From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Wed, 07 Jun 2000 21:03:23 +0200

Cork has has the last weeks experienced the kind of weather that I have
always thought 'typically Irish': a mixture of short sunny periods and
prolonged spells of rain, with temperatures around 15*C. This has been good
for the amphipod work, but less favourable for longer walks, especially as
I am still dependent on not very frequent buses.
Cork itself remains the same. From my window in my souterrain I hear in the
morning the cooing of the Wood Pigeons ('Doe de deur dicht, zoete lief',
was the mnemonic we had when I was small, and it was a very effective one,
as the pigeon always ends up with the emphatic sound of the door being
closed), the 'sawing' of Great Tits, and earlier in the morning, the
beautiful concert of our blackbirds and robins and the exuberant voice of
the Winter Wren. Jackdaws nest in the chimneys and also Swifts clearly have
'nesting roofs' somewhere in mt street. In the little park old people air
their overweight and underbreath small dogs, and the local boys use the
scattered trees on the well-manicured lawn as goal-posts for their soccer
game. Otherwise black birds dominate also here: the Jackdaws and the
fantastically common and tame Rooks, the odd Hooded Crow, and always a few
Blackbirds hopping around searching for worms. Oddly enough, I still have
not seen a single House Sparrow in my neighbourhood, in spite of the large
masses of partly edible refuse that the people genrously scatter around
daily.There are House Sparrows elsewhere in Cork, but not all that many.
Along the river Lee (and on many of the old stone walls) there are now
red Spur Flowers Kentranthus everywhere, and the Grey Wagtails have
persisted and clearly nest even along this tidal stretch of the river.
Mallards and Mute Swans come and go, and Cormorants fly past. In the town
centre, the river is probably already somewhat brackish, and the water much
more muddy; here schools of largish fish (Mugil cephalus, the Bass) can be
seen, although few people seem to notice them.
On Sunday I took the bus to Ballyvourney, NW of Cork on the road to
Killarney, and walked up in the hills from there. From the old stone bridge
over the Sullane river I watched wagtails (here both Pied and Grey) and
Dippers; the latter is a truly amazing bird, that I never tire of watching.
The path led uphill through a beautiful beech forest, planted several
centuries ago, and now thoroughly mixed with many other hardwood trees:
oaks, birches, ash, maple, hazel, and---special for me-- a lot of Holly
Ilex aquifolius. In the undergrowth the Bluebells have by now mostly faded
and their place is now taken by what I learned was called St Patricks
Cabbage here, a rich-flowering white Saxifraga (S. spathularis) dominating
the rocksides and later on also the hedgerows between the fields. It is I
think a typically Lusitanian plant, confined to the SW of Ireland, where
winters are specially mild. Birds there were not all that many: Robins
dominated the 'noon chorus', while also wrens, Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches and
various tits and thrushes contributed. A faraway scolding Jay added one
more bird to my Irish list, still growing very slowly.
The path led unto a cemetery around the ruined chapel, shrine and grave
of St Gobnait, the patron saint of this district who founded a nunnery here
in the seventh entury, and who clearly is still much venerated, with many
people 'going the rounds' praying. This area also sported several 'holy
wells', who were for me also very interesting, primarily because they
showed such a wonderful 'source vegetation', full of Chrysosplenium and the
Large Bitter Cress, Cardamine amara. Also here, Chaffinches and Robins
dominated birdlife.
From the shrine, a narrow tarred road led uphill through 'typical irish
hedgerow landscape', but the fields became steadily more scrubby until I
came into bog habitats. In the hedgerows the yellow glow of the Gorse has
now largely disappeared, and also many of the Hawthorns are rapidly fading.
But now Elder Sambucus and Mountain Ash Sorbus have started to flower, and
here and there there are vivid pink splashes of large Rhododendrons . In
the undergrowth Foxgloves Digitalis and Mountain Aven Geum are out, the
Umbilicaria is full of yellow 'pagodes' with flowers (a theme repeated by
the blue Bugle Ajuga in the grass, and the yellow Pimpernel Lysimachia
nemorum twinkles in the road verges.
In the bogs proper I was greatly surprised coming across my first Greater
Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, with its enormous and beautiful dark
violet flowers; this first group had at least 25 flowering plants close
together, and I could hardly believe that these were truly wild plants.The
insectivorous Butterworts are also common in N.Norway, but there the
flowers are nothing like as impressive as these. Somewhat more unkempt
looking Lousewort Pedicularis was also regular here, and in a little pond I
was lucky and found one of the plants that I always longed to see when I
was a boy, the tall and elegant Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua, now
regularly seen in garden ponds, but at that time a real rarity.
In the flower-rich haylands I got another surprise, the endless reel of
the Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia; this, like the song of Savi's
Warbler , reminds me always of a discrete travelling alarm clock going off,
but that of the Grasshopper Warbler seems to have very little effect, as it
goes on and on and on, without anybody switching it off. I wrote a short
paper on the song of this bird almost 40 years ago (time flies), so it is
an old favourite of mine. Otherwise these fields and bogs hold the usual
birds: many black birds again (here also Starlings, in addition to the
Jackdaws , Rooks and Blackbirds), scolding Meadow Pipits (and I must
confess here that I probably was carried away when I reported Tree pipits
in my last impression; many of you have now convinced me, that these also
must have been Meadow Pipits that in Ireland have also occupied the habitat
of the Tree pipit, one of the many songbirds that somehow never made it
across the Irish Sea as a nesting bird)and jubilating Skylarks. In the
hedgerows mainly thrushes (Blackbird, Song Thrush and Robin), Wrens and
Chaffinches, but also regularly Willow Warblers, and a sprinkling of
Dunnocks, Goldfinches, and Great and Coal Tits; Wood Pigeons were also
common, and pheasants echoed from the fields, but there were no raptors, no
lapwings, no gulls and no snipe.
At the furthest point from Ballyvourney the skies, which had been
threatening all day, carried out their threat with a vengeance, and the
rest of the walk is mostly a wet blur in my memory. But I'll gladly do it
Yesterday I walked through the game park of Fota, where many rare mammals
are bred and shown to the public; they are especially famous for their
cheetahs. There are also some giraffes there, and I heard a little boy call
out excitedly: 'Look daddy, a photograph!!' 'No no', said the father,
'that is called a giraffe, not a photograph.' 'Oh', said the boy, and then
a little later: 'oh look daddy there are still more photographs walking
over there!
Wim Vader, Tromsoe Museum
9037 Tromsoe, Norway

until 15 June UCC, Cork, Ireland 

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