Tuesday 22 October 2013

A Glimpse...

Taking a pot-shot, that there is a glimpse of something nice ahead.

My updated website is in progress with lots of nice new things.

...and in case you want to know where this is

Dromana Gate, Co. Waterford

Monday 21 October 2013

Life Goes On...

Even when something dies, it can still provide the nutrients for life to go on - as these Fairy Inkcaps (Coprinellus disseminatus) demonstrate.

These were just one of at least four different fungi growing on the old tree stump I pass daily in the park where I walk mutt. At around this time each year, I watch as they all miraculously burst into existence when the mild damp conditions occur. I have yet to identify this attractive fungi which also pops up on this same tree stump each year

Nothing in life is wasted, it seems. It just adds to the whole bigger scheme of things.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Sadness, Realisations and Hopes

The return from our holiday was not entirely met with joy, although that can be quite a normal post-holiday emotion. Sadly, this time, there were some realisations that have made the first few days back rather more painful than usual. Apart from the clear signs that we are now on the road to Autumn, there have been a few extra changes to address.

Mutt spent the whole of the first day back with the vet, undergoing lots of tests to find out why she appeared to have lost interest in going for walks whilst we were away. The long and short of it is she has arthritis in her back, which is no wonder she wasn't too keen to walk. We now face the prospect of regular anti-inflamatories and at twelve years old, suppose it is something that is to be expected but it is sad. Indeed, we all have realisations that things are catching up with us. Eyes and hands, essential tools of my trade, are both showing signs of wear and tear, which is rather sad. I can cope with a camera wearing out but... Then there have been issues. Realisation that some unexpected yet good happenings in life can't be held on to and which needed addressing with sadness. Some bright business ideas which seemed promising that haven't come to fruition and now need to move on. Also sad but things change.

So I picked probably the most dismal autumn day to take mutt (yes she has new bounce thanks to a few pills) for a walk in my favourite place to have a mull over everything.

In the two-plus weeks since I was last there, even the view from my spot had changed. Sad? Not really, as the field-edge clearance carried out by the farmer had opened up visibility on the deer ground. Here was a positive. Hopefully too, the rutting activity might still be in progress, which only an early morning visit will confirm.
Unfortunately, the blustery Autumn weather had targeted my hide, with fallen branches displacing the structure which has stood for a couple of years.

Sad? Not really. The fallen branches were ideal to repair the damaged hide and with a bit of tidying up, it is again ready for a (dry) morning visit. Another positive.
And what of the other issues? A visit to the optician is due and the glucosamine dose is being reviewed. It can be managed in a positive way. Letting go of some life happenings is hard to do, just as letting offspring go is hard, but all have left good memories and there would always be delight if they turn up. A positive.
Finally, business. There have been frustrations but now there are some exciting things in the pipeline and, as I mentioned a little while back, the website update is in progress, it is just hanging fire a little while longer in the hope of incorporating the new ideas.
Although there is sadness that things aren't forever, I am positive I can realise my hopes.
A deep breath and onwards...

So I'm not allowing the rot to set in just yet, It might only be Autumn but I am sensing Spring ahead!

Sunday 13 October 2013

Castlehaven GAA support 2013

Spot the difference!

(One picture was taken on arrival in West Cork, the other, on departure)

Apart from the difference in the weather, where the damp misty conditions of Saturday 5th October had made way for a bright sunny day (typically, just as we were leaving West Cork!), the main change was an allegiance switch indicated in flags and bunting. However, it was not as dramatic a swing you might think, as it is all for a massively dedicated following of GAA teams at different levels.
The red and white colours had been showing support for the Cork hurling team, who unfortunately lost out to Clare in the All Ireland Final
The blue and white now showing support for Castlehaven Gaelic football club who will be playing Nemo Rangers in the  Cork County Senior Football Championship Final of 2013.

This isn't the first time that our local Irish team have made it to the County final. In 2011, the massive presence of blue and white alerted me to the fixture, which unfortunately they lost. Then in 2012, they made it to the final again, this time coming out on top. And now there are high hopes for a repeat win, this time over the Cork city based team, with the throw-in at 3.45 this afternoon.

I just love the support everyone gives to these unpaid, dedicated and truly local sportsmen. You'd be hard pushed to find a foreign player in any of the GAA teams, and if there is, foreign would equate to the next parish but even that is frowned upon. I'm not big into sport but I really admire the community commitment in this fast paced game.

Good luck Castlehaven!


