Interesting Observations in Nature

Being out and about walking really gives you the chance to observe some interesting things in nature. There is a whole world out there that you may not be aware of and which, if you are willing to dedicate some of your time, can be observed. 

As a rule of thumb, if you want to actually observe nature, as opposed to simply traversing it, spend at least 50% more time doing a walk than the ‘guideline’ completion time. So if you’re on a, say, 3 hour loop walk, take it easy and aim to complete in, maybe, 4 1/2 hours. 

Mother Red Squirrel and Baby 

A while back, in south Mayo, I was unbelievably lucky enough to witness a mother Red Squirrel carrying her young in her mouth. As she was on her way, presumably moving her young from one safe spot to another, she came across me on a forest track. I was crouched down, having heard her approaching through the fern undergrowth. We mutually observed one another for over a minute, until she continued across the track and on her way through the thick vegetation. I decided not to try to pull out the camera, afraid I might spook her. 

Sheep and Fox 

Look at the photos below. I came across this scene near a cliff top in north Mayo. Given that I approached from down wind, the fox did not seem to notice me for several minutes. This beautiful hunter was 2 metres away from the sheep in the picture, with an additional 3 sheep, including one lamb, no more than a further 2 metres away, just out of shot. Eventually, I needed to continue on and was the first to make a move. The sheep and fox then scampered away, but the former didn’t seem in the slightest bothered by the latter’s proximity. 

 

Dead Shrew 

I found the unfortunate dead Pygmy Shrew, below, the other day. Shrews are absolutely tiny, aren’t they ? 

Pygmy Shrew

Pygmy Shrew

  

  

  

 

 

 

Cuckoo 

This year I seem to have heard healthy numbers of Cuckoo. But just last weekend, I saw not one, but two of these difficult to spot birds from Africa. Both were observed on telephone wires, both above bogs next to plantation forests, both during the early afternoon on quite warm days, both in NW Mayo, but in different spots.

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Conall Brutally Killed

Conall, barely 10 months old, was recently found brutally killed in the mountains of the Sligo Leitrim border.

Not the first child of his kind to have his short life savagely ended in this disgusting way, serious questions must be asked of the supposed law enforcement authorities in this country and of those charged with the care of such a young male.

How can people who poison the likes of Conall still be out there, rather than in prison, where they clearly belong ? How many people are there willfully poisoning their neighbours in this fashion ? How difficult can it really be to apprehend and punish severely those who willfully poison others ?

The communities in which this type of scandalous act of killing occur, whether Sligo, Leitrim, Kerry, or wherever, are small. Johnny knows Mick and Mick knows Billy. Get out and catch them and spare our society these criminals, who have no compassion, much less love, for those we share this island nation with.

But more questions :

How can Scotland and Norway continue to send their children to our shores, to be put up against this wanton destruction ? How can their governments allow the exporting of their defenceless sons and daughters to another country where, seemingly, nothing or not enough is done to protect them ?

Shame on Scotland. Shame on Norway. Most of all, shame on Ireland. I am disgusted by all three of you.

Read more here. And here.

Leave No Trace + Geocaching + Kettle

Altaconey River, Nephin Beg mountains.

Altaconey River, Nephin Beg mountains.

I was up the Altaconey River in the Nephin Begs last Sunday with my Kelly’s Kettle, having just located a pretty easy geocache nearby. Feeding small twigs into the kettle, I began to wonder what Leave No Trace’s (LNT) opinion might be of both the kettle and geocaching as a pasttime. 

I was confident of what LNT would say about the Kelly’s Kettle and other similar products, for the simple reason that I use it properly and do not leave a trace behind me. 

Use it properly ? What does that entail ? Well, I don’t break twigs or pine cones off trees, but use what is already on the ground. And I don’t lie the kettle on ground that might get burned or scorched, but use rocks or sand, where there is some. And I don’t discard the burnt materials afterwards, but pack them away. 

I was much less sure about geocaching. Why ? Because, even if I come across a geocache, pay my respects, maybe do a swap of what’s in it for something new, nevertheless, this is still a (typically) plastic item in the natural environment – an imposter, if you will. 

So here is the reply I got from Boulder, CO, USA, with which I’m happy : 

———————————————- 

Hello,
Thank you for your inquiries via Twitter.  In reference to your Kelly’s Kettle question:

This is similar to the http://www.zzstove.com/, which is a stove that uses natural combustible material (pine cones, twigs, leaves, etc.) and burns them in a very controlled way. It’s essentially like a fire in a can. 


