Jun 232011
 
Umbrella with raindrops

Image via Wikipedia

Summer in West Cork tends to follow a familiar pattern – occasional brief periods of glorious sunshine when you really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, but for the most part soggy, wet dull… and bloody cold!

There’s a song that could easily be the West Cork summer anthem. Its pretty much perpetually stuck in my head from the end of May until mid-September. As soon as the familiar scattered showers of spring elongate into the protracted solid periods of unrelenting rain that are the hallmark of a West Cork Summer, it’s there.

I guess I should at least be thankful that the song is bearable.

Here Comes The Rain Again by The Eurythmics–could this be the ideal West Cork summer anthem.

I LOVE living and working in West Cork… and feel very privileged to do so… but please, please, please can we have a little bit of sustained sunshine, and some slightly warmer evenings. Lighting the fire at the end of June because you’ve got frostbite in your extremities is frankly no fun at all!

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Apr 202011
 

Woodchat Shrike, Rosscarbery -- photo by Colin Barton

Today was an amazing day.

You know those balmy April days that practically taste of the promise of summer… the vanilla-citrus scent of gorse blossom hanging in the unseasonably warm air. Well, this was one of those.

I had a meeting in the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery this afternoon, after which the plan was a leisurely stroll across the causeway and down towards the Warren Strand to meet the family for a picnic on the beach. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But it gets better.

A quick circuit of the reed-bed revealed an assortment of warblers in the deciduous trees at the western end… willow warblers, chiff-chaffs and a full on X-Factor-style sing-off between three male blackcaps.

DSCI2711There wasn’t much happening from the causeway – some late black tailed godwits and a couple of little egrets in their breeding regalia… they look so much “swankier” when they’re all dressed up.

So it was onto the Warren road, heading for the beach. Something made me stop scanning the estuary for waders and look up into the stubble field behind the houses on the other side of the road. A bird flew up and landed on the electricity wires… I swung up the bins.

Surely not…! I looked again… I was definitely seeing an adult female Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator).

I made my way into the field for a closer look. What a magnificent bird… a first for me, and a fabulous bird to find for yourself. I sent the news in to Colin Barton who runs @corkbirdnews and he was on the scene from Galley Head in short order. I’ve used one of Colin’s photos of the shrike above, as mine are a bit ropey (only had the compact camera with me, and handheld digibining is a tricky skill to master, see below).

These are my best two digibining efforts:

Woodchat ShrikeWoodchat Shrike

And here’s another one of Colin’s – a flight shot – to finish off.

Woodchat Shrike -- Photo by Colin Barton

A yellow wagtail in the same field (dubbed the “Woodchat field” by Colin – which has a nice ring to it, I have to say) was a bonus too, and the picnic with the family was a great way to round off a really fabulous day!

Apr 062011
 

Screenshot of Web Content Consulting homepageQuick heads up that I’m using this blog mainly for personal writing / posts / rants etc. now, and posting business related topics over on my web content consulting business site.

Here are a few recent posts you might enjoy:

You’ll find plenty more good stuff over on the business blog. If you like what you see, please share it with your friends, colleagues and online connections, and don’t forget to stay tuned here for sundry bits and pieces on writing, wildlife and life in beautiful, if occasionally soggy West Cork.

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Feb 222011
 

No really, it isn’t… although in all fairness you could be forgiven for thinking it was morphing into one of late. That’s just a reflection of me rekindling an interest that’s been there since I was a wee nipper.

Inevitably life gets busy, and things fall by the wayside, but they’re always there, to be picked up again when time allows. That’s what’s happening now.

I’m enjoying re-acquainting myself with the common and not so common birds around me, brushing up very rusty fieldcraft and ID skills and generally re-calibrating the bird-radar.

It’s also seems to be rekindling my enthusiasm for this blog, which is no bad thing.

Where am I finding the time for this real life stuff? To be honest I’m mostly slotting it in around all the other stuff. It’s amazing what you can do with a spare ten minutes here, quarter of an hour there.

