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Silent Spring - Part 1

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Initially my daily "lockdown picture" wasn't much more than a way of killing some time and taking advantage of the good weather Ireland was experiencing during the Covid-19 lockdown. Over the weeks however my snapping turned into something more, a record of the emergence of spring in a remote corner of Ireland, a visual nature diary from Ireland's western seaboard.

Soon the idea was born to turn the casual "lockdown picture" into a more serious daily account of the natural world. The title for the project - Silent Spring - seems appropriate. National and international travel restrictions brought an unusual calm to the world and gave nature a chance to breathe. Silent Spring is also a homage to Rachel Carson, one of the first scientists to highlight the adverse environmental effects caused by the use of pesticides which she published in a book with the title Silent Spring in 1961.

Silent Spring starts at the spring equinox and will end with the summer solstice and I hope you will enjoy this seasonal journey in a small corner of a small island at the edge of Europe. Here are the first 30 days.

Day 1 – 20. March 2020: Spring Equinox Dawn, Kilbaha Bay

The spring equinox signals the start of spring, the beginning of new life. From now on the hours of sunlight will exceed the hours of darkness, the sun will rise high in the sky and will bring warmth and comfort. After what had felt like endless months of wind and rain, the first day of spring started with a tangible change in the weather. The early morning air was still chilly and the easterly breeze carried the bite of winter but the sky was clear and the rising sun painted the Shannon Estuary in warm pastel colours.

Day 2 – 21. March 2020: The First Rose, Ross

The name of this quintessential spring flower derives from the Latin prima rosa, the first rose and this visual spring journey wouldn’t have been complete without an image of the primrose. Primroses appear from March onward and can be found in a variety of habitats from woodland and road verges to cliff tops. A narrow inlet surrounded by steep cliffs gets transformed every spring by a large colony of this distinctive flower. Here countless primroses cling to the grassy, near vertical surface of the soft cliffs, apparently defying gravity.

Day 3 – 22. March: The Old Stone Wall, Loop Head

Boundary walls like this old stone-wall that once marked the borders around Loop Head Lighthouse have been claimed back by nature. Over many decades these men-made structures have become a habitat in their own right hosting lichen, mosses, liverworts, ferns and wildflowers. These walls are also the perfect photographic subject on a dreary and grey spring afternoon.

Day 4 – 23. March: Take-Off, Ross

Fulmars are one of the breeding seabirds around the Loop Head Peninsula. They are always the first to return from their winter domicile on the open ocean and the first birds can be seen checking out the breeding sites as early as January. This encounter was unexpected and the resulting image very lucky. Because it was another mainly overcast day I was foraging for some close-up shots of lichen along the cliff top when this bird touched down only a few meters away. After we had checked each other out for a few minutes the fulmar got ready to take off again, the sun decided to send some light through the clouds and I managed to press the shutter release at the right moment.

Day 5 – 24. March: Big Sky, Loop Head

This is a scene I never get tired of: The view from Loop Head over the Mouth of the Shannon with the skyline of the Brandon Mountain range, the Three Sisters, Slea Head and the Blasket Islands on the other side. Above it all arches a big sky, one of the kind you will only find where the land meets the sea.

Day 6 – 25. March: Linnet, Kilbaha

The Dawn Chorus, the daily morning concert of the singing birds, is one of the biggest events in spring. In late March it hadn’t reached its crescendo yet but every day more and more birds were joining in. This male linnet I met on an early morning walk was very much oblivious to my presence while singing his heart out.

A linnet who had lost her way, Sang on a blackened bough in hell, Till all the ghosts remembered well, The trees, the wind, the golden day.” (James Elroy Flecker, Tenebris Interlucentem)

Day 7 – 26. March: Clear Dawn, Kilbaha Bay

Another clear morning at the bay, the persisting cold easterly breeze, dawn colours in the sky, the cry of a passing oyster-catcher, low clouds over the distant mountains and the infinity of the Atlantic Ocean ahead.

Day 8 – 27. March: Lichen Map, Loop Head

I have returned to the old stone wall at Loop Head for a closer look. Lichen are fascinating organisms made up of algae or cyanobacteria and fungi that live together for mutual benefit. Various species of these micro communities thrive on the old stones and form a patchwork of colours and shapes.

Day 9 – 28. March: Shells, Rinevella Bay

Everybody loves seashells. They are colourful, intricately shaped and simply beautiful. They are also the remains of living beings that most likely were someone’s meal and in a few million years they will have become part of the bedrock... These are just some of the weird thoughts that rushed through my head while trying to find a pleasing composition.

Day 10 – 29. March: Diarmuid and Gráinne's Rock, Loop Head

Lined up with the northern tip of Loop Head stands the small island which today is known as Diarmuid and Gráinne's Rock. According to legend the island got its name because Diarmuid and Gráinne were on the run from Gráinne’s husband-to-be Fionn and spent a night on the bleak sea stack. Today Diarmuid and Gráinne's Rock is one of the main breeding sites for fulmars and kittiwakes in the area and the narrow cleft between the mainland and the rock echoes with bird cries throughout the spring and summer.

Day 11 – 30. March: First Light, Kilbaha Bay

The rock platforms that line Kilbaha Bay are an endless source of inspiration for me. On a morning like this there is no better place to be. The warmth of the first sunlight, the lapping of the sea against the shore. Foreground, background, simplicity. It is these moments when landscape photography becomes a spiritual experience.

Day 12 – 31. March: First Light, Rinevella Bay

It was almost Deja-Vu. The warmth of the first sunlight, the lapping of the sea against the shore. All that had changed was the location. The rocky coast of Kilabaha Bay had been replaced by the sandy shore of Rinevella.

