Apr 052010
 

More and more killer whales are being spotted in Irish waters these days… with many of the recent sightings identifiable as members of a well known pod of whales known as the Scottish West Coast Community Group.

(Photo via the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website, © John Dennihy)

Two of these whales were spotted from Colin Barnes’s whale watching vessel The Holly Joe not far from Galley Head, West Cork on 27th March 2010… (identity confirmed by Andy Foote from the University of Aberdeen), with a larger group of 4-5 killer whales spotted a little further west (close to Baltimore) later the same day.

Interestingly these sightings coincided with the first West Cork basking shark sightings of the season… leading Padraig Whooley, the IWDG sightings coordinator, to wonder whether the simultaneous arrival of the ocean’s apex predator and the huge but docile basking shark in Irish waters was somehow related.

Could basking shark be on the killer whale’s menu, or were they arriving together purely by chance?

There’s more information on these whale sightings on the IWDG website, and you can see details of all recent reported killer whale sightings around Ireland here.

Jan 312010
 

A humpback whale off West Cork, IrelandIn the wake of the spectacular humpback whale encounters off the Wexford coast recently, and the incredible footage shown on the RTÉ news, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is calling for funding to help them find out more about the humpback whales that visit Ireland’s coastline every year.

We’re incredibly lucky to have these amazing animals, and other large whale species, as regular visitors to our shores, and finding out more about them is a crucial step to the conservation of these magnificent animals.

I’ll let Dr. Simon Berrow of the IWDG explain:

I hope you have all got to the see the amazing images and footage of the humpback whale off Co. Wexford. Hopefully too, some of you will be able to go and see this magnificent creature for yourselves.  It might not breach, but humpback whales are still one of the most enigmatic and popular species on the planet.

This is the 11th individual humpback whale the IWDG have recorded in Irish waters.  All previous whales have been photographed in more than one year and although this is the first time we have recorded this one, we fully expect to see this whale again !  This shows that humpback whales are returning to Ireland each year where they are spending a considerable period of time, but we do not know if they are passing through on their way to somewhere else or where they go when they leave.

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Jan 292010
 
Photo by Dave Bunnell of a caver traversing a ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve never really understood the attraction of intentionally putting yourself into a damp, cold, dark place to defy death in pursuit of fun and discovery.

Call me boring, but I can get all the damp, cold and dark that I’m likely to need in a lifetime on a typical winter’s day down in West Cork. The prospect of gearing up from head-to-toe in an array of protective clobber, donning a headlamp and descending into the bowels of the earth for the privilege doesn’t exactly fill me with glee. But it does some people, evidently… like the members of the Speleological Union of Ireland (SUI), or cavers to you and me. These are people who routinely give up their weekends to go pottering about underground… voluntarily… for enjoyment.

On their very impressive website (www.caving.ie) they court potential recruits with this enticing opening gambit:

Caving is the exploration of natural underground spaces. It is an adventure sport with inherent risks; many caves are cold or wet or muddy, or all three.

Sorry, you haven’t managed to grab me there… try again.

Technically potholes are caves that include vertical drops and therefore require the use of ropes and or ladders…

Nope… sorry, still not really getting it.

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Nov 272009
 

Flood waters submerge a West Cork road during November's floods

Best wishes and condolences to everyone in West Cork, Cork City and further afield whose homes and businesses were affected by the recent flooding….

In Ireland we don’t do climatic extremes very well.

Maybe it’s the inevitable consequence of a climate that consistently under delivers. We don’t get long, baking hot droughts, we don’t get bone-chillingly cold winters with lots of snow and ice, we don’t get anything extreme on the weather front, really… just a perpetually dreary middle ground.

As a result we’re rubbish when it comes to dealing with weather-related problems. In the summer we moan about the rain, but on the (very) rare occasions when the sun does shine for more than a few days the council starts running out of water. If it has the temerity to snow the entire country grinds to a shuddering halt until things thaw out again, and anything more than a stiff breeze has us running indoors to take refuge from falling trees.

But if there was one type of weather you’d expect the Irish to cope well with it would be rain. If Ireland had an official national weather, then rain would be it! And yet here, too, we fail miserably at the faintest whiff of extremity.

Last week it rained hard for a few days, and highlighted just how flimsy our drainage systems, flood defences and coping mechanisms really are. Huge swathes of West Cork and a substantial chunk of Cork City sank beneath the rising flood waters, thousands of homes were damaged, hundreds of vehicles stranded and countless commuters failed to make it home to their families.

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Nov 102009
 
“If you put a silk dress on a goat .... well, ...

Image by turtlemom4bacon via Flickr

Halloween is supposed to be scary. Goblins, ghouls and horrible little monsters looking for trick-or-treat goodies come with the territory. Goats… not so much.

But let’s rewind a little.

We’d been out to tackle the "spooky" Halloween Trail at Lisselan Estate just outside Clonakilty. The girls had a great time tearing around the gardens solving solving the riddles on their age-tailored clue-sheets. It was a fiver each for the children to take part in the Halloween Trail, which included a lucky-dip prize and a trick-or-treat goody bag each on completion. For once things were as they should be… refreshingly, Lisselan had opted not to charge anything for the accompanying adults.

