Archive for the ‘Great Crested Grebe’ Tag

Ireland part 1: Wexford to Belfast – 28th May – 2nd June 2019   1 comment

I visited Ireland with my parents in the 60s and again with my late wife Janet in the 90’s, however Margaret had never been and was keen to rectify this. We had planned to visit in June/July 2018 but I had to have an operation so that idea was postponed. So although there were a lot of travel commitments in spring 2019 we managed to fit in a trip to Ireland as well.

Originally we planned to circumnavigate Ireland, but the more we investigated the more places of interest we found, so we decided to cover around two thirds of the coastline and return in another year for the rest. Also on my Mongolia trip 2018 I met a nice couple from the Isle of Man who invited us to look them should we ever visit. So as neither of us had visited the IoM we added that to the itinerary.

We decided to take our own car rather than fly and took the ferry from Pembroke in south Wales to Rosslare in the southeast corner of Ireland.

 

The ferry left Pembroke in the afternoon, travelling down the enormous Milford Haven to the Irish Sea.

 

We passed a number of bird rich Islands including Skokholm, famed for its seabirds including a large Manx Shearwater colony …

 

… and the huge Gannet colony of Grassholm island. The white appearance of the island is produced by tightly packed nesting Gannets and not some light coloured rock.

 

After landing we stayed in a B&B at nearby Kilrane. The following morning we headed to Our Lady’s Island, a site of pilgrimage for catholics.

 

However we weren’t here for the ruins or the pilgrimage but to see the birds. Our main target was Roseate Tern, but all the tern colonies along the side of the lake were composed of Sandwich, Common and Arctics and not their rarer cousins.

 

At the south end the lake is separated from the sea by a shingle bank, hundreds of terns were flying over the bank and heading out to sea to fish.

 

Eventually we saw half a dozen or so Roseate Terns. Identified by their paler appearance, rosy flush to the breast in breeding season, darker wedge in the outer primaries and black bill with a red base, their population has declined markedly in the UK but there are still around 700 pairs breeding in Ireland. I didn’t manage to photograph these fast moving birds so here is a photo taken from eBird (photographer’s name not given).

 

We also visited the nearby Tacumshin lake, a site famous for rarities, in particular North American shorebirds in the autumn. Although there were quite a few birds they were all too distant for photos. We had lunch in Wexford at a pub that had converted the ally out back into an elegant covered lounge.

 

Margaret wanted to visit the Irish National Heritage Centre; we had hoped it would be an exhibition of arts and crafts and maybe music; instead it was a recreation of dwellings from various times in the past, the Mesolithic, Neolithic and early Christian eras with boards explaining what life was like in those periods, which was interesting in its way, but not what we had expected.

 

We continued northwards to Arklow and stayed by the banks of the Avoca River …

 

… at the predictably named Bridge Hotel.

 

We were travelling up the east coast on our way to Dublin. Today we headed into the Wicklow Mountains, but it wasn’t the best mountain experience I’ve ever had. Although the scenery was pretty they were hills rather than true mountains and allthough there were a few good views there was nowhere to park and photograph them.

 

A quaint village with an old church and an unusual tower was a nice place for lunch.

 

During the afternoon we drove up the motorway to Dublin. We had thought about finding somewhere to stay in the outskirts and getting the bus in but before we knew it we were in the centre. Finding a hotel was a nightmare as there was nowhere for me to park outside whilst Margaret went in to check rates and availability. All the ones we tried were either 250 Euros a night or over pubs and already full. Eventually we found a hotel that only charged 90 Euros a night but I had to drop Margaret off and then go round the block again and again until she emerged with the details.

 

Once settled, we found the hotel a very nice place to stay and quite central for sightseeing. That evening we walked to O’Connell Street, photographed the General Post Office (GPO), the site of the famous 1916 Easter Uprising, and the new gleaming spire before having a meal nearby.

 

From Wikipedia: During the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising’s leaders. It was from outside this building on the 24th of April 1916, that Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The building was destroyed by fire in the course of the rebellion, save for the granite facade, and not rebuilt until 1929, by the Irish Free State government. An original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was displayed in the museum at the GPO. The museum was closed at the end of May 2015 and replaced by a new visitor centre to commemorate the 1916 Rising, ‘GPO Witness History’, in March 2016. The building has remained a symbol of Irish nationalism.