Our position is that as long as it’s used in accordance with local land manager regulations, it’s both safe and responsible to have a fire (i.e. an open flame even if contained) and there are appropriate and readily available fuel sources, then we have no issue with this stove. Our only additional recommendation would be to follow our standard guidelines about minimizing campfire impacts since this device utilizes open flame. 
Regarding geocaching (from our FAQ page – http://lnt.org/aboutUs/FAQs.php#geocaching):

WHAT IS THE CENTER’S STANCE ON GEOCACHING?
 

The Center views geocaching as a fun and worthwhile recreational pursuit when done in accordance with land management agency regulations and with Leave No Trace in mind. As the popularity of geocaching has exploded over the past few years, land managers in many areas are seeing more impacts related to geocaching. However, because of geocaching, more and more people are enjoying the outdoors. Both people placing caches and people seeking caches need to research current regulations on geocaching for the areas where they wish to partake in this activity. 

The Center also has geocaching-specific information https://store.lnt.org/teach> .

Thanks again for your questions.  We appreciate the dialogue.

All the best,

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
PO Box 997
Boulder, CO 80306
P:  303.442.8222 X109
F:  303.442.8217
http://www.LNT.org
http://www.leavenotracecommunity.blogspot.com
 

Apathy – The Greatest Threat to our Environment

This is an article written by Michael Neal * in the US.

” So what do you think is the greatest threat to the environment?

We hear a lot about climate change, overfishing, mercury in the air and water – and that’s just what was in today’s paper. All are valid concerns, but I believe one other threat, if not the greatest threat, is the apathy of future generations.

Why are future and even present generations apathetic to the threats to the environment? Is there a disconnect when kids (and adults) aren’t exposed to the outdoors? Without this exposure, kids don’t learn to see the beauty or feel a connection to the outdoor world. Let’s go back in time for a moment.

Thirty-five years ago, (ancient history for the younger readers and just yesterday for those that are a bit seasoned by time) kids, like me, played outdoors. We wandered through fields, built forts in the woods, caught frogs in ponds. Many of us had relatives who took us fishing. We were immersed in the natural world. Spending so much time outdoors, we connected with nature. Even if we weren’t actually studying the environment, we were absorbing an inner sense of it. Fishing, for example, actually laid the groundwork for many becoming conservationists and researchers.

Today, the majority of children don’t have that same connect with nature. We, as a society, are taught to keep our kids safe. It would be wrong to let a child wander through the woods alone or to go fishing in the pond by themselves. It is much safer to have them come home after school, come in the house, watch TV and play on the computer.

Maybe you’re thinking, “this is not me, I take my kids fishing and boating.” Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir but we need more converts. I take out thousands of children of many ages for short eco-tours. It is amazing. When I have young kids on the boat they almost all have an interest in the outdoor world and what lives in it, but as they get older that interest wanes.

When I talk to older kids who do have a greater interest, I find their parents are usually avid outdoors people.

We will only protect what we love and we will only love what we know. We have to get children outside. We need to support scouting organizations that encourage outdoor recreation. We need to support school systems that make the outdoors a classroom. Beyond supporting, we also need to be involved.

If you have children, get them involved. Boating, fishing, sailing, exploring; we can’t rely on schools and organizations to teach our kids about the outdoors, kids need to enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t have kids, then look around. Do you have extended family you can take out? Do you have neighbours you can share this outdoor world with?

We are bombarded with messages of despair about the problems with our environment. Many people have gotten involved and work valiantly to affect change. Many of us are tired and a bit worn out from our everyday lives and don’t have the time to protest the deforestation of the jungles of Brazil. We can, though, make the time to get a child outdoors. The feeling of joy you receive when a child sees a dolphin for the first time or catches their first fish is amazing.

Perhaps the child who feels a connection to the outdoors will become the scientist who figures out the answers to climate change, overfishing and mercury in the water and air. Make the time to make a difference to a child and perhaps the world. ”

I could not agree more with what Mike writes.

* Michael Neal is the owner / operator of Bull River Cruises, in Savannah, Georgia, USA. See www.bullriver.com

Schizophrenic Coillte

I regularly bring groups walking on Coillte managed land. Although virtually exclusively non-native afforestation, nevertheless these habitats do support a range of wildlife and afford good long off-road walking routes. You can ‘get lost’ in these huge conifer plantations, forget about the world outside for a while and enjoy the fresh air. 

If lucky, you might spot Kestrel, Merlin, Red Deer, Pine Marten, Otter, Red Grouse and small birds, like Coat Tit, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pipits, etc. These are not the ‘dead zones’ some would like us to believe. Low in biodiversity they are, but ‘dead’ they certainly are not.

