It’s the last full week of August now and many people would think summer was drawing to an end, but there are still plenty of wonderful wild things to see in Wicklow. If you look in the streams right now you have a very good chance of seeing Brown (Sea) Trout parr (sub-adults) (Salmo trutta) in the crystal clear waters. In fact, there are loads of them and they are very handsomely marked and coloured:
Also, due to the very balmy winter, subsequent early spring, and the fairly consistent summer we’ve had this year, many birds have had more than one brood of youngters. It would seem some have had as many as three broods. Here is a Goldfinch (Cardueliscarduelis) I saw feeding one of three fledglings which were moving through willow tree canopies with it.
Finally, keep an eye out for a lovely little bright red flower known as the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). This tiny flower opens and closes depending on the weather, and is famously used to predict coming weather as it will often open or close in advance of sun or rain, respectively. Most people will know the Scarlet Pimpernel as a swashbuckling hero of novels and films, but almost as many people are left wondering what a ‘pimpernel’ is exactly. Believe it or not it’s a very old Latin word for pepper – piperinella, which got modified over the centuries by the addition of an m. There is also a Bog Pimpernel and a Yellow Pimpernel, and, ridiculously, Scarlet Pimpernel can itself also be pink or royal blue in colour. However, it is mostly red in colour, as the name suggests. Anyhow, I personally feel a swashbucking hero going by the name ‘The Scarlet Pepper’ doesn’t really have the same ring to it, so long live Pimpernel!
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.
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:
The 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:
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:
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:
After climbing to the highest point we began to descend to the Glenealo Valley above the Glendalough valley. Here we found much larger wildlife:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.