Big Mammals in the Mountains

Now is a great time to go into the mountains and see Wicklow’s larger land animals. Yesterday I went to Glendalough. The rut was on, when the stags roar and bellow threats at each other across the mountainsides, but they were almost invisible against the dried brown autumn bracken. During the rut they fight for the right to mate with the females. However, although they seem to be mere voices on the breeze, if you look very, very carefully you soon discover that the deer are hiding in plane sight.

If you scanned the landscape carefully you could see two enormous billy goats grazing on the valley floor near the old lead mine. The goats (Capra hircus) in the Wicklow mountains are normally referred to as “Feral Goats”, but they have almost certainly been living here as wild animals for many centuries, if not thousands of years. Whatever they were originally (which I feel still remains to be proven) they are definitely wild goats today, and must be treated with the caution you would reserve for any large wild animal. Goats are well able to butt someone who gets too close, with their reinforced rock-hard skulls. However, in tourist-infested Glendalough they are apparently quite comfortable in the presence of tourists, although rarely noticed by the visitors. It does take a keen eye to spot them in this rugged environment.

Two billy goats gruff, living wild in Glendalough valley.

The goats here do get very large, especially the males, being about shoulder height to an adult human. They can be very handsome and the epitome of wildness, with massive scimitar horns. And they are among my favourite denizens of the mountains.

Behind the goats, almost invisible to the naked eye, were the deer. They were everywhere across the valley wall, but virtually impossible to see although they were literally a stone’s throw away. To spot deer in this terrain really does test your eyesight. Anyhow, these deer are much more deserving of the title “feral” since they are almost all partially, if not mostly, Japanese Sika. This is where we come to one of the grey-areas of science. Although the indigenous Irish Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and the much smaller Sika (Cervus nippon) look quite different, they are in fact the exact same species, and not much more different to each other than Irish people are to Japanese people. The Sika were released in Powerscourt Estate in the late 19th century and quickly spread throughout Wicklow and began breeding very successfully with the Red Deer. So now Wicklow has a strange cross-breed. “Hybrid” is too strong a word in this case. Anyhow, any naturalist who saw the deer in the photo below would identify these females as Sika. The word “Sika” simply means “deer” in Japanese.

Some female deer proving very difficult to see against the brown autumn bracken.


Finally a word about the sheep in the Wicklow mountains, the so-called Wicklow Cheviots. Many people wonder why there is a blue dye sprayed onto their fleeces, some people assuming that these are the equivalent of brands or ear-tags. This is not, in fact, the case. You will notice that the dye is sprayed on their rumps. That’s because these are all ewes, and the dye is put there by the farmers to mark them as females that have successfully mated with a ram, and so a closer eye can be kept on them in winter and spring when lambing begins.

Sheep grazing in Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains.

Anyhow, these creatures are all up in the mountains right now, not far from the car parks, toilets, restaurants and other creature comforts we humans rely on, so pay a visit to the Upper Lake are of Glendalough and keep your eyes peeled for the big mammals.

More Beautiful Fungi

Unfortunately autumn has brought with it colds and flu, felling people when they least expect it, including yours truly. It tales away the desire to blog. Anyhow, I’m back with some more fungi photos. I’m a relative newcomer to the study of fungi, or mycology as it is known to the scientific community, so if any experts want to weigh in, please feel free to comment.

Firstly, I need to warn people to be very careful when it comes to fungi. Just because it looks edible doesn’t mean it is edible. The innocuous-looking mushrooms in the shot below look like very many harmless species, but are known by the common name Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata) because they are so deadly. So never assume the dangerous mushroom or toadstool is going to look sinister or wear a gaudy uniform. Fungi are a law unto themselves.

Funeral Bell, a harmless-looking, but extremely dangerous customer.

But if you prefer to admire them for their beauty, rather than because you want to fill your belly with them, mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi are extremely beautiful creatures. I say “creatures” simply because it’s very hard to know how to describe them. Fungi are not plants or animals and are in their own kingdom of organisms.

Bog Bell (Galerina paludosa) a very handsome mushroom.

Fungi are mostly parasitic and tend to be associated with certain trees and shrubs. You can even see where a tree has been by the presence of fungus.

Where a tree used to be, the remains of the trunk are underground and shown by the fungus still feeding on them. Although there are many individual mushrooms, these are all only the fruiting bodies of a single organism, kind of like flowers or apples on a tree.

There are many different kinds of fungus and some are very handsome, such as the Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) which is studded with spines.

Dark Honey Fungus looking very handsome in a cluster.

But some fungi are absolutely massive. One of the most spectacular in Wicklow is the Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) seen below on a piece of dead wood. The name of this fungus comes from the similarity of its shape to that of a saddle, and its similar size. A spectacular giant, especially common on old sycamore trees.

A Dryad’s Saddle with a €2 coin resting on it, giving a sense of both the size and strength of this massive fungus.

Find a nice sunny day, take your camera and go out and get some photos of these beautiful subjects which stay nicely still while you compose your shots. They are part of what makes autumn such a special time of year.



An Adventure in the Garden of Ireland