Trip Impressions: Ireland, April-June 2000

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum, 9037 Tromsø, Norway;

1. Early April in Cork

This spring, thanks to the University College Cork and my colleague Prof. Alan Myers, I have the opportunity to experience spring somewhere else than at 70°N, something I always find utterly fascinating. The change from the 6 ft of snow and freezing temperatures of my homeplace Tromsø to the green SW Irish city of Cork was dramatic: never are the differences between Tromsø and more southerly areas as great as in early spring. In Tromsø we had just welcomed the first Snow Buntings, but the first green plants were still many weeks away; while in Cork everything was green, and the gardens full of Magnolia, Ribes and already fading Forsythia, with lawns full of Crocus, daffodils and surprisingly often large blue Veronica (V. chamaedrys?).

These first weeks I have had little time and opportunity to go birding: I had come here to work on amphipods, and was also too busy installing myself in my temporary home away from home, an apartment in downtown Cork, high above the river Lee that traverses and beautifies the city. My flat is down a short flight of stairs, looking out in front on the parking lot, and in the back on a neglected lawn lined with trees. So I won't build up an impressive yard list: as everywhere here in Cork Winter Wrens, European Robins, Eur. Blackbirds, Wood Pigeons, Rooks and Jackdaws are dominant, while Great and Blue Tits and Collared Doves also occur.

Early in the morning, before first light, there is a magnificent concerto, dominated by the bittersweet cadences of the Robins and the stately hymns of the Blackbirds. Later in the day the wrens seem to be everywhere, and much easier to watch than e.g. in Holland (the same applies to the robins) -- the song of the wrens is as high-spirited than in continental Europe, but the trills seem somehow less sharp and 'more Irish' than in Holland (or in the mountains of Crete, where they also dominated the bird chorus last week, when an amphipod conference brought me there). Also Chaffinches are ubiquitous and easily more common most places than the House Sparrows.

Cork is a medium town (ca 250,000 inhabitants, I think) on the south coast of ireland, situated on a magnificent natural harbour (also not yet visited). The town gives the impression of newly overcome poverty: many of the houses are tiny (one door, one window), the streets are too narrow for their traffic, and the concrete sidewalks chipped and uneven -- but there is building, repair and extension everywhere, and the general mood seems to be one of great optimism.

It is also a spectacularly untidy town, with large amounts of litter on the streets, and shopping carts dumped from the bridges in the river Lee. Nevertheless, I still have to see my first Starlings in town, and also Black-headed Gulls are virtually absent on the tidal portions of the Lee, while the Hooded Crows and Magpies, so active in garbage scavenging in Tromsø, somewhat surprisingly leave this aspect here completely to the very numerous Jackdaws and Rooks. The latter seem thoroughly at home in town, and descend even into the smallest gardens -- they apparently nest in a woodland a bit out of town. There they mix with the Jackdaws, but these latter probably also nest on chimneys, church towers (always in ample supply in Ireland) and other buildings in town.

Pigeons and doves are also common and widespread. Besides the feral pigeons there are everywhere Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves, both completely acclimatized in town, while the Stock Doves remain confined to larger stretches of woodland. Although the river Lee is tidal and thus periodically uncovers muddy banks, it does not seem to be all that attractive to birds, and the only birds, besides Hooded Crows and feral pigeons, that I have seen on these banks are Grey Wagtails. (I have also seen Pied Wagtails in the area, but nor as yet actually on the river banks.) There are Mallards on the river, although not many and some with the unmistakable stamp of 'farmers ducks', while walks upriver have added a few Cormorants and the odd Oystercatcher. (Please understand that Cork has to offer much more to the active birder; I just have not yet been out of town!)

I found it interesting to note that the local Coal Tits, in this country where both Willow and Marsh Tits are absent, have spread far from their (to my experience) native pine forests, and for example can be found in the narrow strip of alders along the river, together with the Great Tit, also here the commonest of the tribe, and the Blue Tit. Long-tailed Tits are also regular and much darker than I know them from Norway, but these ever active bushtit lookalikes are as endearing as elsewhere -- here they seem already to have paired off. Another always welcome sight are the colourful Goldfinches, that always sound so cosily content with their lifes.

