International Bog Day 2020

Yesterday, 26th July was International Bog Day so to celebrate properly I went for a rather late evening hike up a very boggy Slieve Muck. Slieve Muck is in the Mourne Mountains between two reservoirs, Spelga Dam and the Silent Valley. I have previously attempted to summit this peak but was unsuccessful because I was getting some hassle from Ravens and I chickened out. By heck I am glad I went back because it was amazing.

I think it is safe to say that this peak offers some of the best views of the Mournes with the least amount of effort. It only took me 35 minutes to reach the top, not a difficult climb, just often wet and slippery but worth it. I parked along the road close to Spelga Dam, climbed the stile and started following the famous Mourne Wall. At times I had to drift away from the Mourne Wall as the ground was very wet, moving into the Heather and Sphagnum Moss was usually muddy and there was also some outcrop that couldn’t be passed. As you climb higher, you get a spectacular view of Spelga Dam and the surrounding area. As I finally reached the top I was excited to spot an OSNI Triangulation Pillar, I was unaware that there was one on this peak so it was a nice surprise. The Mourne Wall meets in 3 directions at the top of Slieve Muck and standing atop the stile over the wall I was treated with an amazing view. Standing in one spot, I could see all of the Mourne Mountains, The Irish Sea and the entrance to Carlingford Lough and it was pretty spectacular. I walked a little further, and thankfully I did because now I could see both Ben Crom and Silent Valley reservoirs and the fantastic Lough Shannagh. It’s in the moments like these that you completely forget the tough hike and wet socks and you would be ready to do it all over again just to see this view. I met one other hiker and we chatted a little about the weather and the view and I brought up how wet and muddy the climb was, to which he replied “Sure it’s not called Slieve Muck for nothing”, he couldn’t be more right.

I always wanted to summit Slieve Muck, not just for the view but for the history. The mountain goes by another name locally, Poverty Mountain. Some believed that they can literally see Poverty wrote out on the mountain, and I must admit, I have definitely noticed a P-O-V standing out to me but no more than that. It was also named this because the locals lived in tough conditions and hard times, most of which were sheep farmers and one of those sheep farmers was my Grandfather. My mother tells me stories of her father going to the mountain with his sheep and it was always Slieve Muck. The sheep would be left there to graze for some time and then he would have to round them up again and bring them back to his farm. Walking up these slopes was exciting as I thought about how many times he would have taken these same steps. It may seem silly, but it made me feel a little closer to the man that I never got a chance to meet. He was supposedly a true mountain man who would sing and play his accordion for whatever audience he could find.

Of course, I was checking out the local flora and found some interesting things. The slopes were covered in Bell Heather, Sphagnum Moss and Bog Cotton, it is mostly the Blanket Bog form that occurs across the uplands of the Mourne Mountains. The Sphagnum Moss holds a lot of water and with a constant flow of water down this mountain the Sphagnum is working hard. It is quite amazing that you can hear the flow of water on the mountain, either the dripping along the outcrop or the gushing of the stream beneath the Mourne Wall. The landscape was also covered in the Yellow-flowered Tormentil and some small red and blue flowers that I have yet to identify in some of the wetter parts. I was incredibly surprised to find pond weed growing in a pool of water on the lower slopes. The water was only a few inches deep and was flowing quite quickly, but it was definitely a species of Potomageton which I believed only grew in lakes. As I was returning down the mountain, close to the bottom I saw something very special to me, a Peltigera Lichen. I squealed a little I was that excited. I have only ever seen Peltigera Lichen in Alberta in Canada, and they were mostly on the bases of large trees but here I found it on a small granite rock. It was only a small Peltigera but it meant a big deal to me. I also spotted some Cladonia Lichen and lots of Moss species on the granite rocks that make up the Mourne Wall. The landscape is not very diverse, it is exclusively used for grazing by sheep and I didn’t see much fauna, only a few small birds, one Raven and very few insects.

I spent Bog Day just as it should be spent; with squidgy footsteps, soggy socks and a happy heart.

The simple duck pond

A simple place where fun, adventure and nature combine.

My local duck pond is very local, I can be there within a 5 minute car ride and it is somewhere that I have been visiting since before I can remember. From my mum pushing me around in my pram, to me pushing my toy doll in a pram, to a few cheeky teenage dates to now going with my nephew. It has always been the go to place for a quick walk.

