Tag Archives: “Ice Age”

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.

Archaeology 101 continued…

Just outside the town of Bray, in north Wicklow,  there is an extremely interesting area of seashore where ancient tree trunks from the time of the Ice Age can be still be seen today sticking out of the seabed at low tide. These trees see to be the edge of a vast prehistoric forest extending beneath the Irish Sea. Such pertrified forests are visible along the Welsh and English coasts too. In recent years the BBC made a documentary about the nature of the islands of the British Isles and the first episode featured Alan Titchmarsh visiting the north beach of Bray at low tide to view a forest of these bizarre undersea tree stumps. It is believed that when the ice sheets of the last Ice Age melted, around 5500 BC, that the rising seas drowned the forests.

Ancient tree stump on Bray's north beach. The "moss" is actually a species of algae, Cladophora rupestris, that appreciates any good perch on the shore.

Because Bray is located at the mouth of a river, namely the Dargle, it is a good site to look for ancient archaeological remains. So I went along with my brother Owen, the archaeologist, and local historian Tom Loftus to glean the beaches below the cliffs to the north of Bray, on the border with Dublin county. The beaches are a mixture of shingle and sand, with tall sandy cliffs above them. These cliffs are collapsing by degrees, and as such there is always the possibility of finding ancient artefacts.

Tom and Owen discussing the archaeology while looking for artefacts on the beach below high tide level.

We were accompanied by a flock of Turnstones, which busily foraged for food among the pebbles before the tide rose too high. Cormorants were perched on the various rocks of the bay, and Common Terns attended juveniles learning the trade of sea fishing.

Turnstones - Arenaria interpres. Beautiful beach-combing birds that are almost impossible to see even when standing quite close to them, due to their fantastic camouflage. There are two in this photo, standing side-by-side.

On the return journey Owen found what he believed was very likely a Stone Age axe-head. Stone axe-heads have a very distinctive shape, and this particular stone, of red quartz, had many of the hallmarks of deliberate shaping by the hand of man. However, Owen is always cautious when it comes to lithics (stone objects), so he wanted to have a specialist archaeologist check out the find before pronouncing judgement.

Owen holding the possible Stone Age axe-head while standing where he found it. This photo also explains why Owen often wears a hat when pitted against sunny skies and rainy days.

Tom also made a very interesting find, which has still to be checked out: it seems to be a single fossilised vertebra. The bone, which still has to be identified as belonging to a particular species, was completely impregnated with limestone.
More on the possible hand-axe will follow shortly, including the specialist expert’s opinion.

I'm calling this the "Loftus Vertebra" in honour of Tom, its finder. This is a fossilised bone, seemingly a vertebra. The original bone is now heavily impregnated with limestone, possibly due to prolonged exposure to sea air. This very interesting item requires further study. It is 46mm across the middle from outer surface to outer surface.

More on Owen’s potential axe-head to follow soon…