Posts Tagged With: birds

Dursey. An island at the end of Ireland.

Dursey Island lies at the end of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. It has been inhabited since antiquity and though it lies only 200 m from the mainland it has always been one of the most remote and inhospitable places to live in in the whole country.

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Dursey Island looking towards the mainland.

It had a tortured early existence and was the site of one of the most horrific events in Irish history.  Following the Battle of Kinsale and the defeat of Donal Cam O’Sullivan at Dunboy in early 1602, the English moved to clean up the last of the rebels.  Many of the O’Sullivan Clan’s non-combatants had been sent to  Dursey to keep them out of harm’s way.  An English force attacked the small garrison guarding the island. They butchered the entire population of the island, women, children and the garrison. Three hundred people executed on the cliffs and their bodies (some were still alive) cast into the sea.  O’Sullivan survivors from the whole of the Beara Peninsula, about 1,000 of them, then marched 550 km north to seek shelter from the O’Rourkes of Leitrim, but that’s another story.

As with the rest of the west coast of Ireland, Dursey suffered during the famine with a 30% reduction in its population in the 1840s.  Its subsequent and continuing depopulation reflects that of many other Irish islands but its survival displays the resilience and strength of its people. In 1860 the three villages of Ballynacallagh, Kilmichael and Tilickafinna,  a population of around 240 eked out a lonely life on the treeless but well pastured island.  By 1969 this number was down to 53. A feature of the island now is the large number of abandoned houses from these times.  This eloquently tell the story of a disappearing population, but they also give the island its remarkable character.

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Abandoned village

Up until 1970 the only way to get on and off the island was by boat across the channel.  A channel that could become so treacherous with storms and a tidal surge  that for a month and a half each year the island was completely cut off.  Considering that there was no electricity, TV, doctor, priest, food supplies and no hall or pub, life must have been very bleak indeed.   After much agitation from islanders the Government agreed to build a cable car to provide a lifeline and, while that did save it from the same fate as the Blaskets, which were abandoned in 1953, it did not stop the population drain until, by 2011, there were only three permanent residents.

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Treacherous tides and surges made this channel very dangerous to cross.  Not these days.

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Approaching the island

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Anticipation. A picture window.

But the cable car opened the island to the tourist.  6.5 km in length, there is much of interest.

To walk the island takes at least 4 hours but I spent over 6 hours ambling and rambling, getting lost and finding myself again.  Just absorbing the ambiance and grateful for the glorious sunshine and the warm breeze that accompanied me. It is glorious to walk either along the sometimes paved road (which despite the alarming speed sign is almost devoid of vehicles;  I saw only one) or across the hills but best to stay on the marked paths unlike me.

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There is a marked walking trail across the hills.  Looking across to the mainland.

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If you leave the path walking through thick vegetation and across stone walls can be a challenge.

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I can never understand Irish speed limits.  100 kph!?

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Looking from the western tip of the island back towards the mainland.  A signal tower stands on the highest point.

On your walk you will come across the remains  of St Mary’s Abbey, a Napoleonic signal tower, historic ruins, spectacular views, rocky cliffs, birds galore, native orchids and your best chance  in Ireland to see dolphins and whales.

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St Mary’s Abbey

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Cliffs on the southern side of the island

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Dolphins

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I tracked this pod of dolphins for over half an hour down the coast

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Native orchids are common

At the western end of the island are three small islands.  Well, rocks really.  They are known as Calf Rock, Cow Rock and yes, you guessed it, Bull Rock.

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Looking west across Dursey to the imposing Bull Rock, two miles off shore

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Cow Rock and Bull Rock

A lighthouse was established on  Calf Rock in 1866.

Less than three years later a storm damaged the lighthouse.  This led to another tragic event in the saga of Dursey.  The Keeper, on Dursey, thought he saw distress flags and six boatmen were dispatched.  Those on the island were safe however, on the the return trip, the boat capsized and all six were lost

On 27 November 1881 in another  violent storm the the tower and lantern just snapped off above the steel base and fell into the sea. No one was hurt but it took two weeks to extract the four men stranded on the island. You can still see the base of the tower to this day.

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Calf Rock with the remains of the steel base of the light tower. Wrecked in 1881

To replace this lighthouse one was built on nearby Bull Rock, work commencing in  1882.  The light didn’t open until 1888.  It is worth pondering the challenge of constructing this on an island of precipitous cliffs measuring 230 m by 160 m and rising to 90 m above sea level.

The station consisted of an octagonal lighthouse tower, dwellings for the Keepers, and an oil-gas works.   This was a massive undertaking and the optic was the biggest in Ireland.

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Bull Rock with its lighthouse.  You can also see a gull colony and the entrance to a natural tunnel that goes right through the island.

The light still stands proudly today though it was automated in 1991. The island is swarming with gulls.  Also noteworthy is a natural tunnel that goes right through the island.  You can see the eastern entrance in the picture above.

