Tag Archives: coast

The Equinox and a Crazy St. Patrick’s Weekend… and a Mermaid’s Purse

Last weekend was St. Patrick’s weekend, with St. Patrick’s Day occurring on Saturday. Every year I attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade, usually in Greystones by the sea, and after the parade I will normally make my first proper nature walk of the year. This year was very different…

If you watched the little video above I can tell you the adventure reached a climax when I attempted to return the ray’s egg to the sea at Kilcoole Station. As many of you will probably know, after the ray hatches out of the egg it might be used by a mermaid as a purse, which is why these leathery eggs are known as ‘mermaid’s purses’.

I walked to the bottom of the steps and decided that to give the mermaid’s purse the best chance of being taken back out to sea I must wait for a particularly large wave to break, and then run out after it as it withdrew, and toss the mermaid’s purse into the surf. To do this I waited on the bottom step and watched. After a minute a particularly huge wave approached and I stood ready to run after it as it went out again. However, when it broke it came in very fast, and only at the last moment did I realise I needed to get to higher ground, and just managed to reach the third step when the water came in up to my knees! I tossed the mermaid’s purse  over the wave. I was very lucky not to have been knocked over and washed away. So, let that be a lesson to you all – never take chances with the sea, and never, ever trust a storm sea.

Now, back to the Equinox – despite the awful weather in which winter has attempted to take over the spring, the Equinox was on Tuesday. The precise point (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice) was on Tuesday afternoon at 4.15 pm. And Tuesday was a gloriously sunny, but very cold day. The Equinox marks the beginning of the true spring, and from now on days are longer than nights. So let’s hope they’re sunny!

I dedicate this bulletin to my nephew, Mitchell Connolly, who began a very big adventure last week. Wrap up warm, Mitchell!

Tyrannosaur on the Shore

Another visit to the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town, and this time a front row seat for watching a hunting Great Blackback Gull (Larus marinus). At first it was perched on a rock looking into the shallow waters near the wall running alongside the river. This species is the largest gull in the world and even dwarfs large species like the Herring Gull. The Great Blackback is as large as a goose.

The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.
The Great Blackback Gull is a handsome species, and the largest gull in the world.

And then it suddenly jumped into the water and grabbed something. It was a Green Shore Crab, as wide as the palm of my hand. The crab struggled helplessly in the dexterous jaws of the immense gull.

The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.
The Blackback Gull with its prey. It brought the crab to the rocky shore.

And then this happened – the gull showed how it deals with crabs, but I wasn’t expecting it to swallow it whole. Watch the video and you’ll be impressed. Unfortunately I was in a very windy place, so apologies for the sound. This species of gull is known to kill even adult rabbits and swallow them whole. If you don’t believe me, Google ‘Great Blackback Gull’ and ‘rabbit’ and you’ll be in for quite an education.

Great Blackback Gulls are found along coasts of the North Atlantic, and Ireland is in the southern area of its range. Keep an eye out for them on all coasts, but if you want to get close to them then visit the Leitrim River in Wicklow Town. You will usually see at least one, and many Herring Gulls and the smaller Black-headed Gull.

Meanwhile, back in the swamp…

Here’s a pic of me (taken by my brother)  down in the swampy fen of the East Coast Nature Reserve, a great place to see Sika deer.

Me down on the East Coast Nature Reserve looking for one of our larger mammal species. Only the mosquitoes and tiny culicoides midges are much of a nuisance in spring. But in June the horseflies start to show up, so watch out.
Me down on the East Coast Nature Reserve looking for one of our larger mammal species. Only the mosquitoes and tiny culicoides midges are much of a nuisance in spring. But in June the horseflies start to show up, so watch out.

What was I looking for? A really big animal that is now found in the wilds of Wicklow after being (supposedly) absent for a thousand years, the Wild Boar. In fact, they are now found all over Ireland, but there is some degree of mystery about them. Were they deliberately introduced for some reason? Or, are these the descendants of domestic pigs that have gone wild? There is some evidence that domestic pigs gone wild will revert to being Wild Boar after only a few generations breeding in the wild. This makes sense, but it’s quite a change, considering that the skulls of pigs and Wild Boars are completely different.

Anyhow, Sika (remember “sika” is the Japanese word for deer) and Wild Boar are found in pretty much the same habitats in Wicklow, but both are extremely good at staying quiet, and you probably won’t know they’re around unless you find their footprints. So here’s what they look like:

The print of the Wild Boar is much larger thsan the Sika, being roughly as long as the palm of a man' hand, from the base of the fingers to the heel of the hand. The best identifiying mark is that of the two spur-like toes at the rear of the hoof. These two prints are shown to scale. With the Sika the outer toe of the hoof is usually larger than the inner one.
The print of the Wild Boar is much larger than that of the Sika, being roughly as long as the palm of a man’ hand, from the base of the fingers to the heel of the hand. The best identifiying mark is that of the two spur-like toes at the rear of the hoof. These two prints are shown to scale. With the Sika the outer toe of the hoof is usually larger than the inner one. The darker areas are the deeper impressions in the earth made by the hooves.

If anyone manages to get a photo of a Wild Boar in Wicklow I would love to hear about it. I have seen Wild Boar in the wild, but not in Ireland yet, and it’s very exciting to know they are out there. It is still very debatable whether or not they could be properly classed as invasive species. Pigs often lived practically wild lives (free range)  in Ireland up until the mid-20th century. They were always a factor in the landscape, and modern intensive farming which took pigs out of the landscape could actually have had a detrimental effect on the landscape. We now know wild boar, by rooting and wallowing, have important beneficial effects on landscapes across Europe. Although they are not popular with farmers because they will eat crops and root in fields, they could prove to be very important.  Wild Boar are certainly not dangerous monsters either, just big wild animals and one of my fondest memories is watching a pink sea of flamingoes in southern Spain when a big Wild Boar wandered out to the edge of their small lake.