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.

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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.

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.

Feb 082010
 

Horses sillhouetted on Castlefreke Dunes, Long Strand, West Cork

Walking on Long Strand the other day we doubled back across the dunes and back along the road. It’s a conservation area, and to promote plant biodiversity they have horses grazing the dunes over the winter. I looked up and saw these two cresting a large dune, silhouetted against the overcast sky.

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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