That’s Dursey.   Take everything you think you’ll need because there are no supplies on the island and not even a toilet. And it won’t always be mild and sunny as it was for me; go prepared for bleak and wild.

But don’t miss it.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Skellig Michael. Forget ‘Star Wars’. It’s more like ‘Close Encounters of the Bird Kind’.

Finally I got onto Skellig Michael after three tries over two years. The island is 12 km off the Kerry coast and to get there you need quite a bit of persistence and a lot of luck. Fortunately the monks were smiling on an unseasonably warm day in early June. In fact we were in the third week of a sunny spell like no one could remember. Day after day over 20 degrees.

I really was excited as 12 of us boarded the first ferry of the day out of Portmagee, one of 15 that have permits, Twelve of the lucky 12,000 a year to visit.  Leaving the calm, blue harbour of pretty Portmagee, its painted cottages reflected as if by a mirror, we headed towards the mystical island.

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Leaving the harbour at Portmagee

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The village of Portmagee.  Reflective calm

But first we sailed past the nearby Little Skellig, Skellig Michael’s twin rock. George Bernard Shaw said of Skelllig Michael following a visit in 1910, it was the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world”.  Like its big brother, Little Skellig is if anything more jagged and more precipitous and more impossible. As we sailed around the island constantly changing our view different faces were revealed.

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Little Skellig I

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Little Skellig II

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Little Skellig III.

These islands defy geological truth. The Devonian sandstone protrusions shouldn’t be there. It is easy to see how the ancients would have believed they got there by the hand of God. Jagged needles of stone, rocky barbs, thrown into the sea by an angry deity.  Piled one on the other. I can see little vegetative life. Useful to no man.

But useful to birds they are.  Little Skellig is painted white with birds and their droppings. Gannets, gannets and gannets.  Some say 50,000 of them. I can’t not think though of Monty Python and the Bookshop Sketch.  ‘Do you have Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds? The Expurgated version. The one without the gannet.’

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Gannets on Little Skellig

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Did I mention gannets?

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Natural arch at the northern end of Little Skellig

This is the second largest such colony in the world. There doesn’t seem to be room for anything else as every rock ledge is crowded. A majestic sea bird, second in size only to the albatross, the sky is filled with their gliding forms as some soar effortlessly around our boat.

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Every surface is occupied by a gannet

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A gannet glides past our boat

We head to the Big Skellig.  In much more comfort I should say than the monks who arrived in their curraghs in the 7th Century, or even George Bernard Shaw who in 1904 was rowed by 10 oarsmen who took 2½ hours for the trip. As the island loomed, its jagged peaks towering over us,  to me it seemed softer than the never-occupied Little. There were patches of seductive vivid green on its slopes.

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As we head to the south Skellig Michael is revealed

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Looking back northwards towards Little Skellig

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Skellig Michael looms.  Approaching from the north

We tied up temporarily against a set of concrete steps and you had to time your leap with the rising and sinking of the boat. They warned us about the steps to the monastery but no mention of this.  It would be impossible to land in any kind of swell. I have heard stories of visitors getting to the island but not being able to disembark.

This was not the first place the monks landed but one of three used over the centuries and the only one used today.  This choice  historically provided the opportunity to get ashore regardless of wind direction.  Above us winds a set of steps of stone heading straight up the mountain. This path is not now used.

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Steps rise to the monastery from the north landing place.  Currently not used.

Instead we follow a path that snakes south, clinging to the cliff edge past nesting sea birds on sheer cliffs to the start of another set of steps that is the current route up.

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The access road along the eastern face of the island.  The main steps to the monastery rise up the saddle between the two peaks.

But then I see my first puffin and then another and then they are everywhere. These cute and protected birds are the stuff of legend and a reason alone to ensure your visit is in late Spring or early Summer. We all of us turn into expert wildlife photographers producing copy fit for National Geographic. It is impossible not to take a great photo.

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My first sighting of puffins

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Poser.

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Close Encounters of the Bird Kind.

But I am going to pass on the puffins for the moment. I will have more to say about them in another place. It’s not just puffins though. They share the rocks and crevices with many others. Guillemots clustered together with a similar upright stance on the narrowest of ledges, looking for all the world like penguins. Kittiwakes with specially designed claws that enable them to cling on to their precarious piece of rock. Razorbills with their distinctive white streaks to the eyes. Gulls, terns and others such as shearwaters that I didn’t see. An aquatic avian paradise.

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Guillemots and kittiwakes nesting on the cliff

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Kittiwakes grab their spot wherever they can

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Razorbills

The main purpose of any visit to this place though is to see the monastery. Not tackling the 611 steps to the stone structures atop the northern peak would be like visiting the Guinness factory and not having a pint. The journey up is spectacular but so is the reward.

