Eye On Nature

I have access to a six-acre wild field on the coast where there are many young trees, grasses, gorse and ferns with a south-facing…

I have access to a six-acre wild field on the coast where there are many young trees, grasses, gorse and ferns with a south-facing hill down to the sea. I have put up some bird tables and some baths. I intend to lay out a wild pond soon. I'm keen to get some wild animals on the land. Could I introduce hedgehogs? I've never seen one in the area. How could I introduce other suitable animals? - Brian Ormond, west Cork

A wild field will attract the birds and animals for which the habitat is suitable. Cover is all-important. Hedgehogs like hedges and heaps of decaying vegetation where they can hibernate and make nests to rear young. If there are walls or rocky banks and a supply of field mice and rabbits, a stoat or two might take up residence. But the rabbits will come only if the ground is suitable for making burrows. You could have hares and badgers passing through,but both of these mammals have a much wider territory and do not confine themselves to one field.

I was walking along the River Lagan upstream from Belvoir Forest carpark when I noticed disturbed but unbroken water in mid-stream. A cormorant surfaced wrestling with an eel about two foot long. Several times it wriggled free and each time the cormorant resurfaced in 10 seconds or more with its catch. Eventually the eel was caught head-first and the swallowing process began, little by little, with the cormorant's neck stretched nearly vertical. The astonishing thing was that the front two-thirds of the cormorant's body was out of the water. Does it do this by paddling furiously? - Ray Arnold, Belfast

Eels are a favourite food of cormorants when they are fishing in fresh water. I would think that a cormorant was buoyant enough to float while devouring its prey.


I heard a commotion in the garden in the forsythia and the various birds that roost there - sparrows, blackbirds and starlings - flew out in one swoop and landed on the other shrubbery. Then two birds fell out of the forsythia, a bird of prey with a starling which was crying incessantly firmly in it claws. Was the predator a young hawk? It had a circular design on its chest, the plumage was young-looking, colour between granite and brown, and it had a wide wing-span. Why was it so near, if not in, suburbia? A similar bird, but bigger, was observed a couple of months ago in the same place. - John Foster, Finglas East, Dublin

It sounds like a young sparrowhawk. Sparrowhawks regularly patrol suburban gardens. Where else would they get such a ready supply of take-away birds?

Michael Viney welcomes observations sent to Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo - email viney@anu.ie Observations sent by email should be accompanied by postal address as location is sometimes important to identification or behaviour

Michael Viney

Michael Viney

The late Michael Viney was an Times contributor, broadcaster, film-maker and natural-history author