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Silent Spring - Part 3

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

The final weeks of the Silent Spring project became unexpectedly difficult. Having to go out every day and produce a more or less decent image is more difficult than it sounds, and the resulting creative exhaustion combined with the weather that on many days turned unseasonably wet and windy, made the project a challenge. Nevertheless some wonderful encounters and a few warm and sunny days made it all worthwhile.

Day 61 – 19. May: Beadlet Anemone, Ross

Looks are deceiving. Sea anemones with their colourful and graceful appearance are fierce predators and devour anything they can catch with their tentacles. This beadlet anemone had caught a common limpet and was slowly pushing the prey towards its mouth. Some twenty minutes later the empty shell was discarded.

Day 62 – 20. May: English Stonecrop, Kilbaha

The English stonecrop is common on the old stone walls and field boundaries around Loop Head. The plant forms large mats and features small, fleshy leaves that turn a deep red when they mature. From late May tiny, star shaped white flowers appear and it this colour palette of red and white that makes this plant so attractive.

Day 63 – 21. May: Feeding Frenzy, Loop Head

A shoal of fish - most likely sprat – did swim a bit too close to the bird colonies at Loop Head and apparently word got around. The result was a feeding frenzy featuring herring gulls, black backed gulls, kittiwakes and some guillemots, all trying to grab their dinner. The spectacle lasted only minutes and was over as quickly as it had started.

Day 64 – 22. May: Spring Storm, Ross

Spring usually brings a long break from strong winds and high seas. Over the past years however traditional weather patterns have started to change and have given way to more unpredictable and extreme weather events. This May Storm was one of those events and brought winds up to 100kmh and very rough seas.

Day 65 – 23. May: Bog Cotton, Loop Head

The aftermath of the storm could still be felt on this dark and windy day... not the best conditions to photograph bog cotton or to use its proper name, common cotton grass. Contrary to this name the plant is a member of the sedge family and can mainly be found on blanket and raised bogs. Some patches of wet grassland on Loop Head however offers similar growing conditions and the bog cotton seems to feel very comfortable here.

Day 66 – 24. May: Caterpillar Silhouette, Kilbaha

To me there is still something magic about the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly or moth and I always look forward to the time of year when the caterpillars appear. This caterpillar of a lackey moth was crawling about in the bramble hedge in my garden. This is a very intricate and colourful caterpillar and a black & white image really doesn't do it justice. Unfortunately this individual was not very cooperative and very much on the run. So in the end the best image I could get was a silhouette of some caterpillar acrobatics.

Day 67 – 25. May: Soaked Stonechat, Kilbaha

This day had been a proper washout. Only towards evening the heavy rain subsided and was replaced by low clouds that brought a fine drizzle. In the evening I took a stroll along the boreen, desperate to get the picture for this day. Even the stonechat couple seemed to have enough of the rain, gave out to me rather half-heartedly and while the female disappeared, the drenched-looking male quietly sat down a fence-post to keep an eye on me.

Day 68 – 26. May: Rock Arch, Loop Head

The fine weather had returned and I took the chance to visit one of my favourite sights of Loop Head’s northern coast. These rock layers had been laid down horizontally millions of years ago, yet here they rise almost vertically from the ocean which gives a glimpse at the forces that simmer under the surface of our planet.

Day 69 – 27. May: Between the Tides, Ross

An exploration of the intertidal zone when the water is out is always exciting. Each coming and going of the tide changes the appearance of this no-men’s-land and you never know what you will find. Sponges or porifera are one of the oldest animals on Earth, fossil records date back to about 580 million years but it is thought that sponges existed long before that date.

The dogwhelk in comparison is a very young species and one of the top predators of the intertidal zone and feeds mainly on mussels and barnacles.

Day 70 – 28. May: The Pond, Loop Head

This little pond sits just meters away from sheer cliffs. In early spring scurvy grass gives it a white border, in summer reeds form a wall around it. On the unnamed hill in the background cattle graze peacefully and hares go about their business in the adjoining heath. It’s a perfect countryside scene, only the thundering Atlantic nearby makes it a bit surreal.

Day 71 – 29. May: Gull Island, Loop Head

The aptly named Gull Island still has a feeble connection to the mainland and is home to most of the local gull population. Herring gulls and greater black backed gulls use this rock as resting place all year round and raise their chicks here during the summer. On the lower rock shelves a few cormorants have built their impressive nests.

Day 72 – 30. May: Ringed Plover, Loop Head

The ringed plover is a common wading bird all along Ireland’s coast where it mainly appears at river estuaries and sand or shingle beaches. Finding them on the clifftop heath of Loop Head was a bit unusual but it seems that a breeding pair had decided to make this place their home for the summer. In the following weeks I met the two birds in the same area on a regular basis.

Day 73 – 31. May: Grean Rock, Kilkee

The nights are getting shorter and the hours of complete darkness are only few. It is only this time of year the cliffs on the northern side of the Loop Head Peninsula are getting illuminated by the rising sun.

Day 74 – 1. June: Summer Flowers, Kilbaha

While the wildflowers of spring had been slowly fading, the summer brigade was already in full swing on this first day of June: The flag iris is common along ditches and on wet pastures while the delicate kidney vetch lines the cliff tops.

Day 75 – 2. June: Growing Up, Kilbaha

Mother fox had been bringing her two cubs around for a while and the two couldn’t have been more different: The slightly bigger one was very curious and constantly on the move, the second cub was extremely cautious, stuck close to its mother and disappeared at the slightest sound or movement.

