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Silent Spring - Part 2

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

The spring of 2020 turned out to be of the driest and warmest in years. Many wildflowers started to bloom several weeks early, the most extreme was a single sheep's bit that flowered in late April, while others appeared in much smaller numbers than usual, the dandelion stood out for me here. Another sign of the times? Here are the next 30 days of the Silent Spring of 2020.

Day 31 – 19. April: Rock of Ages, Ross

This small, horseshoe-shaped cove is guarded by sheer cliffs and conveys a sense of shelter. On a fine spring evening it is indeed a tranquil place, in autumn and winter however this changes dramatically. When the weather is less pleasant and the wind blows from the north the churned up waters of the Atlantic Ocean turn the cove into wild whirlpool and batter the rocks relentlessly. These are the conditions that have turned the rocks on the upper shore in the artistically shaped masterpieces they are.

Day 32 – 20. April: The Maze, Loop Head

A little east of Loop Head the cliffs fold in on themselves and create a maze of sheer rock walls, sea stacks and arches. Among other birds a raven pair nests here on a lofty home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately they made themselves quite elusive and the sunset I had been hoping for didn’t materialize either. All I had left to work with were the swirling rocks and clouds.

Day 33 – 21. April: Rock Pipit, Loop Head

I was out again looking for the raven. While I was waiting and hoping the object of my desire would leave its lofty lookout far away on the cliff edge, a rock pipit showed some pity and posed on a lichen covered rock nearby. The rock pipit is a common and inconspicuous resident bird of the Irish coast, in looks and behaviour very similar to its cousin the meadow pipit. This little bird is always on the move but quite curious which gave me the chance for a few frame filling portraits. The raven on the other hand never left its lookout.

Day 34 – 22. April: Thrift, Loop Head

Thrift, sea pink and sea thrift are all names for the same plant: Armeria maritima. For most of the year the plant sits unassuming on stone walls and cliff tops, forming large, soft tussocks. Come spring long stalks, topped by green buds, appear. Within a few weeks the buds open into small flowers that range in colour from pure white to a deep pink. These small flowers appear in such numbers that the landscape disappears under a pink blanket. For me this is the real beginning of spring.

Day 35 – 23. April: Bramble Leaf, Kilbaha

Brambles are a major part of the Irish hedgerows and from late summer onward a source of free food. Unfortunately blackberry picking isn’t practiced widely anymore, our consumer oriented society prefers to buy jam, jelly and tarts even if the hedge outside is laden with blackberries. Spring however is still some months away from harvest season and all there is now are the emerging leaves that start in crimson red and only turn green once they have unfolded completely.

Day 36 – 24. April: Robin, Kilbaha

The robin is one of Ireland’s most common and well known birds. Contrary to their cute appearance robins are highly territorial and will aggressively turn away intruders. They are also very curious. This individual edged closer and closer until it eventually landed on the lens to give it a thorough inspection.

Day 37 – 25. April: Seaweed, Ross

Not only the land is going through a transformation at this time of the year. The coastal waters also see a seasonal change which becomes most apparent in the intertidal zone. Seaweeds are starting to grow vigorously and spread a blanket full of colours and textures over the rocky shore.

Day 38 – 26. April: Early Morning Light, Loop Head

Mist patches were lingering over the fields when I got up shortly before sunrise. I set out for the headland of Loop Head and suddenly found myself immersed in a wall of fog. Before me rose a grey wall of water droplets, behind me the rising sun painted the vapour in soft yellow tones. As suddenly as I had been engulfed I emerged out of the fog. The headland sits just a bit higher than the surrounding countryside but this little bit makes all the difference. The cliffs were battered by a strong swell, the fog I had just passed through was flowing over the cliff edge and above it all the morning sun painted the sky in pastel colours.

Day 39 – 27. April: Cuckoo Flower, Rinevella / Whimbrels, Ross

The cuckoo flower, also known as lady’s smock, got its name because it is said that it flowers at the same time the cuckoo arrives from its wintering grounds in central and south Africa. This year this theory was very much proven true. Only minutes before I made this image I had heard the first cuckoo call of the year.