Congratulations Castlehaven - 2013 County Champions
(Castlehaven 0-16   1-11 Nemo Rangers)

Tuesday 8 October 2013

The Hunt for Whale October

Although reluctantly leaving this years fallow deer rut-watch back in East Anglia, I knew I wasn't going to be missing out on some of the nature spectacles that take place during October, as out here in West Cork the whale season has already kicked off. Having spectacularly enjoyed displays from humpback whales here in the past, I was looking forward to further encounters in this corner of the Atlantic, known as Celtic Sea. No need to travel to Iceland, America and the like, it all happens here on our doorstep.

When not in Ireland, I'm easily able to keep up to date with whale activity via the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
a conservation and research group, so I already knew that the humpbacks had returned to Irish waters this Autumn. Before Friday, they had last been observed off Slea Head on the Kerry coast, so hopes were high that they might have moved 'around the corner' to the waters within easy cruising distance from where we were to depart, at Castlehaven. As always, we were joining the enthusiastic Colin Barnes on the Holly Jo for one of the Cork Whale Watch trips, and wearing my IWDG hat as well as a visitors hat, I would be looking out for signs of any cetacean activity.

From Castlehaven Harbour looking towards the Stag Rocks

The weather had been less than favourable for whale watching for quite some number of days, so as the first trip out for a while, it would be anyones guess as to where to start looking for the whales. Leaving the shelter of the harbour, we made for the Stag Rocks, where shags, black backed gulls and hooded crows perched. The rocks around this landmark with a cleft secret, were unusually devoid of the basking seals which normally slipped into the water as we passed between its jagged fingers. Instead, they had moved to the tiny caves under the imposing rock which is Toe Head, to give birth to and look after their young, as it is also the breeding season for the grey seals.
Fluffy, creamy-white pups nestled at the back of the caves whilst the mums balanced on top of the exposed rocks, giving us a nonchalant wave as we passed by.

A little further west beyond The Stags, we got our first indication of possible activity. Diving gannets busied themselves as we motored closer.

As anticipated, there was associated activity. Diving gannets meant there were fish, and in this case also meant the presence of dolphins...

...and this was all going on in the now choppy waters beneath the headland we call home.

Short beaked common dolphins were bow riding the Holly Jo. Side by side, several mother and calf pairs fearlessly raced in front of the catamaran, whilst ahead of us, more of this pod of dolphins were swimming round and round to form a bait ball gannets and gulls alike taking advantage of this bounty.

As we watched from The Holly Jo, now bobbing engine-less along-side, two minke whales came in from the east. Excitement rose with this first encounter of the day with whales, that it might lead to a bout of lunge feeding. All cameras were focused on the fish/dolphin/bird frenzy waiting for a huge gaping mouth to come in and gulp down the lunch snack conveniently prepared by the dolphins.
And we waited.
Several times the minke swam up and around, seemingly eyeing up the menu but not once did they attempt a lunge at the bait ball. It appeared they weren't hungry enough to gatecrash this party.

As the tide turned, so did the Holly Jo following the 'big' news Colin had received, and we motored off eastwards.

As we drew nearer to the waters around Galley Head, we could see the small trawler belonging to the local fisherman who had called Colin to alert him to the presence of 2 or 3 fin whales, the second largest of all whales. Although reported as 'big' ones it can be surpringly tricky to spot the presence of these large whales, who have the ability to quickly cover larges areas. Twice we missed the tell-tale signs as another call came across that they were right in front of us. And then we saw it. A blow!

A wind-messed column of vapourised sea water lingered in the air long enough for us all to turn towards the area of potential action. Cameras were raised in anticipation but we had caught the last indicator of this latest surfacing and it would be another nine or ten minutes before they would be likely to surface again.

And so once again we waited, the sea conditions now becoming more difficult, with the little Holly Jo bobbing and rolling in the swell, and taking its toll on several of those on board. I breathed deeply, as I was determined not to miss this opportunity to observe these fin whales as I knew that my secret wish for a humpback sighting was going to be fruitless due to being just too early in the season.

Then there they were. A pair of large fin whales surfaced a few hundred metres in front of us. Shutters clicked away as the swell moved our viewing platform up and down, bringing the whales in and out of view. To capture any shot was going to be a bit of an achievement but I managed a run of four shots, the one above being 'the best of the day'.
You already know from previous posts that I am a realist when it comes to wildlife photography, and I know it can take years to achieve the perfect shots. Sadly, this fin image was a little too oblique to be able to use for identification purposes but I was just delighted that we had had this encounter with these impressive creatures. Delighted also, that after four fruitless whale trips over a number of years, himself had finally managed to observe whales too, and he was happy (if rather green).