 

Out first destination today was Trinity College just the other side of the River Liffey …

 

… we walked through the pleasant quadrangles …

 

… pausing to photograph a Mistle Thrush on route.

 

Of course what we wanted to see was the wonderful Book of Kells, Ireland’s most important and most treasure historical artefact. Hardly surprisingly the actual manuscript is kept in a darkened room in the college library where photography is strictly forbidden but examples of the highly decorated pages can be seen on illuminated panels in the gallery beyond.

 

For those wanting a detailed description the following is (again) taken from Wikipedia : The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colours, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasise the themes of the major illustrations. The manuscript today comprises 340 leaves or folios; the recto and verso of each leaf total 680 pages. Since 1953, it has been bound in four volumes. The leaves are high-quality calfvellum; the unprecedentedly elaborate ornamentation that covers them includes ten full-page illustrations and text pages that are vibrant with decorated initials and interlinear miniatures, marking the furthest extension of the anti-classical and energetic qualities of Insular art. TheInsular majuscule script of the text itself appears to be the work of at least three different scribes. The lettering is in iron gall ink, and the colours used were derived from a wide range of substances, some of which were imported from distant lands. The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at Trinity College Library, Dublin. The Library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustration and the other showing typical text pages. The entire manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s Digital Collections Repository.

 

We also had the chance to look at the main hall of wonderful college library.

 

We also wandered along the banks of the Liffey admiring the architecture of the bridges, both and old and new …

 

… and the City Hall.

 

Near there was a series of sculptures illustrating the victims of the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1849. The near total failure of the potato crop due to blight, caused the death of over a million and forced even more to emigrate. The population of the country fell by 25%. The lack of support from Westminster at the time exacerbated tensions between Ireland and UK, the affects of which can still be felt today.

 

Later we made our way to the area known as Temple Bar …

 

… after the eponymous watering hole.

 

Nearby we had our lunch serenaded by an Irish folk group.

 

Further along the river we came to Ha’penny bridge, so called because that was the toll to cross it when it was built.

 

Quite a beautiful structure …

 

… the nearby inn bears the same name.

 

Further west we visited the Viking Museum from which you get a good view of the adjacent cathedral …

 

… which of course was our next port of call.

 

During the evening we returned to Temple Bar to eat. The area as now much livelier with musicians and competitions of strength to entertain the passers-by. Most of the bars were so crowded that you hardly get in the door so after finding an al-fresco bar we returned to the hotel.

 

The next morning we left the city via an underground motorway that leads straight from the docks north to motorway to Belfast. Our destination was Ireland’s most important archaeological site, Newgrange. Again it is easier for me to copy and paste from Wikipedia than type the whole lot out. Newgrange is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The site consists of a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. Human bones and possible grave goods or votive offerings were found in these chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front, made mostly of white quartz cobblestones, and it is ringed by engraved kerbstones. Many of the larger stones of Newgrange are covered in megalithic art. The mound is also ringed by a stone circle. Some of the material that makes up the monument came from as far away as the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains. Newgrange consists of approximately 200,000 tonnes of rock and other materials. It is 85 metres wide at its widest point. After its initial use, Newgrange was sealed for several millennia. It continued to feature in Irish mythology and folklore, in which it is said to be a dwelling of the deities, particularly The Dagda and his son Aengus. Antiquarians first began its study in the seventeenth century, and archaeological excavations took place at the site in the years that followed. Archaeologist Michael J. O’Kelly led the most extensive of these and also reconstructed the frontage of the site in the 1970s, a reconstruction that is controversial and disputed. Newgrange is a popular tourist site and, according to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, is “unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland” and as one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe.

 

I can add that the reconstruction of the frontage by O’Keely is controversial because it is claimed that Neolithic people would not have had the technology to construct a wall of that height at such a steep angle. There has been much debate about the meaning of the spirals inscribed on the megalith by the entrance. As those on the left are coiled in a different direction to those on the right it has been suggested that this marks the movement of the sun before and after the winter solstice.

 

Also from Wikipedia: There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it is believed that it had religious significance. Its entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when sunlight shines through a ‘roofbox’ and floods the inner chamber. Several other passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with solstices and equinoxes, and Cairn G at Carrowkeel has a similar ‘roofbox’. However some claim that although this might have been its original intent, the current positioning of the stones is due to the 1970s reconstruction. To get a ticket to see this wonderful alignment on the shortest day you can enter a lottery and pray, not only that your name will be drawn, but also that dawn on the 21st of December will be cloud free. Photo from the Irish Times taken at the winter solstice..