Day 76 – 3. June: Eggs, Loop Head

Early June and the breeding season was in full swing. Kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots and razorbills had laid their eggs and the inhabitants of the nearby gull colony, like every year, took advantage of that. These remains of a guillemot and razorbill egg have most likely been a meal for a herring or a black backed gull.

Day 77 – 4. June: Hide and Seek, Kilbaha

The wet and windy weather had returned, a perfect day to dive into the high grass. It seemed this caterpillar of the six spot burnet moth wasn't too happy about the change in the weather either and tried to find some shelter under the clover leaves.

Day 78 – 5. June: Strawberry Moon, Kilbaha

The Strawberry Moon, also known as the Rose Moon, is the last full moon before the summer solstice. The name however doesn't refer to the colour of the moon (although it can take on a slight reddish tint when it rises), it rather refers to the time of year when strawberries are starting to ripen and roses are beginning to bloom.

Day 79 – 6. June: Fox and Magpie, Kilbaha

Our magpie couple that is always around in a rather inconspicuous fashion had come into the open. The unfortunate object of their attention was mother fox. This was no surprise as it was breeding season for the magpies as well and I suspected a nest in the nearby hedgerows. This suspicion was confirmed a few weeks later when the fox passed the living room window with a juvenile magpie in its mouth.

Day 80 – 7. June: Dog Rose, Poulnasherry Bay

The dog rose is one of the rarer hedgerow plants here in the far west but pops up here and there in some sheltered spots like Poulnasherry, a sheltered inlet of the Shannon Estuary.

Day 81 – 8. June: Cave with a view, Ross

The cliffs around Loop Head are dotted with sea caves and a few of those are accessible on foot when the tide is out. The majority however belongs solely to the wildlife, especially to the grey seals who use these caves to raise their pups in autumn.

Day 82 – 9. June: Sheep’s Bit, Ross

The deep blue flowers of sheep's-bit appear from late May and signal the arrival of summer. However the flower only appears blue to us, much of the true colours of this and many other flowers lies in the ultraviolet spectrum which is only visible to bees and some other insects.

Day 83 – 10. June: Bird Colony, Loop Head

The bird colonies at Loop Head are as busy as it gets at this time of year. Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars have laid their eggs but each in a very different fashion. Kittiwakes built a proper next, guillemots on the other hand breed on the bare rock surface and the fulmars are somewhere in-between and scrape together a few pieces of small rocks.

Day 84 – 11. June: Peatland, Moanmore

To avoid the worst of the wind I went a bit further afield. The eastern border of the Loop Head Peninsula is marked by a vast stretch of blanket bog. Like most peatlands in Ireland the Moanmore Bog has been harvested for fuel for generations, converted to farmland or planted with Sitka spruce monocultures and only bits and pieces of the bog are still intact. It still is a wonderful place though when the breeze moves the bog cotton and the only sound is the song of the skylark.

Day 85 – 12. June: Cloudy Dawn, Doonaha

Early morning at the Shannon Estuary near Doonaha. The wind was still blowing, the sky was still covered in clouds and I had to bring out the woolly hat again. This is however not unusual for the Irish summer and the colours and textures on the land and in the sky make very much up for the uncomfortable weather.

Day 86 – 13. June: Transformation, Kilbaha

This could have very well be my friend from Day 77, the six spot burnet moth caterpillar, now in its cocoon and performing one of the most fascinating acts in nature.

Day 87 – 14. June: Faces of the Shannon Estuary, Doonaha & Querrin

Sandy beaches, rocky shores and mudflats. The landscape of the Shannon Estuary comes in many shapes…

Day 88 – 15. June: Sea Fog, Ross

Weather can change in an instant here in the west. After a warm and sunny day I had been looking forward to some nice evening light. Just when the sun was getting low in the sky and the harsh light turned soft and warm, a grey wall appeared off Loop Head's north coast and 10 minutes later everything was engulfed in grey sea fog.

Day 89 – 16. June: Raven, Kilbaha

I had planned to pay our raven family another visit before the end of this project. By pure chance I ran into them close to home while out on a quick walk with the family. Ravens start breeding early in the year (February or March) and lay 3-7 eggs. These four were either the two adults with this year's offspring or four young birds that stuck together for a while before establishing their own territories.

Day 90 – 17. June: College Strand, Carrigaholt

Soft evening light on the Shannon Estuary at College Strand. It was one of those evenings when land, sea and sky blend into one. The estuary is far from being a dramatic landscape but it radiates a tranquil and simple beauty.

Day 91 – 18. June: Yellow Horned Poppy, Rinevella

The yellow-horned poppy is one of the rarest flowering plants we have at Loop Head (in Ireland this perennial is classed as "near threatened") and its flowering behaviour is rather unpredictable. The year before the flowers had produced a sea of yellow all along this shingle beach, this year only a few singular plants appeared.

Day 92 – 19. June: Sea Stack, Loop Head

This small sea stack and rock platforms at the Mouth of the Shannon are a wonderful showcase for the forces of wind and water. In a more or less distant past the rock platforms probably hosted sea stacks of their own and sometime in the future the remaining sea stack will tumble into the sea.

Day 93 – 20. June: Summer Solstice

A day of heavy rain didn’t bode well for the shortest night of the year. Miraculously the rain stopped and the clouds started to dissipate shortly before sunset. The long lasting afterglow provided the perfect backdrop for the summer solstice and the end of this project.

Carsten Krieger, June 2020


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