When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver white And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then on every tree Mocks married men, for thus sings he: Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo: O, word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear! (Love's Labour Lost, William Shakespeare)

After my uplifting encounter with the cuckoo and its flower I encountered another traveling bird. The whimbrel spends the winter in Africa as well, but unlike the cuckoo these birds only have a rest stop in Ireland. These whimbrels were on the way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

Day 40 – 28. April: Shadow of a Giant, Ross

The second largest fish on the planet is a very regular visitor to Irish coastal waters but the excitement of actually seeing a basking shark never ceases. These animals that on average reach a length of eight meter feed entirely on plankton. By keeping their enormous mouth wide open the animal filters the water through its gill-rakers, some 500 tons of water every hour. Their feeding behaviour of slowly cruising just below the water surface, especially on sunny days, is what gave them their name.

Day 41 – 29. April: Thrift and Silverweed, Ross

Overnight the weather had turned from calm and sunny to cloudy and windy. I returned to the coast to find four basking sharks cruising just below the cliffs but the weather shattered my hopes for more basking shark images. So I sat down at the cliff edge and contently watched these mighty animals for a while. While just sitting there some flowers caught my attention. The ubiquitous thrift not only appears in dense tussocks but single flowers also manage to thrive right on the rock. The silverweed, named after the shimmering underside of its leaves, is also common but needs a bit more soil to grow. Only minutes after I had made these images the weather turned from bad to worse, the heavens opened and I decided to retreat.

Day 42 – 30. April: Sand Volcano, Ross

The cliffs of Loop Head are famous among geologists. Geological events of many million years ago are being laid bare in the cliff face and on the exposed rock platforms. For me looking at these rock formations is always a sobering experience. These rocks were once layers of silt and mud deposited into a vast river delta. Within these layers sand volcanoes were formed when liquified sand rose and burst through the surface layer and the remains of these events can still be seen today... some 300 million years later.

Day 43 – 1. May: Rising Tide, Ross

Watching the tides come and go is one of the privileges of living at the coast. A series of gentle waves is always followed by a stronger swell. It’s almost like the ocean has to display a reminder of its power and make sure nothing and nobody within its reach gets too settled and complacent. As if the battered rocks weren’t reminder enough.

Day 44 – 2. May: Fulmar, Loop Head

On land they appear like one of the main characters from an old slapstick movie, in the air however they are pure elegance, gracefully sailing along on stiff wings. The fulmar belongs to the order of Procellariforms, also known as tube-noses, and like other members of this order - albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters - are excellent flyers and are happiest when a proper wind blows.

Day 45 – 3. May: Thrift and Bumble Bee, Loop Head

During the day feathery clouds had been building in the blue sky. So when I set out for Loop Head on this evening I had a colourful sunset on my mind. This buff tailed bumblebee made me change my plans. The warm evening light created a wonderful atmosphere and the bumblebee going about its business, buzzing from one flower to the next, made me feel at ease and hopeful for the future. For a brief moment at least.

Day 46 – 4. May: Fading Light, Kilbhaha Bay

Hidden among the rock platforms of Kilbaha Bay lies a tiny beach that only gets revealed at spring tides. It is a spot I enjoy coming back to time and time again. It conveys a sense of shelter while allowing wide views over the Shannon Estuary and on a calm spring evening like this, when only a light breeze blows from the east and soft sunshine warms up the dark rocks, there is no better place to be.

Day 47 – 5. May: Lichen, Kilbaha Bay

It is always surprising how fast the weather can change in the west of Ireland. The evening before I was basking in warm evening sunshine and the following morning the winter coat and woolly hat were a necessity again. Low cloud and a brisk easterly wind made me head for the shelter of the bay and some lichen covered rocks. In many places the rock has completely disappeared under the various lichen species that come in all shapes and colours, creating their own miniature landscapes.

Day 48 – 6. May: Stonechat, Kilbaha

The stonechat is named after its song, a sound that resembles small stones being tapped together. The birds are rather vocal all year round but become especially chatty during the breeding season. A couple of stonechats breeds in the shrubs that line a small boreen and every time I walk past I am properly given out to. Interestingly it is always the female bird that forms the first line of defence, comeing rather close in the process, while the male with its characteristic black head prefers to state its annoyance with my presence from a distance.

Day 49 – 7. May: Marsh Orchids, Loop Head

Orchids are unpredictable. These plants spend their time underground, each species in a complicated symbiotic relationship with its own particular fungus, and only blooms when it feels like it. The marsh orchids at Loop Head are no exception and so every year it is an anxious wait on how many flowers, if any, will appear. I had discovered this small group of flowers the previous year and was obviously delighted that the plant had decided to bloom again this year.

