Nov 222010
 
Swarovski SLC 10x42 HD

The SLC 10x42 HD by Swarovski Optik -- optically superb, unbeatable build quality.

WOW!

That would have been the reaction when I first looked through my  new Swarovski SLC 10×42 HD binoculars. Except that I was unable to utter a word: I was rendered speechless by the experience.

These binoculars are quite simply sublime.

I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a really good pair of binoculars for… well, all my life really and have been comparing high end models from Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski and Nikon, on and off, for quite a while.

On my mental bins wish list I’d pretty much whittled it down to either Leica Ultravid 10×42 or Swarovski EL 10×42 Swarovision, and I was leaning towards the Leicas mainly because I’ve never really liked the Swarovski EL’s elongated twin-hinge form factor.

I was absolutely amazed when I woke up on the morning of my 40th birthday, just over a week ago, to a pair of Swarovski SLC 10×42 HD binoculars. Continue reading »

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 »

Apr 182010
 

I love cephalopods (squid, octopuses and cuttlefish). They’re among my favourite marine animals.

When I was studying Marine Biology at The University of Liverpool, we rescued an octopus that ended up in the wet lab with some Nephrops norvegicus (scampi or langoustine).

We kept him for a while, in one of the tanks at the marine lab. I spent a long time just watching him… and the changes in skin colour and texture never ceased to amaze me.

Amazing footage of the cryptic and behavioural colour changes in cephalopods in the second half of this TED talk.

Apr 082010
 

For me one of the most satisfying parts of photographing wildlife (or at least attempting to) is how even our most familiar wildlife species can offer the opportunity to capture truly spectacular images.

Whether it’s a robin in your back yard, a fox visiting your garden, or a couple of blackbirds squabbling in the local park… there’s action and drama all around you. More common species, are, by definition, more accessible, and are often easier to get close to… improving your chances of capturing that winning shot.

This Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) was hanging around Lough Ine, near Skibbereen on 06 April. I had the camera with me, and took a few shots as it came in to land

 Herring GullHerring Gull (Larus argentatus) on the wingHerring Gull (Larus argentatus) coming in to land

Nikon D90, Sigma 28-200 Zoom (300mm 35mm equivalent) @ f5.6

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.

Mar 192010
 

Barn Swallow in flight I got an e-mail from Cepa Giblin a few days ago. Cepa’s a fan of the Ireland’s Wildlife page that I run on Facebook, and is a producer with Crossing the Line Films.

She asked me if I’d give her latest venture a shout. It’s a wildlife series for RTÉ called Wild Journeys, which hits the screens on RTÉ One, Sunday night at 6:30pm. If you’ve seen the trailers running on RTÉ you’ll know it looks likely to be a cracking programme.

The series follows the long haul travellers of the Irish wildlife scene – from true leviathans in the form of the humpback whales and basking sharks that visit Ireland’s coasts every year, to the deceptive fragility of the beautiful painted lady butterfly – which somehow manages the mammoth journey from north Africa to Ireland.

The series will follow some of Ireland’s most iconic serial voyagers, like the Barn Swallow the Atlantic salmon and the European eel, as well as some less well known, but no less extraordinary, ones.

Here’s a summary of the wildlife feast that awaits in what promises to be a real feast not just for wildlife enthusiasts, but for everybody (taken from the CTL Films press release):

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

Oct 212009
 
A herd of savanna elephants in Western Africa

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes we humans use expressions that, while they seem plausible enough on the surface, actually have no bearing on life in the real world.

We do this all the time, without ever questioning the validity of what we’re saying, and we perpetuate these misconceptions by using the same expressions with our children. They in turn will pass on these falsehoods to their children and so it will go on unless someone makes a stand and sets things straight.

Anyone who’s ever had mice in the house will know that the old adage "as quiet as a mouse" is a complete fallacy. Mice can, in truth, make an unbelievable racket for their size as they scurry around under floors and behind skirting boards; chittering, squeeking and scraping as they forage for stray crumbs. The pitter-patter of their tiny feet is surprisingly audible in the dead of night, and the conclusive snap of a mouse-trap is enough to wake anyone from their slumber. I’ve taken to using a different version… one that’s far more accurate than the rodent equivalent. I tell the girls they should try to be "as quiet as a pineapple". When was the last time you heard fruit make a sound?

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »