 'wildlife garden' bit and fed them all year round, we had a resident population of between 35 and 75 cheeping from the holly bush and beech hedge, hanging around the feeders and nesting in at least 2 of the sections of our 'sparrow terrace' nest box. Like you, probably, we thought nothing of it. If you fed the wild birds, sparrows was what you always got and you hoped for the other species as well.

When we moved to the West of Ireland one of the first wildlife-related things that struck us, as we lived those early months in the caravan was the lack of sparrows. Not a one. Now we know that Ireland famously does not have snakes and, now trained on newts, we know that the island lacks several UK species of amphibian (allegedly the Common Toad, Palmate Newt and Great Crested Newt among others). It lacks all manner of mammal species which is understood to be an effect of the retreating ice age ice-sheet and species struggling to migrate north before the land bridges were submerged by melt water sea-level rises, for example moles, various rodents, wild cats and several deer. There are also many differences in flora and invertebrate lists.

Our caravan bird-neighbours were much more abundant populations of birds which were not common in Kent - chaffinches seemed to fill the sparrow niche, so that we have had a regular 15-17 permanently on site polishing off spilled chicken feed. Coal tits were common, though that seems to be a winter thing. We have 5-7 robins always around and wrens are also common. The common UK carrion-crow is replaced in Ireland by the grey bodied Hooded Crow. We have also since learned that some of the species that do live here 'do not get this far over' (to the west); apparently Short-Eared Owls do not live in Co Roscommon.

It was almost a year of living here before we saw a sparrow, and that in the yard of a local agricultural feeds supplier. We guessed that they are in fact 'here' but that because this is a beef farming area without the arable grain harvest and storage and where very few people feed wild birds. We have since seen them very rarely in other grain store areas but it was on 7th May, just a week ago, that Liz spotted 2 around our hay barn and shouted, "That's a Sparrow!". She was right - there were actually a pair and we were both grinning like loons, happy to have 'our old friends' back. I have since seen both a couple more times, so we are going to declare them resident. We do have sparrows!

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