Why is it that so many places insist on charging top whack for parents to get in to what are patently child orientated attractions? The attractions usually have zero appeal for adults, and if all you’re there for is to keep an eye on the kids, who have paid for their tickets, then I don’t really see why you should have to pay for the privilege.

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Oct 122009
 
Amethyst Deceiver

Image by Dave W Clarke via Flickr

Amethyst deceiver is an ominous name for a fungus… and the purple colour, while pretty, does little to suggest that this mushroom is anything other than seriously poisonous. The truth is that it’s not only harmless, but is also edible and apparently tastes quite good. Looking at it, you’d swear blind it was deadly… but that’s the trouble with fungi… they’re tricky little so-and-sos.

On Sunday we went to the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation’s (INFF) headquarters at Manch Estate, near Dunmanway in West Cork, for their second-last open day of the season. The estate is open to the public on the first Sunday of the month from March to November. These open days involve talks on sustainable native forestry, a chance to see craftsman utilise traditional woodland skills like charcoal making, wood-turning, woven hazel fence construction, gate making, birch broom making and more. There are also activities to keep the kids occupied, like woodland "treasure hunts" and nature art. But the highlights are the guided walks along the 20km of woodland, meadow and riverbank of the estate.

This month Cork nature writer and fungus aficionado Damien Enright was leading a walk dubbed "Fungi in the Woods". We love looking for fungi. We also love the concept of foraging for wild food, be it picking blackberries, catching fish or whatever. So far though we haven’t had the courage to combine the two — other than the odd occasion when we come across a patch of field mushrooms.

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Sep 242009
 

Me rescuing Guster the woodpigeon from a watery fate Guster the wood pigeon was dead. There were no two ways about it… this was an ex-pigeon, a pigeon that had ceased to be.

The girls were sad… especially the little one. In the twenty minutes or so since they’d met (and named) Guster they’d grown quite attached to him.

When we found him Guster was in pretty bad shape. He was flapping about in the shallows of an inlet just off the path at Rineen Woods near Unionhall. He’d been attacked by a predator, probably a fox, and had feathers missing from his back and shoulders to reveal bare skin and some nasty looking puncture wounds. Floundering helplessly in the water, struggling to keep his head above the surface, he was a forlorn sight.

I sized up the situation as the girls pleaded with me to save him.

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Sep 022009
 
birds of the night

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

Column for 26/08

It’s getting darker noticeably earlier in the evenings again.

This is proper dark — not the "light obscured by banks of horrible black cloud" that has been the hallmark of a summer that simply never happened. We had one week of nice weather towards the end of June, and then the heavens opened. I know Ireland’s famous for being green, but this summer has been ridiculous.

No wonder the travel agents are seeing a surge in business. It’s enough to make anyone want to hop on a plane.

But back to the darkness…. it’s getting properly dark much earlier. Yet another reminder that we’re running out of summer with just the occasional glimpse of sunshine.

Perched out beyond the western edge of the time zone we tend to enjoy a little bit more light than our neighbours to the east (when the clouds don’t obscure it, that is). In midsummer I can be outside at 11pm and there’s still a glow in the sky to the west. It’s not light, but it’s not quite dark either — more of an elongated twilight. But despite a daylight extension courtesy of our peripheral geography, the nights are definitely starting to draw in.

Like everything else that life throws up this presents yet another dilemma for parents. With the school term literally around the corner, do you start to re-establish school-time routine and get the kids to bed earlier, or do you let them stay up later to wring every ounce of potential out of the rapidly evaporating holidays?

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Sep 022009
 

Column from 19/08/09

An Cúinne Harbour, Sherkin Island

Image via Wikipedia

House martins whirl and swoop overhead, making the most of a brief spell of sunshine to feed themselves up before the long journey ahead. They’re gathering now in large numbers, preparing for a migration that will take them across Europe to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter. After the summer we’ve had I wish I could join them.

Soon the swallows will follow suit, the hedgehogs will intensify their hedgerow foraging before settling down to hibernate, squirrels will horde caches of food, blackberries will ripen…. It can all mean only one thing: summer is already drawing to a close.

But nature isn’t the only thing telling us that things are about to change. Parents the length and breadth of the nation will have noticed other signs. As the new school term approaches the kids start getting restless, realising that their long weeks of freedom are coming to an end. It affects parents too: conscious that there’s not much of the holidays left, we rush to cram in all the things we’ve been putting off over the summer break.

Last week, for example, we found ourselves on Sherkin Island putting up the tent in weather that was, let’s face it, marginal at best. It was certainly a far-cry from camping nirvana, but we’d promised the girls, and after letting much of the summer slip by waiting for a break in the weather we suddenly realised that time was running out. We panicked, packed and headed for Baltimore.

Sitting on the ferry watching tendrils of mist settling over Sherkin, I couldn’t help wondering what on earth we were playing at.

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