Life in the Dublin Mountains: Deer, Rabbits and Other Critters.
It's the silence...or is it?
Living in the Dublin Mountains in Ireland has many advantages.
There’s the silence for instance; the first thing most people comment on in fact when they visit. But it’s not really silence. If you stop and listen for a moment you realise that there is plenty of sound, just no noise.
- Song birds singing,
- crows calling,
- trees rustling in the breeze,
- insects buzzing by,
- a distant dog barking…
and what’s that kinda squeaking sound? Is it another type of bird? Or is it two tree branches rubbing together? Or maybe it’s the hinges on the picket gate. In fact, it took me five years to figure out it was the deer communicating with one another when they’re at close quarters together.
I spent all those years with my binoculars looking for that bird.
Unusually severe winter in Ireland
Snow 2009 and 2010
But in my defence, the deer really only got near enough to me in the past two years to be able to identify where the sound was coming from.
And that was due to 2 particularly bad winters in 2009 and 2010. The snow lay deep up here for about 3 weeks and that’s a long time in Ireland. Some winters we don’t get any snow at all.
The deer took to coming out from the trees whenever I put feed out for my two donkeys. But the donkeys were not keen on sharing, so I began to leave some food in a bowl on the other side of the fence.
Pretty soon the deer weren’t even waiting until I had gone inside before they began to eat, and within a couple of weeks they were running to the bowl before I had filled it.
They became more and more tame and would even take food from my hand. It was great fun to show off to visitors just how tame they had become.
But then one day the matriarch of the herd snapped a piece of bread that I was feeding to the donkeys right out of my hand. I slapped her on the nose (not too hard) and she backed away and bowed to me.
But it made me realise that you can’t treat a wild animal as though it were a pet.
I stopped hand feeding them, and as soon as the winter was over, I stopped feeding them altogether.
But they still steal food from the donkeys all the time, often earning a kick in the head for their trouble.
And they still look expectantly at me whenever I go outside.
Doe and her fawn
But our reward did come the following spring.
Pulling into the driveway one sunny afternoon we saw that the matriarch was standing in the garden. She didn’t move when we climbed out of the car, but made that squeaking sound I mentioned earlier.
Then, out from the trees bounded a young fawn, no more than a couple of days old by the look of it. The doe looked from her fawn to us, and bowed. We bowed back and she turned and walked into the trees again, her fawn leaping after her.
We felt so privileged. And since then, whenever the hunters are around, (and there are always plenty during hunting season), it seems the whole deer herd gather in our field. I counted seventeen one day.
Tame bunnies too
Of course the price I pay for having the deer around all the time is with my garden.
don’t have any flowers and very few shrubs. Deer are veracious eaters. Added to that, for the first time this year, the rabbits have moved in. We’re not sure why. We’ve always had cats and up to now they kept the bunnies away. But for some reason that we can’t fathom, the cats are ignoring the rabbits and vice versa.
So anything the deer don’t like to eat, such as some herbs and a couple of wild flowers, the rabbits are polishing off.
Even more amazing is the fact that they seem to be just as tame as the deer, although we won’t be trying to hand feed them. I got within a couple of yards of one yesterday before she calmly hopped away and continued grazing.
Every year since we moved up her in 1998, a couple of families of swallows have nested in the donkey shelter.
But whenever any humans approached they would swoop out over our heads with that high pitched alarm call of theirs. The call seems to warn the chicks to lie low because we could never manage to see anything in the nest at all from the ground.
However, this year they ignore our comings and goings and I even managed to get some photographs of the chicks.
And some other guests also moved into the shelter this year too; a family of starlings built a nest in the rafters.
At first, they and the swallows fought, but they eventually settled down and seemed to get on fine. The starling chicks made a lot of noise and they fledged weeks ago, but the swallows are only just venturing out of their nest now.
The funny thing is, we never saw any starlings up here until last summer. They are very much an urban and suburban bird in Ireland.
The only visitor who remains as shy as ever is the fox.
I see him occasionally when I open my curtains in the early mornings and he’ll stop for a moment and stare, then calmly continue on his way. But if I go outside he will disappear quickly. (Ironically enough, there are several reports recently about how tame the urban fox has become. Perhaps up here he’s more cautious because he’s hunted by the local farmers. You can’t really blame the farmers though when they have young lambs about.)
When out walking the other day, I glanced through a gap in the hedge in time to see two young fox cubs playing in the (rare) sunlight. Their mother was resting nearby. I stayed still and enjoyed watching them for some minutes before continuing on my walk.
Of course, it was the very day I didn’t have my camera with me.
High living has it's advantages and disadvantages
There are other advantages to living so high up here. (Relatively high that is compared to suburban or city living). The scenery is always changing and always beautiful, it’s private, when our kids were young they could make as much noise as they wanted without disturbing the neighbours and the air always smells fresh and clean. But there are disadvantages: The temperature is often up to 5 degrees Celsius (or over 40 degrees Fahrenheit) lower here than it is at the bottom of the mountain, the clouds often cover us making it cold and damp, you can’t get to work or college or go shopping without a car, the only broadband we can get here is via satellite and that’s slow and has restricted bandwidth. But for my husband and me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Our kids moved down into the city as soon as they were old enough, but they still love it up here. Just not to live right now. For them, the disadvantages out-weigh the advantages. And perhaps that will become the case as we grow old and vulnerable. But for now, we ain’t going anywhere