It is now, when I take my camera to photograph the Ducks, Swans, Moor Hens and Coots that I realize just how precious it was to have this place so close to me. I walk around these days identifying and photographing the wildflowers and trees, appreciating absolutely everything in this beautiful space. The trees are filled with birds; Magpies, Robins, House Sparrows, Great tits, Blue tits, Wood Pigeons and of course there are a lot of Black-Headed Gulls and Herring Gulls hanging around.

Today, I visited with my Dad for the first time in a long time and it was a real treat for him as we spotted a pair of Coot with 5 chicks. It was a delight to just sit and watch the parents diving deep into the water and pulling up pond weed to feed to their chicks. These simple, pure and heartfelt moments need to be relished.

It was close access to natural spaces and wildlife like this when I was growing up that really cemented my love for nature and biodiversity and encouraged my passion to pursue a career in the environmental field. So, for a common duck pond, it will always be a pretty special place for me.

Earth Day 2020

This is a strange one, but an important one. As we stay in our homes across the world in an aim to stop this virus, it should make everyone realise just how close we all are to each other.

People have more spare time than ever right now and there are plenty of small acts that can be done to help mother nature.

With people working and staying at home, there is much less traffic on the roads, in the air and on the water and this has led to many positives to the natural world. With a reduction in air pollution in India, the Himalayas can be seen clearly for the first time in 30 years. Wildlife are thriving from the quieter environment and have been found roaming areas that are usually highly populated with Humans. A town close to me had a family of ducks walking down the main street which is not a familiar sight in the highly popular seaside resort.

Some simple acts that can be done at home that might help:

  • Litter picking in your local area
  • Participate in Citizen Science projects like garden bird counts
  • Think of ways to reduce your waste
  • Stick to reusable bottles and mugs
  • Take the time to fix things that are broken instead of buying new
  • Try not to mow your lawn too much and let the wildflowers grow for the insects
  • Leave something out for the garden birds, the birds in my garden love Peanuts, Niger Seeds and some water
  • Watch an environmental documentary or listen to a podcast and learn something new

The most important part of this, is to spread the word and let everyone know what you are doing and maybe it will inspire others to follow suit. Social media has a strong presence during this pandemic so we should use it to spread the message of environmentalism.

Everyone I know is sharing beautiful pictures of their walks in nature and how much they appreciate it. People are finally taking a good look around them and taking the time to marvel at what has always been right in front of them. I have been trying to share as many photos and videos of my home as not everyone is able to leave their homes or get into nature right now. I am also trying to spread a little joy by sharing photos of my animals which I hope can put a smile on someone’s face. Our Earth and everything in it is incredible and I am so glad that more people are paying attention to it and I hope this continues.

This is our home and it deserves better.

What about a Spring Clean in your local area…

We have been treated to some beautiful weather here in Northern Ireland for the last few weeks. I am sure that this has helped to keep spirits up during the current lockdown going on. It is always great to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, stretch the legs and enjoy nature. I am lucky enough to live in the countryside and have a lot of space available to get out and about in. It has been great to see so many people outside getting their exercise and enjoying nature, however, one thing that I have noticed is that not one person bothered to lift any litter during their walks.

I am guilty myself of not picking up litter on every walk I go on, but to see the same people walking in my local area every single day just walking past the litter is disappointing. I live on a rural country road, with hedgerows on either side and for the last few weeks it has been filled with walkers, runners and cyclists of all ages. On my local beach there are facilities for walkers to use for collecting rubbish, and I have never seen anyone else use them before. I assume people might be more interested when the issue is literally on their doorstep and they will do something about saying everyone is so bored during lockdown.

So, after going for a walk with my mum last night and spotting so much litter, I made sure that this evening I brought my grabber and a bin bag to collect the rubbish. Some of my neighbours seen me out collecting the rubbish and they all gave me a strange look. I couldn’t tell if they were more surprised at what I was doing, or at how much rubbish I had collected.

In a short stretch of road, we found everything from plastic packaging, rubber, plastic bottles, takeaway containers, polystyrene, cigarette packets and buds to clothing. It is sad to think that most of these items had probably just been lobbed out of a car. Among the rubbish, the hedgerows are covered with wildflowers, especially Dandelion that are in full bloom. These hedgerows are full of birds and insects and even have evidence of foxes using them.

I keep seeing all these challenges on Facebook to help keep people active and occupied and I would like to challenge everyone to do something to help clean up the environment and make a difference to their local area during this time.