Strangely enough I did not hear a single warbler in the first half of April. Even the always so early Chiffchaff seemed absent, but yesterday (23 April) they finally had arrived and sang their metronomic 'chiff chaff chiff chaff' many places along the river and in the woodland.

I walk from my flat to work at the Zoology Department in about 10 minutes through town, or I can detour via the leafy and green UCC campus, where Mistle Trushes join the ubiquitous Song Trushes and Blackbirds, and where Greenfinches trill and rasp everywhere in the trees. Here, as so many places in the city, I am enthralled by the vegetation on the old walls. There must be chalk in the mortar here, for the flora is really very diverse, and I have counted as many as 7 different ferns (Asplenium spp, Phyllitis, Ceterach, Polypodium, Atthyrium) on one small wall, together with the roundish fleshy leaves of Umbilicaria, the red flowers of Kentranthus, and various other plants that I had not seen in years. On the meadows along the Lee the flora is less exotic: yellow Ficaria verna, pinkish Cardamine and the last white Anemone nemorosa, all very much like in Holland or Western Norway. In the woodlands there will be more to discover, but that will have to wait till coming weekends, when I've sorted out the bus-tables to neighbouring villages and to the outer coast some 25 km further south.

2. A Day on the Coast

Last Saturday, 29 April, I finally had sorted out the bus timetables and discovered that on a Saturday I could spend 7 hours on the coast at Ballycotton, but that on Sunday or Bank Holiday there were no buses at all. The bus ride took about an hour, and I arrived (as one of two passengers!) at the friendly village of Ballycotton (where Goldfinches outnumbered House Sparrows, and where plenty of Jackdaws and Starlings nested in the chimneys) in sunny weather, with a calm sea and cliffs glowing yellow with Gorse Ulex europaeus, with patches of white (Campion Silene), pink (Thrift Armeria maritima) and pale yellow (Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria), as well as many other flowers. The cliff-walk along the coast started with a large sign, exhorting me to scan the sea for seabirds, and when I obediently did so, I at once saw a large hollow-winged white bird flapping along parallel to the coast; long trailing black legs with yellow socks proclaimed it to be a Little Egret, the last bird I would have expected here (I heard today that a newly started colony exists a few miles away). Otherwise of course there were not all that many seabirds around in this season and weather, just the odd Gannet, and closer inshore, a few Cormorants and Shelducks.

Off the cliffs pairs of Fulmar wheeled on stiff wings, or cackled on their nesting ledges, and overhead a constant stream of large gulls sailed, patroling the coastline. A few small bays yielded the odd Whimbrel and a few Oystercatchers as well as some Shelducks, all species later seen in much larger numbers in the estuary. (It is strange, by the way, that these European Oystercatchers concentrate on the 'softer' stretches of coast, while the very similar-looking Sooty Oystercatchers of the American West coast -- and indeed apparently all all black oystercatcher species -- concentrate on the rocky headlands and largely avoid soft bottoms.) The gulls were not the only birds patroling overhead! There were also various corvids: mostly Jackdaws, here in their original cliff dwelling habitat, but also a few Raven, and regularly small flocks of the exuberant Red-billed Choughs with their wild cries; they always give me the strong impression of 'Life is fun, and flying especially so'!!

Also Barn Swallows hunted over the gorse, while Skylarks and Meadow Pipits sang overhead, mainly based on the small fields at the top of the cliff. The gorse bushes themselves were dotted with resident pairs of colourful Stonechats and small flocks of the always so cozy sounding Linnets -- I have friends like that: they talk virtually all the time, say nothing of particular importance or beauty, and still leave you feeling happy and content!

Few warblers, as everywhere in Ireland until now. Here the only ones I noticed were a few Common Whitethroats in the gorse, with their exuberant and somewhat abrupt scratchy song-phrases, now and then in a short dancing song flight. From lower down on the cliffs the energetic trills and rattles of the Winter Wren could often be heard, and here and there Rock Pipits produced their rather forgettable song strophes in a typical 'pipit-parachuting' songflight.

