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Panel: Richard Collins, Éanna Ní Lamhna, Terry Flanagan & Niall Hatch
If enquiries to Mooney Goes Wild and to Ireland's various wildlife conservation organisations are anything to go by – and they are! – there has been a significant increase in interest in wildlife right across Ireland, amongst people of all ages and from all walks of life, since the COVID-19 pandemic first became a dominant presence in our lives last year. More and more people have turned to nature as a source of entertainment, inspiration and solace, which has been wonderful to see.
Whether you are a veteran naturalist or someone who has just recently discovered the joys of having a connection to the natural world, we hope that you are enjoying autumn as much as we are. It is a season of natural transition, and a wonderful time to observe rapid changes in the behaviour and appearance of both plants and animals.
In particular, if you happen to find yourself outside late at night over the coming week or so, listen out carefully for sharp, thin, metallic 'tseep’ sounds in the sky overhead. These are most prevalent in overcast conditions, and are the contact calls uttered by migrating Redwings. These small birds, members of the thrush family, most likely will have departed their Icelandic breeding grounds just the evening before, and you are hearing them attempting to coordinate their movements and keep their flocks together in the dark as they make landfall here in Ireland. It’s a sound that you may well have been hearing on October nights all of your life, without ever realising what it was, or possibly even registering it.
Fungi: they certainly take up ‘mushroom’ at this time of year
We don’t tend to think of autumn as a season of new life and reproduction . . . but for many species of fungus, that’s precisely what it is. All across Ireland, mushrooms and toadstools are bursting through the soil, exhibiting a dizzying array of colours and forms. These are the fruiting bodies of much larger organisms, and can be thought of rather like flowers: they suddenly erupt at this time of year, encouraged by the damp conditions and the abundance of decomposable biological material, to spread spores that will propagate their species.
The main part of the organisms which produce them, the slender, thread-like mycelia, remain hidden under the surface of the soil and can, in some cases, reach enormous sizes. Many mushrooms and toadstools flourish briefly at this time of year, and are often the only indication to human eyes that a vast and hidden world of fungal life exists just below our feet. On tonight’s programme, our panellists discuss the world of fungi and shed some light on why this is such a good time of year to observe them.
By the way, many people assume that fungi are plants, but they actually belong to an entirely separate biological kingdom all of their own. There are approx. 144,000 different species of fungus currently known to science and, strange though it may seem, they are actually more closely related to animals than to plants.
For more information on the variety and ranges of fungi in Ireland, visit biodiversityireland.ie/Dataset/77
A bird of prey strikes in a Co. Louth garden
Many people who feed birds in their gardens soon come to realise that bird tables and feeders can become magnets for certain birds of prey. The most frequently reported such species in Irish gardens, according to BirdWatch Ireland’s annual Irish Garden Bird Survey, is the Sparrowhawk, a common and widespread, though shy and skulking, species, supremely adapted to ambushing small birds. Other raptors, as birds of prey are also known, may also put in an appearance from time to time.
Of course, this is all part and parcel of nature, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’ in a raptor killing and eating other birds. Indeed, most of the birds that visit our gardens are voracious predators themselves, be they Blackbirds pulling worms from the soil, Song Thrushes smashing snail-shells on patio slabs or Blue Tits devouring baby butterflies and moths, a.k.a. caterpillars.
Recently, one of our listeners, Irena Mulhall from Castlebellingham, Co. Louth, contacted us to ask for information and advice about one such raptor that has been carrying out frequent raids on her own garden bird table. Our roving reporter Terry Flanagan paid Irena a visit to find out more, and on tonight’s programme brings us a special report.
For more information on the Sparrowhawk, the bird of prey which is most likely to be seen in a typical Irish garden, visit birdwatchireland.ie/birds/sparrowhawk
Dublin Zoo: a national institution for 190 years
For 190 years, Dublin Zoo has been regarded as one of the premier zoological gardens in Europe. Founded in 1831, it is the fourth-oldest zoo in the world, after the zoos in Vienna, Paris and London. Originally intended largely as a source of entertainment and amusement, times have changed, and nowadays conservation and education are the key focuses of Dublin Zoo’s efforts. Today it is Ireland’s third most-visited attraction, just behind the Guinness Storehouse and the Cliffs of Moher, and is firmly established as a centre par excellencefor natural history awareness and engagement.
In a fascinating and wide-ranging interview on tonight’s programme, we speak to Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, who last year took up the position of Director of Dublin Zoo and has the highly enviable pleasure of living on its grounds. He tells our panel about the challenges of keeping a zoo going during a global pandemic, the vital importance and primacy of conservation in the zoo’s remit and his overriding belief that it is not the role of a modern zoo to show animals, but rather to show animal life. Christoph also fills us in on Dublin Zoo’s new 10-year strategic plan for 2031, when this venerable and much-loved institution will celebrate its 200th anniversary.
For more information about Dublin Zoo, visit dublinzoo.ie