Day 13 – 1. April: Daisies, Kilbaha

For this image all I had to do was stepping out my backdoor. Over the past few years a few lonely daisies have turned into a carpet of flowers. The flowers open at dawn and close again at dusk and were once known as “Day’s Eye”, a name that eventually became “Daisy”.

Day 14 – 2. April: Evening Pastels, Ross

The small cove at Ross opens to the northern Atlantic and its rocks have been shaped by millennia of abuse from wind and water. I often wonder what these stones have seen and what stories they could tell. This was the first day I thought I wouldn’t walk away from with a decent image but thankfully the dull, wet, windy and generally miserable day ended with the parting of clouds and pastel reflections in the clouds.

Day 15 – 3. April: Limpet on the Rocks, Ross

It was another overcast day but at least it stayed dry and so I returned to the small cove at Ross. The rock formations here are not only famous among geologists, they are also a wonderful training ground for photographers. It’s all about shapes and colours and how to arrange them in the tiny space of the viewfinder. Making images like this is my kind of meditation.

Day 16 – 4. April: Upper Shore, Rinevella

When the tide is out the lower parts of the shore appear in pristine condition, untouched sand and wave cut rocks convey a beautiful but selective reality. A few steps away the high tide line shows the complete picture. Intermingled with seaweed are the remains of our cultivated society, plastic in all forms, shapes and colours.

Day 17 – 5. April: Grey Seal, Kilbaha Bay

Seals, both common and grey, are common around Loop Head and at times they find their way into one of the bays to bask on the rocks. This grey seal was just about to lose his sun lounger to the incoming tide and a few minutes after I had made my picture the animal reluctantly took to the sea again.

Day 18 – 6. April: Dawn, Kilbaha Bay

It’s the rock platforms at Kilbaha Bay again, this time with the outline of North Kerry on the other side of the estuary and the rising sun shedding some warm colours on the broken cloud. The sunrise brings a cool breeze that ripples the surface of the water. It’s just another morning at the bay but it always feels like the first time.

Day 19 – 7. April: Petrified Forest, Rinevella Bay

A stretch of coast covered in peat, embedded in the peat are countless tree trunks. I stand amazed and humbled every time I visit. Some five thousand years ago this place was a dense forest of tall pines and birch grooves. It puts things in perspective… “All we are is dust in the wind…”.

Day 20 – 8. April: Emerging Heart’s Tongue Fern, Kilbaha

Spring is starting to emerge all around now. At the roadside just around the corner the heart’s tongue fern is unrolling its fronds. Clusters of dog-violet are flowering close by. While I was sitting crouched at the roadside, trying to find the perfect angle for my picture, I heard the sound everybody is waiting for at this time of year: A high-pitched chirp and gurgle, the unmistakable song of the swallow.

Day 21 – 9. April: Spring Fog, Loop Head

The weather forecast had promised high pressure so I woke up early expecting a colourful sunrise. Instead I was greeted by a thick blanket of fog covering the landscape. The fog eventually started to lift by mid-morning which brought some colourful displays of light but on this day I enjoyed the mysterious conditions of the mist-clad cliffs more.

Day 22 – 10. April: Spring Sunset, Loop Head

It is a sure sign that spring is advancing when the sun is starting to set north of Loop Head. During the winter months the sun goes down over the Shannon Estuary to the south of the headland and the north facing cliffs stay in permanent shadow.

A layer of cloud right above the horizon prevented the warm evening light to fall directly on the cliffs but this evening nevertheless marked the start of long summer evenings.

Day 23 – 11. April: Misty Morning, Kilbaha Bay

Another misty morning, the third in a row and the hope that it would be followed by another warm and sunny day. I made my way to the bay again where water and sky melted into one. I was standing in a cocoon of water droplets, the only sound the rattling of the stones in the flow of the tide.

Day 24 – 12. April: Red Daisy, Kilbaha

Daisies are known for their pure white petals. Some flowers however show a red tint and very few individuals present themselves with almost completely red petals. I came across this beauty on my front garden and needless to say it made a perfect subject for a flower portrait.

Day 25 – 13. April: Red Clouds, Fodry

The spell of warm and sunny weather came to an end with strong winds and heavy rain all day. Just before sunset the rain stopped and the clouds opened up. The colourful sunset came sudden and unexpected and the image for this day was subsequently made from an upstairs window.

Day 26 – 14. April: Moss, Fern and Stonewall, Kilbaha

The old stone walls are coming alive. Wildflowers like dog violets and ribwort plantain thrive on top of the overgrown stones while mosses and ferns seek the nooks and crevices. It’s a world of its own.

Day 27 – 15. April: Wren, Kilbaha

The wren is one of Ireland’s smallest birds but has a voice to make up for its size. Its distinctive song can drown out all the other birds. I had met this particular wren a few times on my morning walks and some warm morning sunshine and a good dose of luck allowed me to finally capture an image of this jittery and always-on-the-move bird.

Day 28 – 16. April: Mrs. Fox, Kilbaha

This lady started to show up during the previous winter and was very shy in the beginning. In spring it became apparent that she had more mouths than her own to feed and – probably mainly based on the regular food supply we provided – her trust started to grow. Eventually she let me get close enough for a proper portrait image.

Day 29 – 17. April: Before Sunrise, Kilbaha – After Sunrise, Ross

This was one of those mornings that are exceedingly rare on Ireland's west coast. No wind, a calm sea and a colourful dawn followed by soft morning sunshine. Words just fail.

Day 30 – 18. April: The Shore Grazers, Ross

Just like the countryside the intertidal zone awakens to new life in spring. Seaweeds cover the bare rock with new growth and sea lettuce is one of the most striking seaweeds at this time of the year. It produces the most vibrant fresh green which is not only appreciated by the many shore grazers like these periwinkles.

Carsten Krieger, May 2020


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