Ruling the Roost

I began my ascent of Slieve Muck on a beautiful sunny September morning. The mountain has always caught my eye and I have always wanted to walk along this section of the Mourne Wall. I climbed the stile and started to follow the wall and immediately understood why this name was given to the mountain. It is definitely “Mucky” as the hillside is full of water, mud, Moss and Heather. Slieve Muck helps to feed the waters of Spelga Dam which lies directly below it.

As I walked further, I was intrigued by the sound of running water as t seems to run beneath the stones of the Mourne Wall. There is a lot of outcrop formations showing the underlying geology of the mountain and this explains the surface run-off waters. If souls are narrow between the surface and the underlying rock, the souls will saturate quickly and cause excess waters to flow down the mountain. This water created waterfalls on the most minute scale. With the sun shining down on the mountain, these patches of wet rock glistened and sparkles, and was quite beautiful.

The higher I got, the more I could appreciate the view of Spelga Dam with the old road and bridge still visible. For a while I just stayed there, watching how the shadows of the clouds changed the landscape. I let the winds rush past me. The sound of traffic was starting to fade and all I could hear was the wind and the birds. Suddenly I realised just how many birds there was.

From the bottom of the mountain I had spotted a few large Ravens flying along the summit of the mountain. But I had been distracted by my surroundings and missed the gathering of Ravens that were now circling me. They were making a lot of noise now, as if calling in for more recruits.

Now, I do love birds, but have you ever seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie called The Birds? Well, it was the only thing going through my head at that minute. The gist of the film is a pack of birds that terrorise a town, attacking the people and ultimately pecking them to death. I was aware that I was being a bit dramatic, so I kept on walking as just paid more attention to the birds. I think I counted the birds every few minutes and their numbers kept growing. Some were soaring high above the mountain, some were perched on the wall and others flew behind me. I was determined not to let them deter me from my summit. Then they started to fly closer to me, so close that I could hear the flapping of their wings and that was a bit too close for comfort. Their swooping and circling felt like threats and the higher I climbed the more aggressive they got. So, I called it a day. I turned around and started my descent. Immediately the Ravens began to fly further away from me and their numbers started to dwindle. Their forces were retreating as I was. The calls continued but they were no longer threatening, they now sounded like cackling. I guess they were happy that I had been defeated.

There should be an important rule to follow whilst exploring nature, to back off when you are infringing on wildlife. I was moving closer to their roost, their habitat and their home, so the Ravens were simply defending their territory and it is my responsibility to respect that. I will venture back to this area and try to reach the summit but on this day, the Ravens were ruling the roost.

Heather in the Mournes

During the Summer months Heather grows rapidly amongst the mountains. The three species found in my area are Ling Heather, Bell Heather and Cross-leaves Heather, all of which boast beautiful purple hues when in bloom. Up high in the Mournes and the Ring of Gullion, the Heather is widespread and lies like a deep purple blanket upon the hillside. It is truly beautiful but also shows that the mountain side it a healthy heathland. Heather grows in bog ecosystems, with peat souls and lots of water. With such a dry Summer this year, it is encouraging to see the Heather continue to flourish throughout the Mournes. A lot of hard work has been carried out to maintain the condition of the upland bogs in this area and it has been a success.

Bogs are a common sight throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom and are key to the great biodiversity found there. Along with Heather, many plants like Bog Cotton, Bilberry and Mosses will be in fluxed by insect life. On a recent hike up Slieve Binnian, I was surrounded by Bumblebees, Flies, Midgets and Butterflies. Specifically, I spotted a few Tortoiseshell Butterflies fluttering around the Heather.

Even now as the Summer is ending and the Heather begins to die off, it still bears its beauty, as it now shows off a new orange shade. This orange symbolises the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumnas the leaves of other plants and trees will start to change colour and eventually shed and fall.

Want some Jelly with your Ice-cream?

There is nothing more typical of my Northern Irish culture than to head to the beach on my day off work to enjoy an ice-cream, most likely a 99.

So yesterday I ventured out to two local beaches for a short stroll. Firstly, I visited Greencastle Beach and then I went on to Cranfield Beach, both of which lie on the shores of Carlingford Lough. Both beaches are popular for leisure and Greencastle has a working ferry and lots of smaller boats anchored along the shore.

I am pretty sure that the first time I had every seen a Jellyfish was on Greencastle Beach and yesterdays experience did not disappoint. To my surprise the beach was flocked with small Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita also called Common Jellyfish. True to its name, this species is a very common sight around British and Irish shores and it is this species that I have seen before. They can be identified by their four purple rings that can be seen very clearly within their whitish translucent bodies. Their sting is very weak and should not be too much of a problem for people in the water or on the shore.