 

Nearby was the location of a most significant Irish event. The Battle of the Boyne a battle in 1690 between the forces of the deposed King James II of England and those of the Dutch King William of Orange who, with his wife Queen Mary (his cousin and James’s daughter), had acceded to the British Crown in 1689. The battle took place across the River Boyne close to the town of Drogheda in the Kingdom of Ireland and resulted in a victory for William. This turned the tide in James’s failed attempt to regain the British crown and ultimately aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland and that of a Protestant Monarch in Britain.

 

We continued north but rather than head straight to Belfast we detoured to cross the border in South Armagh. Anyone who was around in the 70s, 80s and 90s will remember the constant run of bombings and shooting from what was then ‘bandit country’. Now we didn’t even know we had crossed the border until we noticed a sign saying ‘speed limit in miles per hour’. In fact we crossed into Northern Ireland back into the Republic and back into Northern Ireland again with less hassle than it takes to use a pedestrian crossing. The fact the sort of armed border posts that I encountered in my 1991 visit could soon return if we have a no-deal Brexit fills me with apprehension. The is the town of Armagh, famous for having two cathedrals, one Protestant and one Catholic both called St Patrick.

 

We headed towards the huge Lough Neagh which sits in the centre of Ulster; from the south the northern shore was only visible through my scope. We called in at Oxford Island nature reserve which was far better than I expected …

 

… with loads of hirundines including a huge House Martin colony …

 

… and some excellent close views of Barn Swallows …

 

… Great Crested Grebes with stripy young on their back …

 

… and Little Grebes, their diminutive cousins …

 

… plus lots of wildfowl, Tufties, Pochard and this drake Gadwall.

 

We would have liked to visit the centre of Belfast but we doubted if we had the time, so we headed towards the old docks, the site of the former shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, whose giant gantries Samson and Goliath dominate the city skyline. Once employing 35,000 people, the workforce had shrunk to under 100 in recent years, mainly making turbines for offshore wind farms. Since our visit the company has been sold.

 

Perhaps the most (in)famous ship ever made at Harland and Wolff was the RMS Titanic, the story of which is so well known that there is no need to repeat it here. We were heading for the Titanic museum, a peculiar shaped building beside the old docks. The museum deals with the history of Belfast at the time of the building of the ill-fated vessel, it’s commissioning, construction, fitting out and eventual demise on its maiden voyage. It was extremely well presented and it took a long time to peruse all the displays.

 

After a bit of a queue we took a ride on a gondola through the simulated hull of the Titanic whilst under construction, which gave some sort of idea of the heat, noise and unpleasant working conditions that the shipwrights endured for 12 hours a day.

 

Nearby the SS Nomadic was in dry dock. She was built to transfer passengers and mail to and from RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today.

 

Stopping only to photograph this Pied Wagtail, we headed for the nearby Game of Thrones exhibition.

 

Like so many others we are fans of this superb fantasy series, much of which was filmed in Northern Ireland, but were a little disappointed by the exhibition. The main displays were the costumes used and a number of props from swords to dragon skulls.

 

There were a few opportunities to get photos of yourself taken using props from the show against a well-known GoT background, but in most cases these photo-ops failed with the notable exception of Margaret sitting on the Iron Throne. As my friend Fenja has commented, ‘the real Queen of Westeros’.

 

The next post will cover our journey up the spectacular Antrim coast as far as Londonderry.

 

 

12th – 13th May 2015: The Alps part 5 – Interlaken, the Jungfraujoch and Lucerne, Switzerland   Leave a comment

Incidently this blog is four years old today. The first entry was on 17th June 2011, the day I retired. Since then I have uploaded 446 posts, which averages just over two a week and covered many subjects, but have concentrated, of course, on my main interests of birding and travel. In that time my blog has been viewed over 66,000 times.

IMG_7674 Interlaken lakes

Late on the 12th we arrived in Interlaken. As the name suggests the town is situated on land between two large lakes, Thunersee and Brienzersee. This is the view a short distance east of the town over the Brienzersee.

IMG_7679 on route to Jungfraujoch

The main tourist attraction in the area is taking the train all the way to Jungfraujoch, a view-point at 3475m between the Jungfrau and the Eiger. If you start at Interlaken West the almost 3000m climb involves three changes of train and takes about two and half hours.