By now, my sailing mates Stuge and Ron were doing everything in their power to keep me happy, and not wishing to push my luck any further, I settled myself down quietly on the bench behind the wheelhouse as we began to long roly-poly journey back. In my half asleep state, I was aware we had slowed, and thinking this was the harbour approaching, I paid little attention, only to find out later that there had been fin whales motoring alongside the boat just a few metres away.
You can't win them all!

After what seemed an age, my senses then went into overdrive, even with my eyes closed, I knew we had arrived at land - I could smell it! It was a smell I recalled from the very first time I sailed into Ireland nearly twenty years ago, and a smell I have smelled almost every time I have sailed in since then. For me, it is a comforting homely smell, for others, just the smell of muck-spread fields but on this particular day, it indicated the end of a successful trip to encounter these amazing monsters of the sea.

                                                                                 * * * * * *

If you would like to see fin whale action from the Holly Jo but don't have sea legs, then you are in luck!

BBC1 is currently airing a series called The Great British Year where it reveals a portrait of the dynamic nature of Britain over the course of one year. The final episode to be screened on 23rd October covers Autumn, and back last year, the film crew went aboard the Holly Jo with Colin, to capture the fin whale footage that will be shown (check out images 10 & 11)

Thursday 3 October 2013

Baltimore RNLI Open Day

It was a damp and miserable Sunday afternoon in West Cork for the special open day at Baltimore lifeboat station. Following a redevelopment at the station house, members of the public had been invited to visit the state of the art facility at Bull Point.
As Baltimore RNLI is one of the two stations I actively support, I couldn't miss this opportunity to take a look.

The original station house, built in 1915 had undergone a facelift...

...and a new face had been added during this 2013 redevelopment scheme, which also included a newly excavated berth adjacent to the station house, for the Tamar class lifeboat. The RNLB Alan Massey (no. 1 boat) had arrived in 2012, and had had to be temporarily berthed at the main Baltimore quay until this point. (Unfortunately, I failed to take a shot of the new facade as I was in rather a hurry to get inside out of the sea mizzle.)

The spick-and-span locker rooms had all been refitted with purpose-built spaces for each piece of equipment, and the crewmen had their own named space to hang their coat and boots. I was pleased to see that in the bottom of each 'wardrobe' there had been the thoughtful addition of a heater, to help dry out the kit. (I can't think of anything worse than having to put on cold, wet, smelly gear that hasn't dried out from the last shout)

I overheard that apparently, a particular crewman was likely to have "the smelliest boots" according to one visitor pointing out the uncle's kit to a little boy.

In a second locker room we were met by an initially disconcerting sight. It appeared there might be reposed beings hanging upside-down a-la-bat-style... but it was just the immersion suits hanging up to dry (including one extra-long suit).

The whole inside of the boat-house area had also had a spruce-up, with the signs from the past being retained.

The class 75 RNLB Alice and Charles (no. 2 boat) is contained inside this near 100 year-old building, under a lovely recently revitalised timber-clad ceiling.

A great vantage point over the rib from the crew-room, and normally a great view from the windows out over the harbour too. However, the view was obscured by the fog, which had been (and still is) lingering over this corner of West Cork. It would have to be the traditional charts to provide us with our bearings.

A couple of beautifully inscribed items also adorned the crew-room. One showing heritage...

...the other, generosity.

And of course, some very important accessories that should be found in any crew room! Judging by the view out through the window, the cosy, comfort touch would be very welcome.

Outside, in the rain, sat the all weather, RNLB Alan Massey.

Tucked away at the back, a surprise boat no. 3, and along with boat no.1, were on show to the visitors who braved the weather to climb aboard, where the waiting crew were on hand to give a guided tour.

Crew seat - with friend.

Seats for the rescued.

And tucked away behind a normally closed door, in the front of the boat, an essential seat! (...the head).

More essential equipment, down below decks.

A bit of technical spec...

...and the technical looking power-house for this beacon of salvation.

And what did I make of my visit to RNLI Baltimore and the RNLB Alan Massey?

It served to reinforce my admiration for this amazing service.
A service that needs our support.
A service that we should fight to save. (As is the Coastguard - and that is another issue)

Thank you RNLI