Day 4 – it just keeps getting better. After a leisurely breakfast with namesake Damaris Lysaght, she introduced us to the delights of Barley Cove. An extensive dune and species-rich grassland system that is alive with insects at this time of year. We spent way too long here wandering through the dunes seeing a good variety of butterflies, including Dark-green Fritillary, Gatekeeper and Wall which we don’t get in Kilkenny, and also beautifully fresh Small Copper, Common Blue and Small Tortoiseshell. Also saw another Clouded Yellow.
The grassland here are very species-rich – Lady’s Bedstraw, Pyramidal Orchid, Sea Holly, Sand Pansy and Wild Thyme adding great splashes of colour. The Knapweed was alive with Six-spotted Burnet moths, the ragwort was covered with caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth and, then, a hummingbird hawk moth appeared feeding on a patch of knapweed. This species is on my 10 species wishlist for the tour, so delighted to see it. One down, only nine more to go.
Being shown the caterpillars webs of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, Ireland’s only legally protected insect, was an added treat. They are surprisingly difficult to find, but Damaris is well experience and found about 10. Seems to be a good year for Marsh Fritillary at Barley Cove this year. The dunes were full of juvenile Wheather, Meadow Pipit and Skylark also. We lingered way too long at this site, before heading to Brow Head, the most southerly point of mainland Ireland, for a quick picnic and the chance of seeing a Basking Shark. No Basking Shark but a family party of the majestic Chough fly low over head, their red bill and legs clearly visible.
The afternoon took me across the Mizen Penisula and onto Sheep’s Head. A severe climb after Kilcrohane took me to a fantastic vantage point where I could see all the surrounding land. The view northeastward back towards Bantry was stunning, with the green of the small fields contrasting with the blue estuary against the backdrop of the Iveragh Penisula. Raven calling overhead completed the picture. The cycle on to Glengarriff was longer than expected, and I covered almost 120km for the day and climbed 1,200 metres. It felt more, and I was glad to get to the B&B (Beer & Bed) before the rain arrived.
Day 3 finished and what a magnificent day we had. It started with us meeting up with Colin Barton who led the way cycling with me from Clonakilty to Galley Head. Colin maintains a Galley Head birding blog and knows the area like the back of his hand. The sun was shining and the visibility was clear, and landscape was stunning; it doesn’t get much better than this. Met up with Ciaran Cronin and Mark Carmody near Galley Head lighthouse and spent an hour or so just looking out to sea, and having a good chat. Interesting that both Ciaran and Colin get quite a bit of work from the JNCC, a UK State Agency, as they are skilled seabird surveyors. Galley Head is a well known bird watching site, at this time of year for seabirds and later for migrants. Thousands of shearwaters, petrels and skuas pass along the Atlantic at this time of year, and if there is a south-westerly wind it pushes these birds on-shore, and the passage of thousands of birds can be seen. Even rare petrels that breed in small numbers in the Azores and Cape Verde Island can be seen here. But today, there was no breeze so we had to contend ourselves with what else we could find. And that wasn’t bad, Fin and Humpback Whales, dolphins and porpoises. The lads claim they saw Basking Shark about an hour before we arrived (typical) Spotted my first Clouded Yellow of the year here too, and a peregrine overhead was an added bonus.
Colin continued with me cycling along the coast, passing through some really beautiful scenery. All the little bays and coves here are picture-postcard with the yacht-strewn harbours framed beautifully by the surrounding wooded cliffs. The vivid yellow flowering Montbretia and the deep red and purple Fuschia giving the area a Mediterranean feel.
Called into Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve and the surrounding wooded Knockamagh Hill. The roads were thronged with cars on this Bank Holiday so we didn’t linger.
Colin and I parted company at Skibberreen, he going east and I going west onto the heather and heath covered hills around Skull. Spent a lovely evening with artist and namesake, Damaris Lysaght, in the peace and tranquility of her home near picturesque Ballydehob. Managed to see plenty of Gatekeepers flying about her garden.
Completed day 2 of Wild Ireland Tour – taking me from Whitegate to Courtmacsherry. Began the day at Roches Point where we met Paul Whelen of Lichen.ie and Biology.ie fame. Paul introduced us to some of the characteristic lichens of the area including Ramalina cuspidata, Caloplaca marina and Lichina pygmaea – all a mystery to me, I have to admit.
But Paul has managed to tackle this difficult group and has completed the first systematic survey of lichens of rocky shores. We also talked about biological recording and what spurred him on to develop the Biology.ie recording facility. Having an early background in education highlighted for him the need to have IT supports like Biology.ie and Lichen.ie.
Next we called to the Coastal & Marine Research Centre in Haulbowline to meet Damien Haberlin and hear about the fascinating world of jellyfish. He tells us there is still a great deal to learn about the ecology and behaviour of jellyfish. And the aquaculture industry is interested in this, because jellyfish can destroy millions of euro of farmed salmon, something which has happened sporadically over the years. Interesting to hear they were geared up to tag some jelly fish this year in Cork Harbour but the usual swarms didn’t occur this year, so they are looking to carry out the research elsewhere. Absolutely stunning setting for a marine research centre – there were a dozen or so Common Seals hauled out on the slipway just beside the bridge as we passed.
It was off then along the Cork coast taking me past some small, beautifully lush coves and bays, many with tiny settlements looking out onto the beautiful blue Atlantic – idyllic setting on a sunny day like today.