IMG_7684 on route to Jungfraujoch

A mainline train took us to Interlaken East, where we changed for Lauterbrunnen. From here another train took us steeply through the alpine meadows and coniferous forest ….

IMG_7693 on route to Jungfraujoch

…. until, under the shadow of the Jungfrau, we were above the tree line.

IMG_7805 N face of Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg

At Kleine Scheidegg, with the north face of the Eiger dominating the view, we changed again to a rack and pinion railway

IMG_7699 Jungfraujoch train

…. which then climbed into a tunnel that went right under the Eiger. The terminal was still underground and we had to ascend several floors to reach the observation platforms.

IMG_7748 Jungfraujoch

The view from the top was magnificent. This shot gives a panoramic view of the valley below.

IMG_7735 Jungfraujoch

This is the same view zoomed in.

IMG_7753 Interlaken from Jungfraujoch

To the right Interlaken was visible in the distance.

IMG_7707 Jungfraujoch

In other directions an endless vista of ice and snow was revealed ….

IMG_7741 Jungfraujoch

…. including this wonderful view over the Grosser Aletschgletscher, at 23 Km long, the biggest glacier in the Alps.

IMG_7764 my Taiwanese friend

I had been chatting to some Taiwanese tourists on the way up, and this nice Taiwanese girl wanted to be photographed with me.

IMG_7785 ice eagles

As well as being a viewpoint, the site has been developed into a bit of a theme park with a restaurant, these ice sculptures ….

IMG_7777 ice tunnel

…. and tunnels cut in the ice that you can slip and slide along to your heart’s content.

IMG_7837 Jungfrau

On the way back we changed trains at Klein Scheidegg and then returned via Grindelwald to the east. This gave a different perspective on the mountains ….

IMG_7828 meadows from train

…. and also gave great views of the flower filled Alpine meadows.

IMG_7840 from train

I would highly recommend this journey, it’s not cheap, about 200 Euros pp from Interlaken, but it takes you through a complete cross-section of the Alpine habitats, from lowland valleys to flower filled meadows, coniferous forest, open areas above the tree-line to the land of permanent ice and snow at the top. If you want to see Switzerland and have only a short time available then here it is in a nutshell.

IMG_7865 Lucerne church

We spent the evening in Lucerne. First we visited the impressive church ….

IMG_7873 Lucerne Church

…. arriving in the nick of time just as it was being locked up, there was only the opportunity for this one photo.

IMG_7884 Alpine Swift 2

Apart from Les Alpilles in southern France, Lucerne was the only place we saw the somewhat inappropriately named Alpine Swift.

IMG_7942 Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower were built in the 14th century and are Lucerne’s best known tourist attraction. The bridge served as a rampart and part of the town’s fortification. The Water Tower served as a dungeon, archive and treasury vault.

IMG_7924 medeval paintings

In the 17th century the bridge was adorned with a set of paintings depicting the development of the town and the Republic of Lucerne and the life of two patron saints.

IMG_7919 photo of Lucerne fire

Tragically on the night of 17th August 1993 a fire broke out on the bridge, burning 81 of the 111 bridge paintings, only those at the two ends escaped. The bridge structure was quickly renovated (at a cost of about £1.5 million) and some of the paintings removed in the 19th century (when the bridge was shortened to make way for a new quay) have been hung in the place of those destroyed. Photo taken from an information board by the bridge.

IMG_7960 RC Pochard

The surrounding waters held a healthy population of Red-crested Pochards, some of which were quite tame ….

IMG_7906 GC Grebe

…. as were the Great Crested Grebes.

IMG_7965 pub Lucerne

We ended up in an ‘English Pub’ for dinner. It sounds a bit corny but it must have been ok as it was patronised by many locals.

IMG_7973 Lake at Lucerne

We headed back along the shore of the lake, getting our last view of the high mountains as Lucerne is at the northernmost edge of the Alps.

IMG_7982 river at Root

As hotels were so expensive in the centre of Lucerne we drove to one at Root, some way to the north. The following morning we took a walk along the bank of the nearby river.  We came across some species more typical of the lowlands like Garden Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. After all the mountain torrents we had checked for Dippers with limited success it was a surprise to see a pair flying over this lowland river.

IMG_7978 Black Kite

We had seen lots of Black Kites in southern France but there had been none in Italy or the mountains of Switzerland so it was nice to start encountering them again. From here we drove to the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein before meeting up with the family in Austria. More of that in the next post.