Up the Mountains with Eleven

I had a gas day last week in the Nephin Begs, with a lovely group of 11.

We left our cars at 10.30 am, I in the knowledge that the walk would take somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, but knowing that we had plenty of time, even if it turned out to be longer.

My fastest time doing the circuit in question was 6 hr 20 and even that time I was dawdling, as it was in the middle of Orchid season. I had been stopping every couple of metres to look at specimen. On the other hand, I had once brought a group of okay, but a little slow, walkers and it had taken 8 hr 30.

Anyway, this lovely group did the horseshoe in 8 hr 10. But the fun we had with the weather !

We enjoyed brilliant sunshine and warm winds from the east / southeast, mixed with loud thunder over our heads and accompanying fork lightning. The man with the camera had a classic West of Ireland opportunity to take pictures of a sky entirely black on the one side and clear blue alongside to the west.

We peeled off layers, only to pull them back on five minutes later. This is the great attraction of hill walking in Ireland’s west. If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.

We saw Frogs, Hares, Meadow Pipits, just one singing Skylark, but no Wheatears, Foxes or Grey Herons, which might ordinarily be encountered.

But it was a day to remember for its truly dramatic weather. Clare Island, off to the west, would appear clearly, then disappear entirely soon after. We even had two occasions where the walking had to stop and the group come in close together, as visibility shrunk to 10 metres.

That’s walking in Mayo – brilliant.

Two Projects for 2010

1. Gunnera T. / Giant Rhubarb

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera Tinctoria continues to spread through certain parts of west Mayo, including Achill Island and the southern end of The Mullet peninsula.

Better known as Giant Rhubarb, this is a highly invasive introduced plant species from South America.

A project has been run by UCD, led by Spaniard Cristina Armstrong, the aim of which is to eradicate the plant from Clare Island. I attended a presentation she put on last year about the scale of the problem and the project’s progress. However, its spread is much greater on Achill and The Mullet. It is very prevalent around Blacksod (especially the Garda station) and is creeping over the hill towards Deirbhle’s Twist and up Termon Hill too.

Read this from The Botanic Gardens website.

I want to get involved in curbing its growth in 2010 and beyond. For this, I’ll need equipment but, more importantly, manpower. Get in touch with me if you’d like to spend a voluntary week on this work during late summer. If you don’t want to do the dirty work, but would be willing to sponsor the purchase of some equipment, or even provide materials as required, get in touch too please. I would be more than happy to acknowledge any contribution, whether monetary or of materials.

2. Inland Otter Observation

Otter (madra uisce)

Otter (madra uisce)

I’m fascinated by the otter. I think the animal is really one of our most interesting mammals. While those that live near the sea (for example, along brackish water lakes) have food from both fresh and sea water to fill their stomachs, those who live exclusively inland would appear not to have such choice. Why don’t they move to the coast (joking) ?

By the way, sometimes people erroneously believe we have two sub-species of otter – the ‘Sea Otter’ and the ‘Freshwater’. In fact, it’s the same animal in two habitats.

Otter spraint beside small river

Otter spraint beside small river

A chance encounter a few months back with two otters in a conifer plantation drainage ditch, no more than 1 m wide with water no more than 15 cm deep, has me even more intrigued. The nearest stream of consequence was 500 m away, with a reasonable sized river 1 km off. I want to ‘stake out’ some such locations in Mayo this year and learn more. If you would like to join me on one such excursion, get in contact. If you are an ‘otter expert’ or student of this wonderful creature, even better.