Day 50 – 8. May: Lousewort, Loop Head

Lousewort is a typical plant of peaty soils and appears in huge numbers on the Loop Head heathland every year. It is a semi-parasitic plant that taps into the roots of neighbouring plants, very often heather, and gets some of its nutrients in this sneaky way. It is one of these flowers that look a bit inconspicuous from the distance, but reveals its real beauty when you get close and personal.

Day 51 – 9. May: May Morning Dew, Rinevella

Another foggy morning and a visit to the marshland at Rinevella. The spiderwebs that are artistically built between the old stems of reed usually blend in with their background and remain invisible. This is very much to the benefit of the spider and the misfortune of potential prey. Only when dew drops cling to the threads of silk, these little masterpieces become visible. The spiderweb comes in various shapes and can be adapted to very specific uses. The web of the orb-weavers (Araneidae), that are represented by over 3000 species, is probably the best known and visually the most intriguing.

Day 52 – 10. May: Bridge of Ross, Ross

The Bridge of Ross is the last of formerly three rock arches that transverses a narrow channel which has been carved into the stacked rock platforms. The two lost arches fell victim to the force of the Atlantic Ocean and it is only a question of time when the last remaining bridge will suffer the same fate.

Day 53 – 11. May: Thrift, Lichen, Rock, Ross

It is hard to ignore the sea pinks this time of year. They simply dominate the landscape and provide a vibrant contrast to both the dark rock of the coast and the fresh green of the countryside. They are simply one of the delights of spring.

Day 54 – 12. May: First Light, Rinevella

The first light of a warm spring day finds its way across the rock platforms that form the eastern end of Rinevella Bay and bath the distinct shape of Rehy Hill on the other end of the bay in golden colours. Days like this are rare in the far west of Ireland and the memory of it is something to hold on to when the westerly gales bring back the cold and the wet.

Day 55 – 13. May: Sea Campion, Rinevella

The sea campion is a common perennial flower of the Irish coast and joins the sea pink from late May onward. Like many other flowering plants the sea campion burst into bloom some two weeks earlier than usual, a behaviour that is slowly developing into a pattern, one symptom of a changing climate.

Day 56 – 14. May: Along the Boreen, Kilbaha

Boreens, small country lanes, are a refuge for plants and animals and a treasure chest for photographers. In spring and summer the roadsides are a symphony of shapes, colours and sound and let you marvel at the intricate structures nature has imagined over the millennia. The seed heads of the dandelion and the fresh leaves of the scaly male fern are just two of many little boreen wonders.

Day 57 – 15. May: Dawn ‘til Dusk, Rinevella Bay & Kilbaha Bay

The unusual warm and settled weather continued and I spent my day along the inlets of the Shannon Estuary, between the colours of dawn and the soft light of the evening. I paid another visit to the beach at Rinevella just before sunrise and enjoyed the last rays of light at the pier in Kilbaha. This is spring perfection.

Day 58 – 16. May: Common Carder Bee, Kilbaha

The decline in insect populations is one of the most urgent problems of our time. Around 30% of all bee and butterfly species are seeing a continuous sharp drop in numbers while 10% are already endangered. These animals are not only important to keep the network of nature in balance - they are a main food source for other animals, especially birds, and the decline in insect populations directly affects these animals - insects are first and foremost pollinators. Some 80% of wildflowers and crop plants depend on bees, butterflies, beetles, hoverflies, moths and wasps to transport pollen from one plant to the next. Without this delivery system the plant will not only be able to develop seeds to insure the survival of its species, it also won’t produce fruit which ensures the survival of many other species including us.

Day 59 – 17. May: Creeping Buttercup, Kilbaha

Eventually the fine spring weather needed a break and was replaced by dull and windy conditions and the occasional shower. I hunkered down in a field to get out of the wind and to explore. What I found were some wildflower that are usually associated with summer already coming into bloom and the realization that the number of species on Irish pastures seem to get less and less with every passing year. In this half acre field, in addition to the creeping buttercup pictured here, were some red clover, rough hawkbit, cuckoo flowers and common chickweed. A far cry from the old hay meadows and bad news for insects.

Day 60 – 18. May: Loop Head Coast, Ross

Back at Ross, this time the view east along the rugged and intricate coastline. Here the power of the Atlantic Ocean becomes apparent once again. Narrow inlets and caves have been carved out of solid rock, rock platforms split into pieces and boulders thrown onto the cliff top.

Carsten Krieger, June 2020


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