So… I hope you’re enjoying the wildlife and birding related posts, and I will get back to writing about other things soon.

Feb 212011
 

Arse! Tufted duck taking a dive.Damn… don’t you just hate it when birds are too far away, and moving too quickly for a positive ID?

The rain finally stopped and the sun was out. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I grabbed the bins for a quick scan from the front garden.

The usual suspects – mostly tits and finches — were going about their daily grind. A grey heron was making it’s leisurely way towards where Corran lake sits hidden in a dip about a mile from the house. Behind it, and gaining rapidly, were two ducks, going like the clappers.

If they were anything other than mallard, tufted duck or teal they’d be a new species for my loosely defined patch. But they were just that bit too far away to make out features for a positive ID with the bins… and were travelling too quickly to go get the scope.

I’m pretty sure they weren’t any of the three aforementioned duck species, and for some reason a little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering wigeon… but I guess we’ll never know.

Feb 082011
 

lesser redpoll and mealy redpoll in West CorkOnce upon a time, not very long ago, I used to be content with the notion that a redpoll was a redpoll was a redpoll. All that changed just over a month ago when a mealy redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea) joined the gang of lesser redpolls (Carduelis flammea cabaret) visiting my garden bird feeders.

I get lesser redpolls in the garden every winter, and lovely little birds they are too. But back in early January I was casually watching a few of these charming little finches jostle for position on the feeder, when I noticed one bird in particular that looked very different. It was noticeably chunkier, and much paler in appearance – more of a frosty grey-brown than the usual warm brown and buff tones of the lessers.

I dived for the books… and opened up a real can of worms. Redpoll identification, it turns out, can be a real NIGHTMARE!

After a bit of reading, comparing and some more watching… followed by more reading and head-scratching, I was convinced that the paler bird was a mealy redpoll — the nominate sub-species of the common redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea).

Continue reading »

Sep 242010
 

Back in February last year Cork County Council came up with the brilliant plan of charging people to recycle their rubbish.

It appears that nothing much has changed — because the same short- sighted civil servants who decreed that charging people to do their recycling was a stellar way to encourage responsible waste management, now seem hell bent on making things more difficult in Skibbereen too.

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Not in County Cork!

Reduce, reuse, recycle? Not in County Cork you don't!

I arrived at Skibb recycling centre this afternoon to be greeted by an array of perfectly serviceable recycle bins — all seven of them cordoned off, with a liberal sprinkling of warning signs around the periphery.

Wondering what was going on I asked one of the yellow-clad attendants. It seems that the powers that be in charge of waste management have decided that they don’t need seven recycling bins (even though they’re filled to bursting point on a weekly basis, and there are often crowds of people waiting to deposit their recycling).

Instead, they’ve decided, the people of Skibbereen and the surrounding area can make do with a waste crushing / compacting machine, depositing their recyclable waste through a single, relatively small grill.

If you’ve used Skibbereen Recycling Centre at all you’ll know that it can get very busy. The “old” way provided fourteen different locations to get rid of your recycling (seven bins, a slot on each side). The “new and improved system”, with it’s single point of entry, was congested today with only four of us there. Imagine what it will be like when twenty people turn up.

The "New and Improved" recycling system in Skibbereen.

The "new and improved" recycling system in Skibbereen.

It’s madness!

It also makes me wonder what exactly is happening to our “recycling”. Plastic, cardboard, paper, etc. all gets bundled into the crusher together and is presumably compacted into a unified mass of different materials. Is that really being un-compacted, sorted and recycled… or is it going straight to landfill or into an incinerator somewhere?

There’s no way to tell for sure… but talk about fanning the flames of doubt.

My main concern here is that, again, this is making it less convenient for people to recycle their waste… which means that people on the waste management margins — the ones the County Council really should be encouraging to recycle more — will be put off.

Illegal dumping and backyard burning are real problems, and seem to be on the increase around rural Cork. It’s something Cork County Council should be addressing. Stunts like this though — that make recycling more difficult — only add to the problem.

