It’s always great to have wild places in cities. This one is a super water oasis in the middle of Dublin. The ‘Blessington’ in the name comes not from the town in Wicklow but from Blessington Street, in Dublin. It is reached on one side from a linear park that used to be a canal, through a small gate in the surrounding stone wall.
This gives rise to its other name as ‘Secret Garden’. At the other end is a more salubrious entrance, gate and lodge, dating from 1811.
The ‘Basin’ itself is a fairly simple, rectangular tank with vertical walls and an island at its centre. This was originally built in 1810 as a water reservoir (The Royal George Reservoir) for Dubliners and was used by a number of whiskey makers into the 1970s. Restoration in the 1990s cleaned it up and it is now well visited by people and wildlife.
Visiting from the secret end, the first wildlife encounter may well be a pigeon. Feral pigeons know how to find feeding spots and this is a good one with some very regular patrons. They will line up on railings and take off together at the slightest hint of danger or new food, with an alarming beat of wings.
However the Basin often holds some surprising bird-life such as the Hooded Merganser drake and Mandarin duck in the top picture and the Wood duck above.
These are normally found in North America but have presumably found their way here after being discarded by collectors.
Keep an eye out for birds of prey – where there are birds feeding, predators lurk.
For me the star of this show was the male Hooded Merganser which just looks so proud and ‘kingly’, somehow beyond normal reality.
And that’s just what’s so fantastic about the Basin – it is a common haunt of locals and aficionados while at the same time an incredible revelation, haven and uplifting surprise for newbies.
.. you’re sure of a big surprise. Well, a pretty one anyway.
Walkers on the Grand Canal Dublin may have noticed a particularly bright duck sitting quietly or chasing other ducks agressively. It is incredibly coloured and doesn’t seem suited to our weather – which of course it isn’t. It is a male Wood Duck. an American species similar to the Mandarin Duck often seen in zoos and other forms of captivity. This one may have escaped from some collection. A few years ago a pair, male and female, appeared in the Botanic gardens but the male dissappeared quite quickly, later followed by the male.
‘Our’ male has taken a shine to one of the female Mallards that are common on the canal and seems to accompany her everywhere. His very calm demeanour belies his extreme aggression to any other ducks that get near to his ‘mot’. He probably won’t last long here. His undoing could come from his apparent tolerance for human presence, from some of the other ducks getting fed up with his aggression or from the many predators – animal or sub-human – that make this part of the canal a very risky place. Or he might just go! While he’s here he is worth seeing.