Gearóid Ó Muilleoir, pen name Dúlra, is a wildlife buff who was brought up on the slopes of Belfast’s Black Mountain where he spent almost every waking moment hillwalking, birdwatching and fishing.
He’s witnessed massive changes in the local environment, with fields disappearing and nature retreating. “When I was young we had corncrakes breeding in the heart of west Belfast and a barn owl used to swoop down over the street as we played in the evening," he says.
“All that’s gone - but the one thing that has given me heart is the rewilding movement. Nature just needs to be given the space to do its thing without human interference and it can return from the brink.”
Gearóid has spent a lifetime in journalism, working with all the main newspapers here and he’s now production editor of the Sunday World. Outside of the environment, his other passion is the Irish language and he’s a regular on award-winning Belfast station Raidió Failte.
SHY and frightened, this barn owl chick is about to take to the air for the first time, bringing to an end another remarkable breeding success.
Otters are one of Ireland’s most mysterious yet fabulous animals. They may well be living on many of our water systems, but we just never see them.
Lockdown’s been a godsend for nature. It’s like the straitjacket it was being held in has been loosened and our animals and birds can breathe once again.
DONNA Rainey won’t wait for the authorities to protect our countryside – she knows it’ll be too late. As each year passes the things that make Irish nature so special are disappearing right before our eyes.
WHEN Dúlra dandered into the field off the Upper Springfield Road this week, it was like he’d turned a corner into the past to an idyllic time when nature and people coexisted in partnership.
Without a walking stick, Dúlra wouldn’t go rambling at all. He’d turn his back on nature and the Belfast hills.
It’s like an image from a fairytale – a wizened old willow overhanging an idyllic path which disappears intriguingly into a tunnel.
THE lush green grass in the distance in this picture isn’t as pretty as it appears. No plant here is more than six weeks old – because that’s when a deadly blaze swept across it.
Right in the heart of downtown Belfast, below one of its tallest tower blocks, sits the nest of one of our most beautiful birds.
[caption id="attachment_40003" align="aligncenter" width="610"] TOP OF THE TREE: The elusive long-eared owl is making a comeback[/caption]
THIS was the time of year the native American Indians loved to hunt – just when the heat was waning as autumn began. The Indian Summer they called it, when the weather is ‘warm, quiet and hazy’. This short spell of fine weather can happen any time between September and November, and not just in North America but across the Northern Hemisphere. Here it was called samhradh beag, wee summer, and thankfully we’re right bang in the middle of one. Or at least we were when I wrote this – given Irish weather, it could already have been washed away. But right now it’s a picture of perfection outside. Maybe it’s because of working from home, but Dúlra has rarely experienced such sheer, breathtaking beauty – no 3D TV with surround sound could ever hope to do it justice. And this nature overload isn’t on the peaks of the Belfast hills or the depths of Colin Glen, but outside your door. There are a phenomenal number of butterflies visiting the rose bushes and other late-flowering plants in the garden. An army of them – Dúlra photographed these three red beauties – the peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell – all within a couple of feet of each other. And there’s a multitude of birds in the garden – Dúlra glanced out the kitchen window this week and what was looking back at him but a willow warbler, a bird he had never seen in the garden before. Then he was watching what he thought were dunnocks in the bush when he realised they were a pair or blackcaps, another exotic warbler. A family of goldcrests were playing in the fir tree, while a sparrowhawk came calling as well, this time taking out a passing jackdaw. It’s no exaggeration that you could make a spellbinding nature film outside the back door during this Indian summer – any of our doors. The death throes of summer make for a brilliant last hurrah. Like most things beautiful, they all carry an almost imperceptible flaw, a sadness that’s masked by brilliant colour and youthful agility. Beauty doesn’t last forever, it wanes and wrinkles and eventually dies. Like us all, these young creatures carry the seeds of their own destruction. They don’t know their world is like a tap that’s being slowly turned off, a tyre with a slow puncture. The wonderful world they’re lapping up has a sting in the tail. Slowly, but surely, the sun’s trajectory lowers each day and its rays become less powerful. These halcyon days will be a distant memory as our birds face a winter-long fight for life that will, inevitably, wipe out their population increase. But why spoil the moment? Youth must have its day and at this time of year our gardens, parks and fields are brimming over with newbies. The numbers are astounding – our bird population has jumped by at least 500 per cent in just six months, given that each pair raised an average of ten youngsters in two broods. During our Indian summer – samhradh beag na n-éan as it has been also been called, the wee summer of the birds – the 2020 generation burst with enthusiasm for all that our country offers. And we can all be cheered by that. * If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804. A reader from Norfolk Drive watched a kestrel devour a pigeon in her garden this week – a stunning but gruesome experience – and not just for the pigeon! It’s great we still have kestrels hunting our city streets.