Tag Archives: scenery

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.

Spring on the Cliffs

Early last week, when the weather started to warm up and get sunny as a spring should be, I decided to walk the Cliff Walk between Bray and Greystones, starting in Bray and ending in Greystones. It was a very misty but beautiful day for it nonetheless.

A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.
A beautiful day on the Cliff Walk, looking north in this photo.

However, no sooner had I started the walk than I was surprised to see a big flock of Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs. Normally they would be well on their way to their summer breeding grounds, far to the north, by now.

A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.
A flock of beautiful dark Brent Geese flying south along the cliffs of Bray Head.

The strange thing was that not only did I see geese, but there were no Barn Swallows (our only species) or even Sand Martins arrived from Africa yet. I expected to see at least one. In fact, I didn’t see my first swallow until two days ago, and only one at that. Yesterday I saw another two flying fast along the beach from south to north. They are definitely late this year. But on the cliffs last week breeding season was already well under way, with many seabirds staking their claims for nest sites on the cliff ledges.

Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach those ledges.
Nesting colonies of seabirds are often very mixed. Here you can see Herring Gulls (our most common species of gull) and penguin-like Razorbills on the dangerous cliff ledges. Unlike penguins Razorbills are well able to fly, which is they only reason they can reach these ledges.

I was especially glad to see that the Fulmars had returned. These gull-like petrels spend most of their lives far out at sea, returning to shore only briefly, to nest on the cliffs. By June you will be lucky to see one, let alone get a good look at a Fulmar. They can be currently seen nesting both above and below the Cliff Walk on cliff ledges. Be very careful if leaning over to observe them. And don’t get too close either – they are known to projectile vomit a stinking liquid at anyone who they feel may pose a threat, and I’m reliably informed it doesn’t wash off.

Love birds - a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.
Love birds – a handsome couple of Fulmars nesting on a ledge below the Cliff Walk. If you want to get a photo of this lovely species, now is your chance.

December Chill

As the days now get very short it is becoming chilly and frosty in Wicklow, especially on higher ground. But as often happens at this time of year there are spectacular sunsets in the evenings, weather permitting, such as this one a few days ago.

The palm-like tree visible to the left is a cordyline, known as Cornish Palm, although not actually a palm tree at all. These hardy trees originate from New Zealand where they are known as Cabbage Trees due to the resemblance of their trunks to the stems of cabbage plants.
The palm-like tree visible to the left is a cordyline, known as Cornish Palm, although not actually a palm tree at all. These hardy trees originate from New Zealand where they are known as Cabbage Trees due to the resemblance of their trunks to the stems of cabbage plants.

A sure sign of the colder weather is the behaviour of birds. Blackbirds and Robins in particular become much less shy and will allow you get closer to them with a camera, possibly as part of a policy of using as little energy as is necessary in order to stay warm.

A male Blackbird allows me to come within arm's reach of him, which makes for a great photo opportunity.

A male Blackbird allows me to come within arm’s reach of him, which makes for a great photo opportunity.

Now that the berries on the trees have all been eaten by the birds they have to try and get food from wherever they can. I usually leave some apples out for them, as even insectivorous birds like the Blackbird above will gladly partake of free fruit.

When birds eat apples they usually leave the skin and core intact, as in the case of this one.Mammals usually eat the skin too, as they have teeth to tear it more easily than birds' beaks.
When birds eat apples they usually leave the skin and core intact, as in the case of this one.Mammals usually eat the skin too, as they have teeth to tear it more easily than birds’ beaks.