Tag Archives: Glendalough

On Safari in Glendalough

There are two wonderful creatures which I have not managed to see properly with my own eyes – the Emperor Moth, which only flies from April to early June, and the Green Tiger Beetle. The male moths fly over the heather of bogs in daytime, looking for the mcuh larger resting females. They are as large as butterflies, and often are even larger. The beetles are shiny green, with huge eyes and remarkable markings. Both species are very common in Wicklow, but I have only once managed to catch a glimpse of male moths flying past me on the mountains. This time I wanted a photograph, of both creatures.

Looking over the Lower Lake towards the ancient monastic city of Glendalough.
Looking over the Lower Lake towards the ancient monastic city of Glendalough. There was quite a haze over the water. Note the round tower.

The title might seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not. A good walk in Glendalough on a sunny day can be quite a safari, with big animals as well as little. While the lowlands where covered in cloud I went up there one afternoon last week with might brother, and found it bathed in sunlight.  We followed the path up by the Poulnadrass Waterfall and the many timber steps up to the Spinc overlooking the Upper Lake. This also seemed like a good place for a heroic portrait:

27036891242_b8c9278a42The whole hilltop was covered in heather and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Bilberries are widely known in Europe as blueberries, and are a very close relative of the true, North American Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). I even found one bush already had berries growing on it – they start off red in colour, and only turn blue in late summer:

The bases of flowers swelling to become berries. They have a long way to go still.
The bases of flowers swelling to become berries. They have a long way to go still.

Two reddish Emperor Moths flew past us, but we could not chase them over the deep boggy mud. They flew too fast for photos. But then I spotted something very exciting – the largest wild lizard I have ever seen in Ireland, and it was basking on the steps:

A very handsome male Viviparous Lizard, in breeding colours.
A very handsome male Viviparous Lizard, in breeding colours.

The lizard was over 20 cm long, and very boldly patterned. We have only one native species of reptile in Ireland, the Viviparous Lizard – Zoothoca vivipara. It is sometimes referred to as the Common Lizard, but this species is not always as common as other species in Europe. It gets its name because the female can lay eggs, but will also hatch her eggs internally and then give birth to live young, like mammals, an ability which allows this creature to live in much colder climates than other lizards. In fact, they can be found at the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. It’s very strange finding them on mountain tops, but apparently they’re able for the harsh conditions. And they had a great view:

From a viewpoint like this lizards can see their main enemies coming - birds-of-prey such as the Kestrel.
From a viewpoint like this lizards can see their main enemies coming – birds-of-prey such as the Kestrel.

After climbing to the highest point we began to descend to the Glenealo Valley above the Glendalough valley. Here we found much larger wildlife:

A feral goat above Glendalough.
A feral goat above Glendalough.

There was a large herd of ‘feral’ goats. These animals have been living wild for centuries so ‘wild’ is probably a more accurate term for them. However, the goats were not alone, as nearby there were plenty of deer:

This would appear to be a pregant female, and she was quite large. Deer in the Wicklow Mountains are mostly crossbreeds between native Red Deer and Japanese Sika, both of which are classed as seperate species, but are genetically the same species, which is why their offspring are fertile.
This would appear to be a pregant female, and she was quite large. Deer in the Wicklow Mountains are mostly crossbreeds between native Red Deer and Japanese Sika, both of which are classed as seperate species, but are genetically the same species, which is why their offspring are fertile.

From here we made the long, scenic descent to the floor of the Glenealo Valley and followed the long stoney trail to the very rear of Glendalough’s valley, which you can see here very well:

After crossing the handsome footbridge across the floor of the Glenealo Valley we followed the stream to the waterfalls dropping into Glendalough. You can see here where Glenealo terminates and Glendalough begins far below.
After crossing the handsome footbridge across the floor of the Glenealo Valley we followed the stream to the waterfalls dropping into Glendalough. You can see here where Glenealo terminates and Glendalough begins.

Just as we reached the bottom of the Glenealo Valley we spotted what appeared to be orchids next to the pools and streams, but the leaves were sticky and insects were lying dead on them – they were carnivourous plants:

Pinguicula - better known as Butterwort.
Pinguicula – better known as Butterwort.

There are three known species of Butterwort native to Ireland, and based on the leaves I suspect this one is Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) but I’ll need to return to see them in flower to be certain of the species. Believe it or not, but there are actually more than ten wild species of carnivorous plant in Ireland.

We still had a bit of walking to do before we got back to the Upper Car Park, which has its own security in summer, and costs €4 for the day, which is worth it for peace-of-mind, and to be certain of a parking place.  We saw, but failed to photograph a few bird species, namely the Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and the huge chortling Ravens spiralling above us. Sadly, this walk is beyond the capabilities of wheelchairs or mobility scooters, but some day in the future this might not be entirely the case. However, the valley floor of Glendalough is almost completely wheelchair accessible and there is always lots to see and photograph, not to mention the beautiful sounds and scents of the natural world.

Stags in Glendalough

If you want to see a really exciting wildlife spectacle then now is the time to visit Glendalough. Remember, even if you are in a wheelchair or on a mobolity scooter it is perfectly possible to witness this spectacular event. There is a charge of €4 to park a car in the security-protected car park, but there are toilets, etc. and it’s worth the peace of mind knowing your vehicle is safe.  Stags can be seen on the slopes towards the back of the valley, behind the Upper Lake, and they are fighting each other for the right to mate with the females. Bring binoculars, viewing scope or camera with a long zoom to get the best of it, but the naked eye can see a lot.  Check out this little video I made to give you a better understanding of what you will see:

Because the deer in Glendalough are hybrids some of the stags looks like Sika stags and some look like Red Deer stags and their sizes vary. For example, here is one that appears to be a classic Sika stag:

Sika stags have much shorter antlers than Red Deer, and are much smaller animals.
Sika stags have much shorter antlers than Red Deer, and are much smaller animals.

And here is much larger one that seems to be a classic example of a Red Deer stag:

To all intents and purposes a classic Red Deer stag, with huge antlers.
To all intents and purposes a classic Red Deer stag, with large antlers, although this one has certain Sika traits.

And here is the upper part of the valley behind the lake:

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The deer are mostly visible on that opposite wall of the valley, and they are often hiding in plain site, so make sure to look and listen. It’s a big valley.

 

 

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.