Unfortunately, in the race against waste Cork seems to be heading in the wrong direction!

Aug 192010
 

Whale Watch Ireland, Galley Head, Cork Whale Watch Ireland is an annual all-Ireland land-based whale watching event run by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). This year’s watch will take place on Sunday 22 August between 2pm and 5pm at 15 headlands around the Irish coast.

This is a completely free land based watch (no boat-trips involved), and experienced IWDG guides / spotters will be on hand to give you the best chance of spotting some of the 24 cetacean species encountered around the Irish coast.

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator Padraig Whooley showing children a whale jaw-bone at Whale Watch Ireland Some of the species you’re most likely to spot include harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, minke whale, if you’re lucky you may see fin whales blowing offshore, and if you’re REALLY lucky perhaps a humpback will put in an appearance.

As with all wildlife related events, there are no guarantees you’ll see anything – but the anticipation and uncertainty all adds to the excitement… and it’s a fabulous, free family outing at some of Ireland’s most spectacular natural locations.

Here’s a list of Whale Watch Ireland 2010 locations from the IWDG site:

Location Meeting Point Watch Leader
Howth Head, Dublin Balscadden Car Park Brian Glanville
Bray Head, Wicklow Pitch & putt car park Dinah Boyne
Hook Head, Wexford Hook Lighthouse Kevin Mc Cormick
Ardmore, Waterford Ram Head signal tower Andrew Malcolm
Galley Head, Cork Lighthouse Pádraig Whooley
Garranes, Beara, Cork Dzogchen Beara Ctr Patrick Lyne
Slea Head, Dingle Penisula, Kerry Slea Head Shrine Nick Massett
Brandon Point, Kerry Car park Mick O’Connell
Loop Head, Clare Lighthouse Aoife Foley
Black Head, Clare Lighthouse Joanne O’Brien
Downpatrick Head, Mayo Car park Conor Ryan
Mullaghmore Head, Sligo Mullaghmore lay by Fiona Farrell
Lough Swilly, Donegal Fort Dunree Dermot Mc Laughlin
Portstewart Head, Derry Harbour Hill Jim Allen
Larne, Antrim Larne Town Park, Glenarm Rd Ian Enlander

So get yourself to a headland near you on Sunday to find out more about the whales and dolphins around Ireland, and hopefully see a few for yourself.

I’ll be at the Galley Head watch in Cork… if you’re in the vicinity come say hello!

Aug 102010
 
Grey Seal

Image via Wikipedia

The sea was like a sheet of black glass.

I’d never seen the Atlantic quite so calm before. It was eerily silent, not a breath of wind. As I dipped my paddle into the shimmering surface I couldn’t help but feel rising disquiet as I contemplated what the darkness beneath me might conceal.

I pushed the notion aside and paddled on.

Ahead of me the aptly named High Island rose out of the sea, illuminated, for once, by that scarcest of West Cork commodities: glorious morning sunshine. Viewed from the vantage point of a kayak out on the open water it was a truly breathtaking vista.

We’d spent the night camping on Rabbit Island just off the coast near Myross. There were nine of us in total: my wife and I, another couple and five children. We’d ferried all of the gear and people over on two inflatable kayaks the previous afternoon, and had a wonderful evening with a view out over High Island and the Atlantic Ocean that’s simply out of this world.

Early the next morning we heard the seals calling out around High Island and Seal Rock, it was flat calm, so two of us decided to hop in the kayaks to investigate.

The other island turned out to be further away than it looked, but we reached it without incident and headed around to the ocean-facing side through a channel between the rocks. That’s where we encountered the seals.

Continue reading »

May 262010
 

Our friend, Spanish photographer Alfredo Caliz has an exhibition of his work running in Barcelona at the moment, and has some of the photographs featured in Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, for which he’s shot countless assignments over the years.

One of the shots featured is this amazing image of Long Strand in West Cork – somewhere we visit with him and his family every summer when they’re over here. I’m sure Alfredo wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you here:

image

Photo Copyright © 2008 Alfredo Caliz, all rights reserved.