Thursday 31 January 2013

Keeping an Eye on Things

Tomorrow will be the beginning of a new month. The month where traditionally the birds do their pairing up.
The month where there are fabulous opportunities to be had, out photographing the happenings in nature.
And do I want to be out there doing that? You bet!

However, there are happenings going on here at 'Ailec Towers' in the next month or two, and so you will have to forgive me if postings on my blog become a bit patchy. I will do my best to bring you anything fun, exciting and interesting of course but if you see nothing here, it's not because I don't want to share it with you, it is more a case of I just can't find a spare moment. All will become clear why in due course.

Just as this mother blackbird was keeping a beady eye on me today, for the next few weeks I will be keeping a motherly eye on some things too. Even so, I will have to pop up for air occasionally and I will certainly blog and give you all a wave whenever I can.
So, will you bear with me for a little while, please?
Thanks! I knew I could count on you and, as I know you are all so brill, I thought it was only polite to let you know about this temporary slow-up in advance.

Sunday 20 January 2013

...and Don't Pick Your Nose!

Sunday afternoon stroll.
A pied wagtail also went about his business

As the snow fell steadily late afternoon, the most was made of the extended reflected light
on Saffron Walden Common.

Watch out!

So embarrassing!

Mutt has put a de-paw-sit down on a new pad.

All just too much.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Frosty Cliché

I was trying to resist the temptation to post the cliché frost picture today, but hey!

It was so lovely to see mutt having fun out in the crisp fresh sunlight that I couldn't help but post this picture. For me, the colour palette is just perfect (thanks to the addition of a fellow walker's best friend!)

Wednesday 16 January 2013

2 Years!

These things have a habit of creeping up...

Yep, I've been blogging for two years!

Thank you everyone for putting up with my ramblings over that time. Now, who wants me to shut up and who would like me to carry on?

Tuesday 15 January 2013

A Whale of a Season

Humpback whale off the coast of West Cork

Firstly a quick mention to watch out tonight for Winterwatch 8 pm BBC 2.


Back at the start of December, Gordon Buchanan (of Polar Bear Family and Me. BBC 2) went out on the search for Humpback whales off the coast of South West Ireland. Here you will be able to see how he got on.

2012 has been a phenomenal year for whale activity down in West Cork, beginning with the incredible and unseasonal encounter I was fortunate enough to experience back in April, and when I joined a research trip with the IWDG out in the waters off Toe Head. Skippered by Colin Barnes, we spent an amazing day on board the Holly Jo. Colin, along with the IWDG have since been called on by the BBC several times this last year, to guide the film crews to the action, including this latest trip with Gordon Buchanan.

October had also been an eventful time, with film crews capturing some amazing cetacean activity. This, I believe, is scheduled to be shown next Winter in a BBC programme called Seasons.

Stag Rocks

At the beginning of November, we spent a brilliant afternoon with Colin up on Toe Head, looking out over the sea from Fastnet Rock in the far West, down on The Stag Rocks in front of us and round towards Galley Head to our East. We didn't know where to look first! Gannets were diving in their hundreds, the first indicator that there was masses of food.

Colin had observed that the Sprats and Herring were abundant, which also meant that the whales would be close behind. Sure enough it wasn't long before we were spotting the the tell-tale plumes from the blows as the whales surfaced, and the splash as the flukes hit the water.

Humpback whales, Minke and Fin whales were all easily spotted from the headland, as were the local fishing boats, also cashing in on the fish-rich waters.

Later in November, we all saw 'the' photograph in the papers and on TV, and famously on Have I Got News for You, of the whale breaching next to the boat full of whale-watchers looking the wrong way.

It was on the back of this amazing whale activity that the BBC returned with Gordon for this latest trip out on the Holly Jo. By this time, the whales had moved further East towards Cork, chasing the movement of their food and following the pattern they seem to follow each Winter, when they migrate along the South coast of Ireland up towards the South Eastern waters.

An ex-fisherman himself Colin understands the challenges and opportunities that the fishermen need to take to sustain a living. Equally however, on a conservation level, he has grown exceedingly alarmed of the seemingly indiscriminate 'hoovering-up' of the fish stocks in these particular waters, and which were seen to be plentiful in the eyes of the fishermen. Unfortunately, by taking out the newly re-established Sprats from the bottom of the food chain, it can have a knock-on effect. Both Sprat and Herring stocks were just starting to recover in the area. In turn, this may have drawn the whales back to the West Cork waters following a lean few years for the whale watching industry.

Both fishing and whale watching are legitimate industries in a shared resource, and as such, should work sympathetically alongside each other. If, in the future, we are to continue to enjoy the amazing spectacle of the whales in our local waters, (instead of travelling to America or Iceland) then there must be a much closer co-operation between all of the marine community. We must strive to protect our precious coastlines.

I will follow this with interest.

Humpback whale by the Stag Rocks

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Finally! The Sun Appeared.

It may 'only' have been the black-headed gulls that I was chasing with my lens down at Rosscarbery Estuary but I was just so delighted to be able to get out and about in beautiful winter sunshine yesterday. Having been bound by four walls since the New Year, due to the most miserable wet weather conditions, and being laid low with the winter lurg that has been doing the rounds, I feared I was going to come to the end of my current spell here in West Cork without one last outing. 

