Land Matters: Rare visit from a flying nutcracker while sowers dig deep

Last Tuesday an angler testing a newly purchased spinning rod hooked a 2 pound sea trout in the Atlantic. After measuring and weighing his catch, he duly released it back into the ocean off the south coast of Kerry. I’m afraid I would have kept it for the pan! The weather in Kerry was pleasant, in contrast to much of the country, which was struggling with rain, wind and low temperatures to shake off the tentacles of winter.

In another part of Munster, in the Déise, a bird watcher snapped a camera shot of a rarely seen bird with a distinctive, wild-looking beak. In exchanging such interesting things I saw a picture of the bird, which is a Hawfinch, a good name for a powerful seed eater, sent in by a reader in Terenure, Dublin. It is a regular visitor to this part of the country which has seen sightings of rare birds from mainland Europe and southern England over the years.

I remember a hoopoe, a stunning bird with a distinctive, colorfully decorated crown crest, a long curved beak, and black-and-white striped plumage, relaxing in the timbered grounds of a house in An Rinn. I once heard a corncrake in a meadow there, which the owner very carefully “patted” from the center outwards to give young birds a chance to escape.

Hawfinches are woodland birds and, like bullfinches, are drawn to orchards for feeding on buds and cherries. They are stout, 18 cm taller than a greenfinch, with massive conical beaks on powerful necks. Described as a ‘flying nutcracker’ – that beak can generate up to 50kg of crushing force – the bird is rusty brown and buff in color with black, white and gray trimmings and glossy blue-black wings.

Shy and secretive, he spends much of his time in the treetops foraging for seeds and later for rose hips and haws in hedges. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says it is most common in south-east England and in some pockets in Wales and Scotland, but is a rare visitor to that country. It is widespread in mainland Europe.

I have tried to catch up on messages from kind readers and I apologize for my negligence caused mainly by the circumstances of confinement, but we live in the hope of seeing forests and seascapes along rocky shores soon. It’s gratifying to hear of families moving to the country and breaking ground to plant flowers and some food for the table. But just one planter is enough for tomatoes and, as the late John Seymour advocated, digging lawns to grow potatoes and onions.

A Cork reader, DB of Silversprings, sent in pictures of flowering rooster potatoes from last year’s crop. The flowers are pink and yellow from seeds originally grown by Harry Kehoe at the Teagasc Oak Park research center in Carlow, he writes.

He speaks of “cutting the ‘scoilleans’ for sowing”, which means carefully dividing the seeds and storing them in a warm place beforehand, “with the cut end down and the germ surface up”. My father never cut seed potatoes and I did the same, although I admired the careful chitting and preparation of a senior lighthouse keeper’s planting. The word “scoillean” may not be familiar to everyone. TP Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno-English has sceallan/sciollan/skillaun as “eye seed potato, a cut part of an eye potato for the next crop (Kerry and Meath)”, using a special “sceallan knife”. This was small with a wooden handle, usually homemade, and much less sophisticated than the Opinel knives favored by many gardeners today. Land Matters: Rare visit from a flying nutcracker while sowers dig deep

Fry Electronics Team

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