All in all a delightful cliffwalk, soon to be repeated!

After lunch I walked the other way from the village, to the famous bird-rich estuary. It turned out to be easiest to watch from the other side, a ca 5 km walk around the estuary along typical Irish 'hollow roads', with roadsides full of unfurling 'tongue ferns' Phyllitis, patches of yellow Primroses, and everywhere the ringing of the Bluebells Scylla -- here more than half, by the way, are white-flowered: Whitebells??

Dunnocks live up to their old name of Hedge Sparrow by being the most numerous birds of the roadside bushes, closely followed by European Robins, Chaffinches and Great Tits. No warblers here either, except in the extensive reedlands where the always energetic Sedge Warblers were everywhere, and a single Reed Warbler sang its much slower karre karre keet..., which has earned it the Dutch name 'karekiet'.

The 'backside of the estuary', at Ballynamona beach, sported low dunes full of Linnets and Skylarks, and a sandy beach -- with banks of wrack -- where Oystercatchers and Whimbrels lined the shoreline, and where here and there mixed parties of Sanderlings and Dunlins foraged, with Ringed Plovers keeping their feet dry nearby. One Sanderling was already in beautiful red-breasted summer garb and first got up my adrenalin levels as 'something excitingly different'; this is a famous area for nearctic shorebird observations, especially in late summer.

The sandy estuary itself was full of Shelducks, but otherwise I saw little there: some Mallards, a few Grey Herons, a single Bar-tailed Godwit still in winter plumage.

All day long I saw not a single tern, nor any Lapwings or Tringa 'shanks'. But at least here were the Barn Swallows and Starlings that I still miss in Cork (I saw one swallow there 1 May, as well as many around Blarney Castle). And also here Rooks and Jackdaws were everywhere and greatly outnumbered the Hooded Crows.

On Labour Day (1 May), another gloriously sunny and calm day, I walked from Cork along the Lee westwards to the next bridge, and then along minor roads and through the fields to Blarney, ending up at the famous Blarney Castle, where throngs of tourists lined up for kissing the Blarney Stone, which is supposed to confer 'the gift of the gab', eloquence, to the kissers; being too garrulous already, I reneged.

Highlights of this 15 km walk were 'fishing' Dippers and immaculate Grey Wagtails along the Lee. A mystery also here the paucity of warblers (a few Chiffchaffs, no Sylvia warblers at all), and the apparent absence of Buzzards Buteo buteo in a landscape that seems ideal for them.

I have for once added the bird lists of the two walks, although it shows only too well my limitations as a bird spotter. C is coast-walk, B is Blarney-walk.

                                                  C B
Fulmar                Fulmarus glacialis          x
N. Gannet             Sula bassana                x
Cormorant             Phalacrocorax carbo         x x
Grey Heron            Ardea cinerea               x x
Little Egret          Egretta garzetta            x
Mallard               Anas platyrhynchos          x x
Tufted Duck           Aythya fuligula             x
C. Shelduck           Tadorna tadorna             x
Kestrel               Falco tinnunculus             x
Ring-necked Pheasant  Phasianus colchicus         x x
Moorhen               Gallinula chloropus         x
Coot                  Fulica atra                 x
Oystercatcher         Haematopus ostralegus       x x
Ringed Plover         Charadrius hiaticula        x
Sanderling            Calidris alba               x
Dunlin                C. alpina                   x
Bar-tailed Godwit     Limosa lapponica            x
Whimbrel              Numenius phaeopus           x
Black-headed Gull     Larus ridibundus            x
Herring Gull          L. argentatus               x
Lesser Black-b. Gull  L. fuscus graelsii          x
Great Black-b. Gull   L. marinus                  x
Rock Dove             Columba livia               x (x)
Stock Dove            C. oenas                      x
Wood Pigeon           C. palumbus                 x x
Collared Dove         Streptopelia decaocto         x
Skylark               Alauda arvensis             x
Barn Swallow          Hirundo rustica             x x
Meadow Pipit          Anthus pratensis            x
Rock Pipit            A. petrosus                 x
Pied Wagtail          Motacilla (a.) yarrelli     x x
Grey Wagtail          M. cinerea                    x
Winter Wren           Troglodytes troglodytes     x x
Dipper                Cinclus cinclus               x
Dunnock               Prunella modularis          x x
European Robin        Erithacus rubecula          x x
Stonechat             Saxicola torquata           x
Song Thrush           Turdus philomelos             x
Mistle Thrush         T. viscivorus                 x
Eur. Blackbird        T. merula                   x x
C. Whitethroat        Sylvia communis             x
Sedge Warbler         Acrocephalus schoenobaenus  x x
Reed Warbler          A. scirpaceus               x
Chiffchaff            Phylloscopus collybita        x
Great Tit             Parus major                 x x
Blue Tit              P. caeruleus                x x
Coal Tit              P. ater                       x
Black-billed Magpie   Pica pica                   x x
Chough                Phyrrocorax pyrrhocora      x x
Jackdaw               Corvus monedula             x x
Rook                  C. frugilegus               x x
Hooded Crow           C. corone cornix            x x
Raven                 C. corax                    x
Starling              Sturnus vulgaris            x 1
House Sparrow         Passer domesticus           x x
Chaffinch             Fringilla coelebs           x x
Linnet                Carduelis cannabina         x x
Goldfinch             C carduelis                 x x
Greenfinch            Chloris chloris             x x
Reed Bunting          Emberiza schoeniclus        x
Yellowhammer          E. citrinella               x

3. Hedges and Fields

Most of the surroundings of Cork consists of agricultural land, usually smallish plots surrounded by a low 'wall', mainly consisting of the stones found in the earth in the course of the years. These walls have in the course of the years become overgrown with plants, and the older ones this time a year glow yellow with Gorse Ulex europaeus and white with Hawthorn Crataegus. These thorny plants, sewn together by copious brambles, also make the hedges well-nigh impenetrable for man and beast and thus a good 'boundary fence' to keep in the many cows and sheep that graze here. Especially near the coast there is also much plowed land with various crops, with a lot of sugar beets, still very small now, and wheat, with smaller amounts of various other crops.

Last Saturday (13 May) I had a long walk near the coast, once more starting out from Ballycotton, and walking first along the cliff-path I described earlier, and when this peetered out, along secondary roads, to Whitehaven at the entrance to Cork Harbour, a distance of 25-30 km. This Sunday (21 May) I varied by going into the hills from Cork, and walking near the village of Watergrasshill (The Irish name translates to the more logical Watercresshill, but that is not what is on the map or signs). The main features are the same in both areas. These fields are not particularly bird-rich, with Jackdaws and Rooks dominating, and Barn Swallows seemingly nesting in every farmhouse and barn. In the hills I finally also found House Martins in some numbers, often nesting under the eaves of the larger new houses that are being built here in some numbers. The farms also have higher trees and often coniferous bushes in the yard, and these house Robins, Blackbirds, Wood Pigeons, Magpies and the odd Hooded Crow, in addition to a small colony of Rook nests in many cases; this species is amazingly common around here.

The hedges are ofte rich in flowers. Vicia sepia (appropriately called the hedge-vetch in Dutch) is very common, ferns are ubiquitous, and now late in May summer flowers start to appear, while the Bluebells are fading rapidly; Foxgloves Digitalis, Aven Geum urbanum, Scabious Knautia arvensis were among the plants I saw in flower for the first time. The most characteristic bird of this habitat is the Common Whitethroat; its short enthousiastic song strophe is usually within earshot, and now and again one sees the bird so carried away with the rites of spring that he expands his song into a dancing song-flight, before diving back into the hedge. There are also Hedge Sparrows here, now and then a Song Thrush shouts its message from far away, and the odd Chaffinch and Chiffchaff also join the chorus.

The fields themselves do not house all that many birds, and maybe even less further from the coast (although my sample is painfully small for such a conclusion. Near the coast I regularly heard singing Skylarks and saw parachuting Meadow Pipits, while Yellowhammers graced the telephone wires. yesterday I missed all three, so at least they must be less common around Watergrasshill. Pheasants are regular, but are possibly 'grown' locally and put out, as so many places in Europe.

