Tag Archives: sea

Still To See

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 (Carduelis carduelis) 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!

Spring Along The Cliffs

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.

Razorbills enjoying the sunshine below the cliffs of Bray Head.
Razorbills enjoying the sunshine below the cliffs of Bray Head.

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 seal which followed my journey along the cliffs. It's nose is quite blunt which means it's almost certainly a Harbour Seal, aka Common Seal. Ironically they're not as common as the larger Grey Seal.
The seal which followed my journey along the cliffs. It’s nose is quite blunt which means it’s almost certainly a Harbour Seal, aka Common Seal. Ironically they’re not as common as the larger Grey Seal.

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.

Gorse (aka Furze) blooming by the pathway on Bray Head. Spring is the time of the big blooming.
Gorse (aka Furze) blooming by the pathway on Bray Head. Spring is the time of the big blooming.

 

 

Birds at the Beach

Today was the fourth warm and spectacularly sunny day provided by a lovely weather system which made for one of the best May long-weekend’s I can remember. Temperatures have been skirting 20 degrees Celsius, and this has also had a remarkably calming affect on the sea. Today I found myself at the beach where Little Terns put on a fantastic display of their hunting agility for the many spectators there. These tiny seabirds were snatching fish, probably Sprat, as close as a metre from shore. Wicklow has officially the third largest breeding colony of Little Terns in the world, located at the Breaches of Kilcoole.

A Little Tern prepares to dive.
A Little Tern prepares to dive.

But terns were just the tip of the iceberg – early this morning there was a Red-throated Diver, and in the afternoon its place had been taken by Guillemots, which came much closer to shore.

A Red-throated Diver, a common sight along the Wicklow coast.
A Red-throated Diver, a common sight along the Wicklow coast.
A very beautiful 'bridled' Guillemot. There is quite a degree of pattern variation in this species.
A very beautiful ‘bridled’ Guillemot. There is quite a degree of pattern variation in this species. Note the water droplets on the head and back, which indicate just how waterproof those feathers must be.

Shortly after taking my photos, in the afternoon, I met another naturalist out taking photos. Paul Smith considers himself a ‘birder’ mainly, and as you can tell from the photo below, he carries the right equipment for ornithology.

Paul Smith keeping his eyes peeled on what proved a remarkable day for birdwatching.
Paul Smith keeping his eyes peeled on what proved a remarkable day for birdwatching. He told me he had been out birdwatching for the previous three days, and had the sunburn to prove it.

Paul was spotting birds I didn’t even notice. “Did you see the skua that just flew by?” he asked at one point, and I had definitely not seen it. He kindly sent me two of the bird photos he got while he was down at the beach today, including the skua I had missed.

An Arctic Skua, dark form, flying south just above the calm sea surface. It takes a sharp pair of eyes to spot a bird like this. (Photo by Paul M. Smith)
An Arctic Skua (dark form) flying south just above the calm sea surface. It takes a sharp pair of eyes to spot a bird like this. Skuas are ferocious predators of other birds, and known to injure people who get too close to their nests. They are remarkable predators, more like birds-of-prey than seabirds. (Photo by Paul M. Smith)

Paul also got an incredible shot of a Manx Shearwater before I arrived on the beach. These birds live at sea for most of the year, only coming ashore to breed. They are extremely clumsy on the ground, largely due to their feet being set very far back beneath their bodies, and therefore more suitable for propulsion in water than for walking on land.

Paul's remarkable shot of a Manx Shearwater skimming the waves. These birds soar mostly, and always just above the waves. A truly magnificent photo by Paul Smith.
Paul’s remarkable shot of a Manx Shearwater skimming the waves. These birds soar mostly, and always just above the waves. A truly magnificent photo by Paul Smith. Wildlife film-maker Colin Stafford-Johnson devoted almost an entire programme of his second Living the Wildlife TV series to these birds, which many people will no doubt remember.