Even the smallest of acts can have the largest impact.

Prince’s Island Park: Constructed Wetland

It was such a pleasure to discover a constructed wetland in the heart of Calgary, Canada. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know it was even there until I finally walked to the far side of Prince’s Island Park the other day. I used to work beside the entrance to Prince’s Island Park so I am amazed that I never knew about the wetland. Obviously, if you are close to the river at all in Calgary, you will notice the large population of Canada Geese and various duck species but you would never guess that there is a wetland tucked into the park. The wetland was created to treat storm water before it enters the Bow River, but it also acts as a new habitat for lots of species and increases the biodiversity of the area.

This amazing work has been carried out by the Alberta Conservation Association. By artificially damming water and planting carefully selected plants like Wood’s Rose, Balsam Poplar and Slender Wheatgrass, they have developed a very impressive constructed wetland.

After the initial construction, it is up to nature to take over and that is definitely what has happened here. Whilst walking around the wetland area, you are surrounded by waterfowl, mostly Canada Goose, Mallard and the American Widgeon and the trees that line the pathway are filled with birds. I was treated to a sighting of my first North American Water Vole which was swimming between the banks of the wetland.

North American Water Vole (Microtus richardsoni)

Wetlands are an extremely important and useful ecosystem that we need to preserve and learn more about. I love that the pathway takes you all around the wetland banks on Prince’s Island and is filled with information signage to help teach people more about the importance of the flora and fauna of this special habitat. Constructed wetlands are a concept that other large cities should be thinking about; they increase biodiversity, improve water quality and can act as a buffer zone against floods, storms and other extreme weather events, especially along coastlines.

My Meat-Free Journey

As of Easter Sunday morning, I completed my meat-free Lenten promise. There were a lot of lessons to learn during this time period;

Lesson 1: Always read the menu properly

I was just into Day 4 of my new meat-free lifestyle when I was eating out in a restaurant for lunch, and I ordered the Poutine. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish which contains fries, cheese curds and gravy. I love Poutine, it’s always the first thing I want to eat as soon as I get to Canada, so when I see it on a menu I usually order it. So, after seeing Poutine on the lunch menu on this particular day, I immediately ordered it without looking into the ingredients. As I awaited my lunch, filled with excitement, my sister pointed out that gravy isn’t usually vegetarian and I felt so disappointed in myself for not even thinking about that. A few minutes later my meal arrived and I was already feeling like a total failure, when they placed a plate in front of me that was filled with Beef. If I had have paid any attention to the ingredient list, I would have seen that I ordered a Brisket Beef Poutine. So as I sat there, embarrassed and disappointed with my myself, my sister named me “The Worst Vegetarian in the World”. I didn’t eat any of the meat and I definitely didn’t let it go to waste, my friends ate it instead. I felt like a total idiot, but at least it taught me to be more thorough when ordering food. FYI, this is now my sisters favourite story to tell people.

Lesson 2: Lent isn’t only 40 days

I guess I just always thought that Lent was 40 days because it reflects upon the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. But apparently the time period of Lent isn’t always the same every year. This year it was 46 days and I was happy to keep up my Lenten promise for a little longer.

Lesson 3: Use supplements

One thing I realised after the first few weeks is that I wasn’t using enough supplements as my energy levels were getting pretty low. I guess the biggest difference with taking meat out of your diet will be Protein and Iron levels. So, I made sure my meals and snacks included Iron rich foods like; Spinach, peas, chickpeas, beans (kidney, black, baked), nuts, lentils, avocado, broccoli, tomatoes and Tofu. I also started using protein powder in smoothies and I noticed an immediate difference to my energy levels.

Lesson 4: Come up with exciting recipes

My first experience with Tofu wasn’t great, it was very bland and soggy. Overtime, I figured out how to season it and cook it better and that I definitely preferred the Extra Firm Tofu. One time I battered it and fried it and it was really tasty, I made my sister taste it and she compared it to a chicken nugget which I was pretty happy about. It’s like an international thing that when something is compared to tasting like chicken it gets the seal of approval. I started making really interesting dishes to stop my taste buds from getting too bored. Zucchini fries, fried Tofu and plant-based mince and salads really got me through it all without craving meat at all. I was pretty luck that restaurants in Calgary are very accommodating to vegetarian diets, so I usually had a lot of options when eating out. I had numerous veggie burgers, tofu dishes, Portobello mushrooms and avocado tacos.

