Monday, August 31, 2009

A Rare Visitor

This is a juvenile Sabine's Gull that dropped into a pool near my house. Dashed for the camera and got a few photos. A rare enough visitor that breeds in the High Arctic, most of the Sabine's that are seen in Ireland are seen flying at sea but occasionally especially during strong westerly gales, they will come into harbours and other more sheltered spots to feed and rest up before continuing on. The wind was strong enough last night so that may be the reason behind this young bird showing up.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blackhead Lighthouse

On a nice autumnal day with a wild westerly wind, Blackhead Lighthouse provides great shelter when looking for seabird movement across Galway Bay. Built in 1936, this lighthouse is one of only two square lighthouses in Ireland. It sits on the most northerly point of Co. Clare and is very visible from the Aran Islands. The sweeping views with limestone hills behind, make it well worth a visit.

Highlights of a two hour watch included three adult Sabine's Gulls, Great and Pomarine Skuas.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Newtown Towerhouse

One morning last winter, I struck out on a stroll down a fog shrouded country road near Kinvara Co. Galway with a camera I had borrowed. It felt like one of those mornings when the honking of Whooper Swans emerging from the grey would have been entirely appropriate. Mixed flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding in the fields and alighting on the ditches. Newtown towerhouse (pictured left on that morning) looked mysterious and silent, save for the calling of a Raven (a pair nest here every year). Looking about, the few scattered houses with obligatory satellite dishes were invisible in the fog, there were no signs or sounds of traffic. The only betrayal of my 16th Century world was a telegraph pole and wire running across a field to my left and the narrow winding road beneath my feet, otherwise I was lost in ancient Ireland.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Winter Sky at Night

The Winter is-a-comin'! Little by little the nights are already closing in, what! I hear you say - its only the end of August! Remember, yes we're not even through Autumn but this is Ireland where we fear such things. Losing even a few minutes of precious daylight will be the main topic of conversation replacing the weather, imagine! Lets try and look at it from another angle. On the occasion when there's a cloudless sky, the winter sky at night is a place ripe for exploration. You don't have to be a Galileo or a Patrick Moore to enjoy those constellations, meteor showers and planets. Kick those winter blues, let the stars become your muse (that's bloody awful isn't it!). A friend of mine has a fairly serious astronomy telescope but a pair of binoculars or the naked eye will also do nicely.

Some years ago, not just one but two comets were clearly visible in Irish skies, one was named Hiataki (possibly spelt completely wrong) and the other was Hale-Bopp. These were spectacular, one I recall had a fiery tail that was breath-taking. Yet so many people out and about missed these beauties or were two busy power walking and gossiping about local goings on to notice this once in a lifetime sight on view for free. 'For Gods Sake just look up!' I felt like shouting but didn't, instead some of us went out on the beach in the freezing cold armed with telescopes and binoculars as the power walkers went swish-swashing by thinking 'are these perverts looking in my windows? are they a new age cult?'

A great website for info on all aspects of astronomy and space is run by Astronomy Ireland

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heaney's Postscript

In his poem 'Postscript' (from his collection 'The Spirit Level'), Seamus Heaney describes a moment during a drive along the Flaggy Shore and captures the atmosphere of the place as only that man can.


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Unless to think you'll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Lady Gregory's Holiday Home

RainyWest was out on a Burren hike along the Flaggy shore. He was contemplating the future in these here recessionary times. The jobs or lack of, the bills, the payment of said bills. When he came across 'Mount Vernon', the summer residence of Lady Gregory. This idyllic country retreat has views across Galway Bay and overlooks the beautiful Flaggy Shore. He sat down to a sandwich and coffee on a limestone picnic table, observed the Brimstone and Peacock butterflies in the garden and the Sandwich Terns out in the bay and thought, Yeats - you lucky sod!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bad Mobile Phone Reception Yields Blackcap!

A bad mobile phone reception usually brings out the worst in people. Note the irate voice "what! what! no I cant hea.. I said I cant hear you... wait no Ill move... hello hello.. aww s**t his gone...bloody phone..." In my humble abode, there is one spot where I usually pick up OK reception and can hold a decent conversation without the above dialogue. This happens to be at a window looking out onto a lawn with a grand mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees including the brilliant Golden Willow. In turn this has been a godsend because while chatting away, I can keep an eye out for warblers, finches and other avian visitors. I'm hoping that this autumn, possibly after westerly gales, Ill see something a bit rarer from the U.S. My wish list includes Blackpoll Warbler, American Robin and any Vireo species! So far the back garden ticklist includes Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and just seen yesterday while talking to my brother, a male Blackcap (like this one seen above: photo by Jeff Copner). This warbler cannot be termed rare in Ireland but more uncommon. They are migratory but more have been over-wintering here possibly due in part to climate change.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Electrical Surges

Sometimes a poem or piece of music creates electrical surges and makes the hairs stand up on your arms. Stephen Fry recommends reading a poem like one might eat a bar of chocolate. Savouring each piece, letting it melt in your mouth slowly. Last saturday evening, Philip King on his radio one show 'The South Wind Blows' (highly recommended) read out Derek Mahon's poem 'Everything is going to be all right' and followed it up by playing Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds' (chorus: Every little thing's gonna be alright). What a combination, the hairs stood up. I also hear that both song and poem were released in the same year?

Everything is going to be all right

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying

but there is no time to get into that.

The lines flow from the heart unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clever Fox

This character has been taking advantage of some take-out (calf nuts) courtesy of a local farmer! It appears to have a bald patch near its rump. Maybe it got into a territorial dispute? The wonderful photo was captured by I.Z. while out on an evening stroll in Killard, County Clare. It has been seen returning to the feeding trough at night for more free grub.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


The autumn is upon us and so many of us seawatchers are dusting off the rain gear, wellies and camp chairs in anticipation of a good seasons watching. This is not as its name suggests (unless its a very quite day!), a bunch of weirdos looking at the sea through telescopes all day but rather involves watching the migration of thousands of seabirds past the west coast of Ireland. These ocean nomads are moving from north to south and in some cases cover thousands of miles to reach the warmer waters off Africa and Europe. This annual migration sees species such as Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Great Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Leach's Petrel, Grey Phalarope and often rare species such as Wilsons Petrel (pictured above) passing along our coast. The Bridges of Ross in County Clare is one of Europe's best places to view this mass migration.

So, its a case of sitting on a cliff for hours looking out on the Atlantic ocean in preferably strong westerly winds, looking for these birds. The gales and driving rain never stops (rather encourages) sometimes up to a hundred seawatchers. A good on-shore wind helps the cause as the birds are blown closer to land thus enabling us cold, shivering and hapless birdwatchers to see them. Bill Oddie once suggested that seawatchers weren't actually looking through their telescopes but rather using them as prop-ups while they slept! Well if you see us propped up against our scopes asleep, leave us be because we're probably dreaming about Black-browed Albatrosses!