Yesterday I walked towards and in a commercial forest, with various conifers (a lot of Sitka Spruce) of different ages planted on a high marshy area, that looked 'like it could be in Norway': Myrtleberries, heather, the spindly tall grass Molinia, the small yellow stars of Potentilla erecta (tormentil), and aggressive Bracken Pteridium aquilinum. But the Gorse Ulex europaeus was still dominant, and showed that instead we are in Atlantic W. Europe here. Characteristic here were also the tall slender grass-green fronds of the fern Blechnum spicant unrolling everywhere, both in the hedges and in the young forest.

In the younger plantations I finally found an area with many singing Willow Warblers (one of my favourite songsters), while Meadow Pipits scolded with their bill full of insects -- clearly they had already young here. Also Wrens and Blackbirds were common everywhere, while the older plantations resounded with the song of the European Robin. I also heard the 'mini-bicycle pump' of the Goldcrest here and there, but not the Woodcock that is said the occur here too.

A final beautiful picture yielded an overgrown humid path in the forest, where the usual yellow Tormentil and Lotus were combined with a low growing Lousewort Pedicularis sp and wonderful gentian-blue patches of a Polygala species (don't know the English name), an exquisite combination.

Let me end with the constant last words of my booklet, Walks in the Cork area (which I managed to forget at home yesterday!): "God bless now and take great care!"

4. Forest, Bog and Streamlets

Cork has during the last weeks experienced the kind of weather that I have always thought 'typically Irish': a mixture of short sunny periods and prolonged spells of rain, with temperatures around 15°C. This has been good for the amphipod work, but less favourable for longer walks, especially as I am still dependent on not very frequent buses.

Cork itself remains the same. From my window in my souterrain I hear in the morning the cooing of the Wood Pigeons ('Doe de deur dicht, zoete lief', was the mnemonic we had when I was small, and it was a very effective one, as the pigeon always ends up with the emphatic sound of the door being closed), the 'sawing' of Great Tits, and earlier in the morning, the beautiful concert of our blackbirds and robins and the exuberant voice of the Winter Wren. Jackdaws nest in the chimneys, and also Swifts clearly have 'nesting roofs' somewhere in my street.

In the little park old people air their overweight and underbreath small dogs, and the local boys use the scattered trees on the well-manicured lawn as goal-posts for their soccer game. Otherwise black birds dominate also here: the Jackdaws and the fantastically common and tame Rooks, the odd Hooded Crow, and always a few Blackbirds hopping around searching for worms. Oddly enough, I still have not seen a single House Sparrow in my neighbourhood, in spite of the large masses of partly edible refuse that the people genrously scatter around daily.There are House Sparrows elsewhere in Cork, but not all that many.

Along the river Lee (and on many of the old stone walls) there are now red Spur Flowers Kentranthus everywhere, and the Grey Wagtails have persisted and clearly nest even along this tidal stretch of the river. Mallards and Mute Swans come and go, and Cormorants fly past. In the town centre, the river is probably already somewhat brackish, and the water much more muddy; here schools of largish fish (Mugil cephalus, the Bass) can be seen, although few people seem to notice them.

On Sunday I took the bus to Ballyvourney, NW of Cork on the road to Killarney, and walked up in the hills from there. From the old stone bridge over the Sullane river I watched wagtails (here both Pied and Grey) and Dippers; the latter is a truly amazing bird that I never tire of watching. The path led uphill through a beautiful beech forest, planted several centuries ago, and now thoroughly mixed with many other hardwood trees: oaks, birches, ash, maple, hazel, and -- special for me -- a lot of Holly Ilex aquifolius. In the undergrowth the Bluebells have by now mostly faded, and their place is now taken by what I learned was called St. Patrick's Cabbage here, a rich-flowering white Saxifraga (S. spathularis) dominating the rocksides and later on also the hedgerows between the fields. It is I think a typically Lusitanian plant, confined to the SW of Ireland, where winters are specially mild. Birds there were not all that many: Robins dominated the 'noon chorus', while also wrens, Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches and various tits and thrushes contributed. A faraway scolding Jay added one more bird to my Irish list, still growing very slowly.

