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.
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.
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.
Last week I walked the Cliff Walk between Bray and Greystones and discovered that already many seabirds had arrived to begin the breeding season. Kittiwakes were on the cliffs closest to the sea surface and Fulmars had arrived in from the ocean to find nesting sites below and even above the pathway. However, I was most impressed by the Razorbills, which were fishing below the cliffs, moving in formation.
These birds look just like penguins, but are decent fliers too. In fact, they are closely-related to the original penguin, the Great Auk. which went extinct in the middle of the 19th century. As I proceeded along the path a seal moved along the cliffs at almost exactly the same rate, and appeared to be waiting, and would then mischievously dive beneath the waves when I attempted to take a photo. From the distance it appeared to me to be a Harbour Seal but it can be hard to tell.
The pathway was decorated by the white blossoms of Blackthorn trees and it is a great place to get close enough to the spiky Gorse bushes which are covered in bright yellow and beautiful blossoms. These blossoms have a subtle but quite strong scent. There’s something nostaligic about it and it fills the air along the path right now.
Today I witnessed one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I was walking along the beach after an extremely high tide (in fact, it was only just ebbing away) when I spotted an extremely fresh-looking mermaid’s purse. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s the name given to the egg-case of sharks, rays and skates. It does look like a little purse. But this one was different – a baby shark’s head was sticking out of it. It might have hatched too soon, prior to term, but I’m not sure as there are several factors and it depends on the species.
It was like a large pink tadpole, but with blue around its eyes. I thought it was dead, but suddenly it began sliding out of the egg-case even further, and then its little pectoral fins (the main fins at the sides of a fish’s body) began moving. I had already started taking my photo, and finished doing this, running down to the sea to get some badly need water over the dogfish’s gills.
These egg-cases tend to belong to smaller shark species. The smallest sharks are the so-called dogfish, now usually referred to (ironically) as cat sharks due to the fact that their eyes have elliptical pupils like the eyes of cats. In older times all sharks were known as dogfish on account of their carnivorous nature.