Tag Archives: Greystones

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 purseĀ  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!

Cliffs of Adventure

Right now is a great time to check out the cliff areas of Wicklow. The cliffs of Bray Head in particular are wildlife paradises of the first order, and in summer are the best places to see lizards and the fascinating Leaf-cutter Bee. But this time of the year they are dominated by seabirds, which come inshore to breed.

Looking north along the Cliff Walk where fragrant yellow blossoms of gorse can be seen at the moment.
Looking north along the Cliff Walk where fragrant yellow blossoms of gorse can be seen at the moment.

 

Looking south along the Cliff Walk towards Greystones. To get the best of the light it's a good idea to set off walking around 11.30 am, south from Bray to Greystones. This way you are moving with the sunlight.
Looking south along the Cliff Walk towards Greystones. To get the best of the light it’s a good idea to set off walking around 11.30 am, south from Bray to Greystones. This way you are moving with the sunlight.

Down near the sea there are Cormorants, Shags, Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Herring Gulls, and immense Great Black-backed Gulls.

Cormorants in breeding plumage, high on the cliffs, just below the Cliff Walk.
Cormorants in breeding plumage, high on the cliffs, just below the Cliff Walk.

Especially interesting are the Fulmars, which will ‘buzz’ you as you walk the cliffs, ensuring you don’t get too close to their nests. These seabirds are related to petrels and albatrosses, the so-called “tube-noses”, birds which have tube-like nostrils which look like spectacles perched on their beaks.

 

Fulmars perched on a ledge below the Cliff Walk, where they will rear their chicks. Both the adults and chicks are infamous for their projectile vomiting of foul-smelling oil, which is said to be virtually impossible to get out of clothing, so don't get too close to them.
Fulmars perched on a ledge below the Cliff Walk, where they will rear their chicks. Both the adults and chicks are infamous for their projectile vomiting of foul-smelling oil, which is said to be virtually impossible to get out of clothing, so don’t get too close to them.

The Cliff Walk is also a terrific place to see plant-life too. A particularly interesting plant that grows on the bare faces of the cliffs is a lush succulent called Navelwort, on account of the leaves looking like bellies with navels. The leaves also have a fleshy feel to them. This plant is also known as Sea Pennywort.

Navelwort growing on the hard shale of a cliff.
Navelwort growing on the hard shale of a cliff.

Also, as you move southwards along the cliff you will have terrific views of the town of Greystones and the coastline beyond.

Looking down on Greystones from the Cliff Walk. A beautiful scene.
Looking down on Greystones from the Cliff Walk. A beautiful scene.

As you gradually descend towards the town the landscape widens, there are high sand cliffs which are home to Sand Martins, and many other birds. This part of the walk is also a good place to see other African migrants that live along the Wicklow coastline in summer, including the Wheatear. Large numbers of Wheatears have just arrived this month.

A Wheatear waiting for me to approach and scare insects into the air, which will be deftly snatched by the bird.
A Wheatear waiting for me to approach and scare insects into the air, which will be deftly snatched by the bird.

Finally, while Ireland is not the warmest of countries, it is very important to remember to bring a hat, and/or sunglasses, and some sunblock would not be a bad idea either. One person got very severe third-degree burns on these cliffs while out taking photos with me a few years ago, and it was days before he recovered. A leisurely stroll, stopping to take photos, usually takes two-and-a-half hours to complete.

Yours truly on the Cliff Walk towards Greystones - note the hat, and the bag containing a bottle of water, among other things. It was not a particularly hot day, but still sunny enough to get burned, and the weather will only improve from now on.
Yours truly on the Cliff Walk towards Greystones – note the hat, and the bag containing a bottle of water, among other things. It was not a particularly hot day, but still sunny enough to get burned, and the weather will only improve from now on.