The Estuary behind the dunes at Warren Strand is a designated Natural Heritage Area, and it is where I am happy to while away many hours, particularly during the winter months, watching the stunning array of birds that make this area of water their seasonal home. I have posted from here before regards some of the wonderful visitors - Winter Bird Watch,  Parting Shot  However, it was to be the antics of one of the resident birds that was to catch my eye this time, as we drove down the west side of the emerging tidal mudflat.

Later, as the lengthening shadows of the hillside hit sea level, we climbed up the cliff path to catch the last rays of sun still shining over Rosscarbery. Whilst we sat resting on the cliff top in the still of the Winter afternoon, it gave me time to reflect on the special family time we had just shared over the past couple of weeks and it reminded me of the many happy holidays we had enjoyed in West Cork as our family grew up. All the hours they spent playing either on Warren Strand, Long Strand or Red Strand, each stretch of sand looking out towards Galley Head.
Visible from the cliff top, the Galley Head Lighthouse was lit up in the afternoon sunshine and had become a familiar landmark to us as we had sat and watched them at play back then.

Happy times!
How fortunate then, to be able to return to this beautiful and peaceful corner of Ireland to recharge our batteries for this past Christmas and New Year holiday.
When I return to the normalities of my desk in the next couple of days, I will return refreshed, and rearing to go, and that is what a good holiday is all about.
Now I am set up for everything that 2013 has in store.

Bring it all on!

Oh, and I look forward to winging my way back to West Cork again sometime, soon.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Lugworms (Arenicola marina)

Have you ever wondered what those little 'walnut whip-like' sandy heaps are on the beach?
OK, so you possibly know they are produced by a worm but which worm and what do they look like?
On a damp January day, we set out to investigate.

Having checked the local beach bylaws as best we could, we found no apparent restrictions on digging on the nearby strand. Our digging was not to be for collecting bait though, and which is the more regular reason for disturbing these casts made by the lugworm, as it is the preferred bait for cod fishermen. In the past and during the plentiful years of cod angling, my other half had on occasions, dug lugworm for bait. This time, it was a curiosity question by the eldest that prompted the latest venture with a spade.

You might have on occasions, seen a band of workers armed with forks and a bucket, down on the beaches, busy stooping at the low tide mark. These would be the bait diggers after the fat lugworms, either for their own use, or digging for commercial use. This practise, if not managed properly though, can lead to environmental and sustainability problems, (as highlighted here by the Marine Bio Organisation)

"Lugworms are harmless and often an angler's preferred bait for fishing cod... Such bait digging by sport fishermen is widespread in Britain and it is estimated that 75% of the members of the National Anglers Council in the UK dig their own bait. It has been shown that it takes at least a month for a dug-out area of lugworm beach to be repopulated near to its original density (McLusky, 1983)."

However, this time, we were just after one specimen of these useful sand re-oxygenators and food source for birds, such as the curlew. By understanding the habits and taking care where to dig, chances of damaging the worm with the spade were minimised. They live in a u-shaped burrow with a depression visible in the sand at the head end and the familiar cast at the tail end, created when the worm expels the sand after removing the useful organic content. 
Needless to say, mutt looked on, desperately wanting to help out with this search.

It wasn't long though, before we had our first fat lugworm, which can take up to six years to mature to full size. Sexual maturity comes at about 2-3 years with spawning happening at low tide, for only a couple of days during a two week window in October / November. After developing for a while in the female burrow, the larvae are washed to the firmer areas of the sand and continue to grow until they are mature enough to be washed back to the wetter sand where they can start to burrow. Each year as they grow, the worms move further towards the low tide line, which is where the mature worms are found.

The body of the lugworm is segmented with bristles being present on the middle section along with the gills. Like some reptiles, lugworms have the ability to re-grow their tail, part of the useful method of self defence.

After this investigative lesson, our specimen lugworm was returned to the beach where, in the space of two minutes, it dug its way back into the sand.
The spade holes were filled in and it was left to the tide to continue the daily pattern of life.

Another lesson well enjoyed.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Rineen Woods- Fairy Village

New Year's Day 2013 in West Cork, opened as a glorious, bright, calm and sunny morning. This was an instant invite for a reviving walk with mutt, options being either a blast along the strand or a peaceful walk in the woods. Today, the chosen location was the woods at Rineen, with the haunting calls of the curlew providing the magic extra. Or was there something else doing that?

Many times I have walked the leafy, estuary-side paths of this delightful escape and every time I have failed to spot the subject of what has been a frequent local topic of conversation. Until today, that is. Opinions are divided when it comes to the appearance of the fairy houses, which vary from full blown Sylvanian-style cabins, to Hobbit-hole doors that nestle into the tree roots within a small area of the woods.

All I can think is that someone has taken great pleasure in building up this little village for the tiny people, which also has national notoriety and in turn, provides pleasure for children who visit the woods.

For me, Rineen is just a magical place to walk at any time.