They say that cycling is the best way to experience the unfolding landscape; certainly is as you see it with your eyes and feel it in your legs. Headed into a stiff north-westerly all afternoon so was glad to arrive to Courtmacsherry and to the wonderful hospitality of Peter and Fran Wolstenholme.
Ended the night by hearing about some of the wonderful wildlife of west Cork and having a tour of Peter’s stunning paintings, influenced by his love of the landscape and knowledge of wildlife.
Today’s cycle took me from Carriganore, Waterford to Whitegate in Co. Cork, a distance of approximately 140 km. It is approximate, for the fact that the battery on my Garmin gave up the ghost before I did today.
Arrived at the Data Centre to a nice surprise of all my colleagues with their bikes and dressed in special Wild Ireland Tour t-shirts to accompany me on the first leg of the tour to Fenor Bog. Mind you, one quipped that it was extraordinary the lengths that they would go to, to get out of the office for a few hours! So off we went to Fenor Bog to meet with Stan Flynn and Des Cowman to tell me about the tremendous community-led project at Fenor where they bought and manage Fenor Bog, a valuable alkaline fen nestled in behind the church. It was fitting that this was the first stop as it is an excellent example of how you would like to see nature conservation happen, embedded in the local community with advice from a scientific NGO, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.
The first part of the cycle proper route took me along the rolling roads of the Copper Coast, to Ardmore Head. The terrain was tough, tougher than I expected; a succession of short but steep climbs out of the many coves scattered along the coast here, some of these inclines up to 12%. Not ideal terrain for trying to make up time as I felt I was running behind schedule. I certainly agree that cycling is a wonderful way to experience the unfolding landscape; you see it with your eyes and feel it in your legs. Was glad to stop at Ardmore to take a break, and to meet with Tomás Murray at this very rich heathland. The heath, heather and gorse covered headland is amazingly rich site for insects, as the dry crumbly soil provides nesting habitats and the abundance of flowers rich feeding. He told us all about the mysterious world of our social insects, and Bella was even overheard saying that she found them fascinating. (She also said that Tomás should work as a teacher as he was so good at explaining things – but I won’t tell him that, as we don’t want to lose him form the Data Centre!). Tomás needs to check identification, but he might have made an exciting discovery! The second half of the journey was far easier as the roads were better, and less undulating. Picked up the pace quite a bit, and cycled through nice quiet countryside on my route to Whitegate. This is rich farming land with little semi-natural habitat. But the rich banks and hedgerow make up for it at this time of year, a riot of diversity and colour.
Everyone seems to have bucket lists, or wish lists these days. Not to be outdone, there are ten species that I hope to see during my month long Wild Ireland Tour. Some I have seen before, other I have not. Regardless, all are special and a privilege to see. So my wish list, in no particular order is: Continue reading 10 species on my wish list→
I spent the last 7 months preparing for this tour, getting the base miles done so that I am fit enough to cover the distance, but equally importantly, so that I can enjoy the trip. The structure of the training was fairly straightforward based around three elements, namely; getting out consistently, increasing the mileage gradually, and getting some long spins completed as regularly as possible. Continue reading Training details→
Much of the planning for the Wild Ireland Tour is complete. The intention is to cycle around the coast of Ireland, stopping off at some of Ireland’s most special wildlife sites and meeting up with people who have a story to tell about different aspects of wildlife. The trip is structured around profiling two, or sometimes three places or people each day. The choice of sites to visit and people to meet is a personal one, reflecting my knowledge of the countryside, and my friends and colleagues. But I have not had the opportunity to meet many of these people in the field, in their own habitat, so this will be very much a journey of exploration for me too. I already know that there are many other people that I will meet as I travel around the country, so expect the odd surprise guest appearance. The journey should weave a rich tapestry of places, personalities and issues, to create a different perspective on Ireland’s priceless natural heritage. Continue reading People and Places along the route→
The Wild Ireland Tour will take Bella and I through some of the most special landscapes and wildlife sites in north-western Europe, and all of them on the island of Ireland. Planning the route for the tour was the easy part as I decided early on to keep to the most coastal route. However, trying to decide on which sites to visit and who to meet along the way proved more difficult.
When looking at where the route takes us I realise that it presented an embarrassment of riches. There is a fabulous diversity of wildlife sites right around the coast, each with its unique features. And many excellent conservationists, scientists and local communities who are doing tremendous work to help protect wildlife. So even early on in the planning for the tour, it was an encouraging realisation to make that there is a lot happening out there. Continue reading Planning the route→
It was in the depths of winter when I reflected on what I wanted to achieve with my cycling in 2014. 2012 and 2013 were both fairly aimless years for me; cycling 4 or 5 days per week with a long club spin or sportive on the weekend, and a winter interrupted by surgery. Plenty of cycling but nothing really structured and no overall goals. So 2014 was going to be different. I was going to set myself a challenge to work towards.
Why I decided on the challenge to cycle around the entire island of Ireland, I’m not quite sure. Probably because it is just about do-able provided I got the training in. And rather than going off to cycle in exotic places, I felt there was plenty to explore around the coast of Ireland. Continue reading The cycling challenge→
I’m a conservationists. Being a conservationist is not the easiest job in the world. Not because the weight of the world is on my shoulders, angst ridden over how I and the rest of humanity is destroying the planet. No, but because conservation is rarely understood and conservationists are all pigeonholed as a stereotype. Even my daughter prepared conversation topics about her ‘Engineer’ father for her Leaving Certificate oral exams, as trying to explain what a conservationists does in Irish and French (or in English for that matter) was too tall an order.