We have a family of buzzards living on the farm, and I’ve been mesmerised each morning watching them from the veranda. The young birds of prey cry a great deal, which means you usually hear them before you see them. They soar in circles over the fields; searching for their next meal and, seemingly, enjoying the windy days we’ve been having here lately (when it hasn’t been lashing rain, of course).

In North America, a buzzard is a type of vulture, so I was surprised when I saw my first Irish buzzard. I wasn’t expecting such a beautiful creature (apologies to all the vultures out there).

Bumper year

This year seems to be a bumper year for them – where before I might have just seen one around the fields of the farm, I now see them all over – and fairly close-up. A few times, they have flown directly in front of my car as I drive the bog road. Another few times, they have been on the side of the road enjoying a meal of road-kill. I have never seen so many and I suppose this population increase is indicative of them having plenty of food around.

A few Christmases ago, I was completely shocked and delighted to see a red squirrel at our bird feeder.

Red squirrels are like something out of a storybook.

In Canada, our red squirrels are yawn-inducingly common and are basically pests – the red squirrels here are like something out of a storybook. Of course, as soon as it saw me it took off; never to be seen again. Until earlier this year, that is, when my children came running in to tell me they saw “that cute little squirrel with the pointy ears.” I was so relieved the squirrel was still hanging around – they must be absolute masters of disguise.


Something else I am seeing a lot of are mink. These increased sightings are less welcome than, say, the buzzards or the squirrel – and they explain what happened to our last batch of laying hens, which were killed despite our best efforts at fortification. Perhaps the best case scenario here might be that the buzzards develop a taste for mink; who otherwise seem to be at the top of the local food chain.

I recently had a chat with Teagasc countryside management specialist, Dr Catherine Keena, who contributes to our Week in the Country page (p4) with her Growing Wild section on the native flora we have in our fields and hedgerows. As National Hedgerow Week fast approaches, we need to have a serious think about how we tackle our own hedgerows this year and Catherine is a wealth of knowledge in this area. Best practise, when it comes to hedge cutting, isn’t what it was years ago and there are simple things we can do to help maintain the variety of life in our hedgerows.


I remember speaking with Alan Moore of Hedgerows Ireland a few years ago. Up until then, I didn’t realise just how important hedgerows are for biodiversity in Ireland. As natural wildlife corridors, he referred to them as “highways for nature”. No doubt this is how our little squirrel friend has been getting around – and keeping out of eyeshot of our buzzard friends – this summer.

In the past, there have been parts of the farm I have tried to cultivate and turn into gardens. I ended up fighting endlessly with tree saplings and nettles. Each time they were cut back, they came back stronger than before. I decided trying to garden certain areas was futile and have since let them grow wild. At this time of year, they looks as green, lush and as nice as any garden and no wildflower seed (or work of any kind) was necessary. Sometimes nature just has its own ideas – and they are generally better than my own.

Read more

Editorial: sometimes, the journey is as important as the destination

Life is too short to eat sad, tasteless food - I want my kids to know that