The path led unto a cemetery around the ruined chapel, shrine and grave of St. Gobnait, the patron saint of this district who founded a nunnery here in the seventh entury, and who clearly is still much venerated, with many people 'going the rounds' praying. This area also sported several 'holy wells', who were for me also very interesting, primarily because they showed such a wonderful 'source vegetation', full of Chrysosplenium and the Large Bitter Cress, Cardamine amara. Also here, Chaffinches and Robins dominated birdlife.

From the shrine, a narrow tarred road led uphill through 'typical irish hedgerow landscape', but the fields became steadily more scrubby until I came into bog habitats. In the hedgerows the yellow glow of the Gorse has now largely disappeared, and also many of the Hawthorns are rapidly fading. But now Elder Sambucus and Mountain Ash Sorbus have started to flower, and here and there there are vivid pink splashes of large Rhododendrons. In the undergrowth Foxgloves Digitalis and Mountain Aven Geum are out, the Umbilicaria is full of yellow 'pagodes' with flowers (a theme repeated by the blue Bugle Ajuga in the grass, and the yellow Pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum twinkles in the road verges.

In the bogs proper I was greatly surprised coming across my first Greater Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, with its enormous and beautiful dark violet flowers; this first group had at least 25 flowering plants close together, and I could hardly believe that these were truly wild plants.The insectivorous Butterworts are also common in N.Norway, but there the flowers are nothing like as impressive as these. Somewhat more unkempt looking Lousewort Pedicularis was also regular here, and in a little pond I was lucky and found one of the plants that I always longed to see when I was a boy, the tall and elegant Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua, now regularly seen in garden ponds, but at that time a real rarity.

In the flower-rich haylands I got another surprise, the endless reel of the Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia; this, like the song of Savi's Warbler, reminds me always of a discrete travelling alarm clock going off, but that of the Grasshopper Warbler seems to have very little effect, as it goes on and on and on, without anybody switching it off. I wrote a short paper on the song of this bird almost 40 years ago (time flies), so it is an old favourite of mine. Otherwise these fields and bogs hold the usual birds: many black birds again (here also Starlings, in addition to the Jackdaws, Rooks and Blackbirds), scolding Meadow Pipits and jubilating Skylarks. In the hedgerows mainly thrushes (Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin), Wrens and Chaffinches, but also regularly Willow Warblers, and a sprinkling of Dunnocks, Goldfinches, and Great and Coal Tits; Wood Pigeons were also common, and pheasants echoed from the fields, but there were no raptors, no lapwings, no gulls and no snipe.

At the furthest point from Ballyvourney the skies, which had been threatening all day, carried out their threat with a vengeance, and the rest of the walk is mostly a wet blur in my memory. But I'll gladly do it again!

Yesterday I walked through the game park of Fota, where many rare mammals are bred and shown to the public; they are especially famous for their cheetahs. There are also some giraffes there, and I heard a little boy call out excitedly: "Look daddy, a photograph!!" "No no", said the father, "that is called a giraffe, not a photograph." "Oh", said the boy, and then a little later: "Oh look daddy there are still more photographs walking over there!"

5. A Summerweek in Connemara

My stay in Cork ended in late June with a 2 weeks holidays in a rented car through W. Ireland with Riet, who had flown in to Cork one week earlier. We drove through W. Cork, Kerry (the Dingle peninsula) and Clare (the Burren with its beautiful chalk flora) to Connemara in the extreme west, where we enjoyed the hospitality of the stately Letterdyfe estate outside Roundstone (Part translation, part corruption of the Irish name Cloch na Ron, the Seal Rock).

Ireland is a magic country for traveling in so many ways: the people are almost invariably warm and friendly, the scenery is virtually always attractive and often great, and there are points of historic or prehistoric interest scattered all over the country, although in many places mostly as (usually very atmospheric) ruins. these are made doubly attractive for visitors from overpopulated W. Europe by the fact that little has been done to make them suitable for mass tourism: the fabulous Ross Ennery Abbey ruins near Headford for example are not sign-posted at all, and you have to search diligently before discovering the minor road leading to the abbey ruins lying in splendid isolation amidst cattle-studded pastureland. The reward is that one is alone roaming through this impressive reminder of the historic greatness of Ireland -- no souvenir stands, no cafeteria, almost no other visitors! It makes an enormous difference!