I wrote a reasonably positive blog entry some weeks back about the good native forest restoration work ongoing under the EU-Life project. While I know that positive work is currently being done in places like Clonbur Wood and other sites, I also know that very little good is being done on the so-called Millenium Forest at nearby Tourmakeady Wood, where the site is severely infested with Rhododendron. A decade back, Coillte brazenly declared on the signage within Tourmakeady that the Rhododendron was to be eradicated. Nothing of the sort has happened.  

I am a pragmatist who realises that commercial conifer plantations play a role in Ireland’s rural economy and that the state-owned Coillte is not going to stop its main business any time soon. I avail of their open door policy to walkers, cyclists and so on and appreciate that.  

My gripe, however, has more to do with the way it behaves itself. While on the one hand waving its flag about Clonbur et al, on the other hand it seems to have abandoned Tourmakeady.  

Eskeragh, North Mayo

Eskeragh, North Mayo

On Wednesday, I visited another restoration project, this time at Eskeragh, north Mayo. This EU-Life project is about blanket bog restoration. Here, Coillte openly admits to having virtually destroyed the natural habitat, through drainage and conifer planting in the 1980s. It has removed the conifers, blocked up drains in order to allow the site to waterlog once more and has even installed a nice attractive boardwalk with accompanying explanatory panel for visitors. 

Good for them, I hear you cry. 

However, no more than a few kilometres away, I then visited a vast plantation at Carrowkilleen / Carrowgarve. Here, you see the ‘real’ Coillte at work, away from the PR and the public.  

Felling has recently taken place here on a vast scale, far greater than what might be considered reasonable. The destruction is terrible, leaving a landscape of mangled tree stumps, broken branches, churned up ground, compromised water quality and heavy machinery tracks. I hear you say “well, that’s the price you pay for commercial forestry on a large scale”. I reiterate that it does not have to be on such a massive scale all at once.  

The problem here is wanton environmental damage being perpetrated at these sites. I found this upturned drum of gearbox oil dumped in a water channel. You can clearly see that the spout is open. Further along, Pipits and Wagtails dipped their beaks in oil-polluted puddles. A large tyre was dumped in another water channel. This is disgraceful behaviour and demonstrates clear disregard for the environment Coillte claims to care for at other sites.  

So, Coillte, go ahead with your commercial non-native plantations, but why not carry out your business in a responsible and environmentally respectful manner. Oh yeah, and give us more native broadleaves. Oh yeah, and hand over your bogland and forest restoration project sites to an independent body that might actually care and be focussed on sustainability, environmental care and biodiversity.  

Birds Recently Spotted

Winter can be a great time for bird watching in the West of Ireland. Here are three of the more interesting birds I’ve seen recently.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

This bird does not ‘belong’ in Ireland, let alone the West. However, as I was driving south through Galway and its terrible floods the other day, a large white bird caught my eye in a flooded field at Kilcolgan. I stopped and observed the Great White Egret for 10 minutes, before continuing on my way. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, so here is a picture from the UK’s RSPB website.

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Geese

North West Mayo carries internationally important numbers of this bird during winter, when they migrate south from Greenland. I saw five recently at Blacksod Bay, but, again, didn’t have my camera. The Iniskea Islands hold very large numbers of these during winter. Note the pale white / cream face on an otherwise black upper body head and neck.

Brent Goose

Brent Geese

Brent Geese

Again, the North West of Ireland holds important wintering flocks of Brent Geese. I saw three on the beach at Dromard, Co. Sligo recently. That day, I did have the camera. Click on the picture to increase its size and note the Brent’s distinctive thin white collar, which is visible on the bird on the left.

Blackbirds in Autumn

I’ve always liked autumn.

I love kicking up the brown, yellow and reddish leaves that cover the ground at this time of year and, let’s face it, doing so reminds me of being a child. But another great thing about autumn time is the way the birds are much more visible simply because of that same falling of leaves.

Blackbird

Blackbird

This morning, I’ve seen robin, wren, chaffinch and the wonderful blackbird. The blackbirds are very common in our garden, as they jump from ash tree branch to whitethorn top. They’ll happily perch on the outermost branches of the whitethorn, most often in pairs, their gorgeous yellow / orange beak and distinctive yellow ring around their eyes clearly visible against the low and pale autumn sun.

The other day, I noticed two in particular, clearly playing with eachother. As one would vacate a certain tree in favour of another, no more than 5 m away, so the second would follow almost immediately. I watched them circumnavigate the garden, in short hops, as if playing ‘follow the leader’ or ‘catch’.