Moon Jellyfish/ Common Jellyfish (Aurelia Aurita)

As I walked further along the waterline I found larger jellyfish that I had never seen before and they are the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). These are very impressive with their bright orange/red colour and are the largest jelly species in the world. Although the Lion’s Mane prefer cooler waters it is becoming more common to find them stranded along British and Irish coastlines. This species comes with a powerful sting in and out of the water so great care must be taken when visiting the beach during the Summer months.

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

As I arrived at Cranfield Beach there was a noticeable difference between the beaches in relation to stranded Jellyfish. Cranfield and Greencastle are only minutes from each other but there are vast differences, Cranfield is a Blue-Flag Beach and Greencastle has a more rocky shore and pebbled beach. Although I did spot some Jellyfish on Cranfield, they were much smaller and it was mainly the Moon Jellyfish present here. I spotted one Blue Jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) on the beach and I didn’t see any of the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. The Blue Jellyfish is small and translucent like the Moon Jelly but has a more vivid Blue colour on it. This species has a mild sting which has been compared to that of a Nettle sting.

blue jellyfish.JPG
Blue Jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii)

I found it astonishing to see so many Jellyfish but very sad that they had to be stranded for me to see them. Unfortunately, most of the individuals that I seen yesterday will have dehydrated and died before the tide came back for them. Only the larger individuals will have had a fighting chance. As they float along in currents, they are quite defenceless to stranding between tides.

So appreciate the beauty of these Jellyfish but from a distance as even when stranded they can still sting.

What to do if you have been stung by a Jellyfish;

  • If in water, get out immediately
  • If there are any stingers left in your skin, remove them if possible as they will continue to sting you
  • Apply heat to relieve pain
  • Take paracetamol to relieve pain
  • If pain persists, seek medical attention
  • DO NOT URINATE ON THE STING (This is a MYTH and will not help in any way)

For more information follow the link below providing information from the NHS;

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/jellyfish-and-other-sea-creature-stings/

Bees’ Needs Week 9-15 July

This week we are celebrating the third annual Bees’ Needs Week hosted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), so for the rest of this week try to keep a thought for the bees and their needs. These insects are essential for pollination which keeps are agricultural industry thriving and there is no alternative after them. So, we MUST keep them healthy and turn around their populations to ensure our own future on planet Earth.

“Bees and other pollinators are vital contributors to the beauty of our landscapes, our economy and our £100 billion food industry”

(Environment Secretary Michael Gove)

 

I am very glad to see that the UK government is highlighting and campaigning for such a delicate matter. All the numerous bee species in our ecosystem are under threat and it is down to us to take actions against their population decline.

I am lucky enough to live in the beautiful Northern Irish countryside and my back yard is buzzing with bees, especially during this great weather we’ve experienced lately. I have watched many Bumble Bees and Carder Bees had at work amongst the wildflowers in my garden like Foxgloves and Wild Roses. They are literally everywhere I look, and I am constantly trying to capture a photo of them. Even as I am writing this post, I can see lots of bees poking around the Wild Rose bush outside my window and it genuinely makes me happy to see this. Whilst I am surrounded by bees here, it is a completely different story around urban areas where populations are dwindling. This is where the real action needs to be taken.

Many activists have a lot to say about the matter and David Attenborough is included. He recently spoke out on simple actions that could be made by the public to help the bees. His idea was simple and effective, to leave a spoonful of sugar mixed in water outside for the bees to drink. This sugary substance is like nectar that they acquire from flowers. I ask you to listen to this wise man as everyone has a spare spoon and leave it out in our garden or on a windowsill and I am sure at least one little bee will be happy to see it. David Attenborough stated that bees become exhausted and dehydrated as they travel around so this sugary solution will help to revive them and let them get back on their way.

IMG_2341

They have simple needs;

·         Water

·         Nectar (sugar)

·         A place to rest

Defra have a great video about Bees and their needs;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uVeyH7XQXg

 

The 5 simple actions you are encouraged to do;

1.       Plant more flowers, trees and shrubs

2.       Let your garden grow on the wild side

3.       Cut your grass less often

4.       Don’t disturb insects or their nests

5.       Be more careful with pesticide use

And of course, you don’t even have to have a garden to help the bees out, why don’t you get a flowerbox for your windowsill as even the smallest of places can provide the bees with their needs.

 

For more info on bees and Bees’ Needs Week just follow the links below;

https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/Bees-Needs-Making-your-garden-bee-friendly-factshe.pdf

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bees-needs/media/