The flora, with its strong Lusitanian elements, was also most attractive to me, and in rural Connemara as yet so little touched by modern developments and their ensuing pollution (although heavily overgrazed many places) that I found many plants that I had not seen in many years: ditches full of pale yellow Utricularia flowers in the blanket bog, beautiful yellow Blackstonia gentians along the coast, and a colourful flower carpet (white Bellis -- I never saw a country where this flower was so ubiquitous! --, yellow Birds Foot trefoil Lotus, pale yellow Kidney Vetch Anthyllis, sky blue Milkwort Polygala and violet patches of wild Thyme Thymus) on the coastal machair, the short grassland cropped by rabbits, sheep and cattle. In ditches that were somehow protected from the relentless grazing Yellow Flag Iris pseudacorus is in glorious flower, together with various orchids and small fields of the elegant ragged robin Lychnis flos-cuculi.

But this is a bird list, I know! And birds are not especially numerous or diverse in summer Ireland; local birders therefore also seem mostly to concentrate on migrating and wintering birds rather than the local breeders. Compared to Cork maybe the most conspicuous feature of Connemara was the virtual absence of the rooks, so numerous elsewhere in Ireland. Instead, Jackdaws abounded in the coastal and forested areas and in the villages, while Hooded Crows dominate the extensive boggy and hilly areas.

In the bogs otherwise Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are virtually never out of earshot, while from the stone-walls (so characteristic of this landscape, although sadly barbed wire is in ascendance) hoarse-sounding Stonechats and dapper Wheatears scold intruders and feed their often already fledged young. Warblers are scarce also here: most common is the sweet cadence of the Willow Warbler, while we heard very few Whitethroats or Blackcaps, and no Chiffchaffs at all; Sedge Warblers still sang regularly from marshy spots. Of course, the circumstance that this is already the last week of June did not help either in spotting the warblers -- we were in fact quite surprised to still hear a Cuckoo call one day.

Another group of birds that is strangely uncommon in summer Ireland, 'between migrations', is the shore birds; unexpected because with its heavily indented coast-line and almost half of the mostly boggy area covered by innumerable small loughs the landscape seems so suitable for them. There were Oystercatchers along the coast, but not all that many; there were a few Curlews here and there in the more protected bays -- and no doubt on the bogs, where we had not too much occasion to roam extensively, due to a hurt ankle. But that was practically all: the only other shorebirds were a few Common Sandpipers here and there, the odd Snipe in coastal marshy areas, and a single somewhat incongruous Green Sandpiper, zigzagging over the sea at Cleggan.

The common gull most places here is the Common (=Mew) Gull away from the open coast; on the coast Herring Gulls take over, but neither species occurs in really large numbers, and the other gulls (Black-headed, Great and Lesser Black-backed) are scarce. Also terns were not numerous, but we found three of the five species that occur commonly on these coasts.

The house at Letterdyfe is surrounded by an impressive ca 100 years old forest of mixed trees, and here colonies of several different bats, Pine Martens and a badger set all occur, while Sparrow Hawks (and probably Long-eared Owls, which we missed) nest here. Wood Pigeons are exceedingly common, and otherwise there are many small passerines have found a haven here: Wrens galore, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Goldcrests, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Treecreepers, Spotted Flycatchers, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, and Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrushes and European Robins. Our most enduring memory from Letterdyfe will nevertheless be the otters which we could watch fishing and playing (looks almost to be the same thing for these always playful animals, that look so masterful and superior to their fish pray) 'from our own shore' and at an amazingly short distance.

In conclusion: don't go to summer Ireland if you are one of those people who only see birds and want long lists, but by all means do go there if you want to experience Europe as it must have been before we spoilt so much of it in the name of St. Progress!

This is the last of my Irish Impressions, you will be happy to hear. From today I am back at 70°N, from where I already have probably written too much too long earlier.

Wim Vader

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