Lesson 5: Plant-Based Burgers are amazing

Honestly, this transition was made so much easier with the help of A&W. A&W is a fast-food outlet found across Canada which is famed for its delicious burgers. I am a fast-food junkie, I LOVE burgers and fries, so when A&W launched their Beyond Meat menu, I was over the moon. I would happily say that their Beyond Meat burger is probably the nicest burgers that I have ever eaten. I will happily pick that burger over the beef burgers from now on. They also provide a Beyond Meat breakfast bap that contains a sausage equivalent that I have yet to try. It is inspiring to see such a large company taking action and providing meat-free equivalents.

The first meat I ate was some bacon with my breakfast on Easter Sunday and yes, it was tasty but honestly I would have still been happy with the meal if it wasn’t there. I really enjoyed the vegetarian life-style and I hope to continue along this path but I think my more realistic goal is to have a 6:1 diet. I will follow a vegetarian diet as much as possible but still allowing myself to eat meat if I really crave it or for special occasions. I would recommend people to really try it out, even one or two days a week, it is definitely the better environmental and economic lifestyle choice and is not very difficult to follow.

2019 is showing us the signs of Climate Change

I find it hard to believe that there are still climate change deniers throughout our global society whenever so many people across the world are constantly advocating these issues.

Climate change: Noun

A change in global or regional climate patterns.

We are only at the end of February, but 2019 has provided us with some pretty substantial evidence of our changing climate. In the first two months of the year we have experienced a Polar Vortex in North America at the same time as record high temperatures in Australia. Since the Polar Vortex, temperatures in North America have remained low and here in Calgary, Canada we are experiencing the coldest February in over 40 years. Photos and news spread across the world when a state of emergency was declared on the Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya when a town was invaded by 50 Polar Bears. This invasion happened because of the lack of sea ice and food resources for the Polar Bears, so sadly they are hunting for new resources and this has brought them towards human settlements. This highlights how the endangered species is struggling with the warming oceans but continues to fight for survival.

On the Calgary regional news this evening, there was a story about a local park which had over 50 dead birds. This was a sad scene and many locals believed that there was a high possibility of poison or toxic chemicals involved but government officials are blaming the recent cold weather. They believe that the extreme and prolonged cold weather in the area has reduced the amount of water and food resources for the birds. With a few days of continuous freezing and thawing, it is also possible that some of the birds froze in the water. Whilst I am watching this news story, I am seeing a flash of social media posts from back home filled with sunshine and un-seasonally warm temperatures. Ireland and the UK are experiencing a “February Heatwave” with temperatures reaching 20C, sounds crazy, right? People are out celebrating the warm weather but I cannot help but think how strange it is or understand how they can’t see how big of an issue this is.

These events are not just unseasonal, they are a sign that something is wrong. Our weather is crying out for help, and we must stop ignoring these signs and take more proactive actions.

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.

Blackberry Jammin’

I recently went for a walk along the Mourne Coastal Path close to Bloody Bridge in County Down, Northern Ireland. I had left thick mountain mist surrounding Spelga Dam to find beautiful clear skies along the coast. As I walked along the path I took in everything and it was a pleasure for my senses. I could hear both the crashing of the waves at the shoreline and the rush of water from the Bloody Bridge River. There were many tourists out visiting the beautiful spot, taking in the beautiful views and capturing some photos. I, of course, had my camera at the ready and was snapping away at everything and anything. I spotted a beautiful Peacock Butterfly and was lucky enough to get a great close up photo before it flew off. Then I spotted something that instantly brought back some amazing memories.

Blackberries.

A simple berry, so common to my home but continues to put a smile on my face. I snapped away at the berries, marvelling at the different colours displayed. I recalled how my friend and I used to love picking blackberries, always trying to find the biggest and juiciest ones on offer. Instead of eating the berries, we mashed them up and created our own jam. We didn’t use a kitchen or utensils, we just used the garden. A rock made a great replacement for a scone and who would have known that a leaf could really be a slice of toast. We would have played café nearly everyday of the summer, picking the blackberries throughout my garden until they were gone. My mum, dad and anyone nearby would be offered the appetising treat of a rock covered in mashed berries and luckily enough they had a great sense of humour and always pretended to love my baked goods.

What always makes me laugh is thinking of my mum’s face when I would walk in the door after a long hard day of smashing blackberries. She would look me up and down and just let out a long sigh as yet again I had completely destroyed another outfit.