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Visitors start the climb

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In the footsteps of the monks

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The final leg heads up from Christ’s Saddle, the area between the two peaks

It is considered the best example of an early monastery in Ireland and is of world significance. Developed between the sixth and eighth centuries it is truly remarkable for its preservation.  A series of terraces contains six ‘clochán’-type beehive cells, two oratories, stone crosses, slabs and a later medieval church.   The cells and oratories are all of dry-built corbel construction. This unique method of overlapping stones giving an igloo shape to the outer wall but more regularly rectangular inside is very efficient at keeping out wind and water and have been doing so for 1,500 years.  Other terraces housed gardens. Vegetables were believed to have been grown but their main source of food was fish, birds and eggs. The monks led a simple life of foraging and prayer and sought out remote places such as this, as the hardship and sacrifice proved their devotion, until the island was abandoned in the 12th or 13th century.

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Rich archaeological heritage including beehive huts and a high cross

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Inside a beehive hut

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View through the window of the church

While regaining our breath, one of the OPW guides Catherine, who has been doing this for 18 years gave us the benefit of her wisdom. And cheerfully took my photo as I and countless others posed for the de rigeur ‘selfie’ shot with Little Skellig in the background. Funny how small Ireland is.  I had met Catherine at a music festival, two years ago.

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Proof I was there

For some monks sharing this isolation with other monks was still not enough. On the higher south peak there is an hermitage, where a monk is believed to have led a solitary life. You can’t reach it now but just getting there involve huge risk and athleticism, No steps in places just toe holds cut into the rock face. And squeezing through the notorious Eye of the Needle. In the accompanying photo you can just see the terraces across the valley near the very top of the South Peak.

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The South Peak.  You can just see the stone walls of the Hermitage near the peak.

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A close up of the terraces at the Hermitage site.

I can but wonder at the devotion and sacrifice of these people. Their zeal to be closer to God seemed almost to have given them super powers.

Our time at the top though was all too short. Conscious all the time of getting back to the boat I returned down the mountain gingerly negotiating the steps to the bottom. Just a little quicker I have to say than the way up. I surprised myself actually at how doable the climb was and though I saw many struggling I saw no one give up.

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The southern shore of the island.  One lighthouse is visible on the right

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view of the south peak and the road to the second lighthouse

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The main landing spot for the monks with the ancient steps up the valley

You can’t get everywhere on the island though.  The road to the lighthouses (there are two of them) is closed and they can only be seen from the ocean.  In fact on the way home our helpful skipper from Casey’s took us around the southern shore where aside from the lighthouse you can see the other landing points I mentioned.

I met Christina, a fellow Aussie, who was lucky enough to get onto the boat during her short visit to Ireland.  It was impossible not to be infected by simply being on this ‘impossible rock’.  The joy on her face was real as it was on the faces of the others that were privileged enough to get there on such a warm sunny day.

This will be a lifelong treasured memory for us all.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Route 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Almost.

I know those who follow this blog probably do so because they are interested in my posts on Ireland.  Well I recently had a holiday in the States so I have a few other stories to tell. So I will get back to Ireland but in the meantime I will talk a bit about my visits to San Francisco and then later New York.

I had just spent some time discovering San Francisco.  My plan was to drive south from there to Los Angeles on Highway 1.  Legendary names like Monterey, Big Sur and San Simeon were on the itinerary and I had given myself three days. What I wasn’t really aware of was that this actually wasn’t now possible due to a landslide and storm damage near Big Sur last year and consequent closing of the iconic bridge there amid worries as to its stability.   But as I headed off I didn’t know this.

Leaving San Francisco shrouded in its usual summer fog was not exactly what I would have hoped for but you don’t need crystal clear blue skies to enjoy this place.

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Goodbye to San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist.

The geologist in me wanted to find the San Andreas Fault.  This was my first challenge.   The city behind, I followed Freeway 280 and Highway 35 as they traced the line of  the Fault. The fault itself though lay to the west of the highway and was defined by a linear river and lake system known as Crystal Springs and San Andreas Lake. So there wasn’t a lot to see.

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San Andreas Lake, south of San Francisco.  The lake fills the valley which marks the path of the San Andreas Fault.

There were a couple of spots where the rocks in the road cuttings showed strong evidence of shearing and slickensides and where extreme measures were taken to support the crumbling rock in road cuttings.  I assume these are due to splay faulting from the San Andreas.

I looked for a spot where I could cross the fault line on the way to Highway 1 But at the probable location there was nothing to see from the massive bridge over the lake.

I didn’t realise the fault line was so inland.  Next time I will do more research.  Oh well. I headed back to Highway 1 through the rugged hills of the Miramontes Ridge to the coast at Half Moon Bay. Nowhere to stop and take photos on the way!

Half Moon Bay is a pretty spot where you can partake of gourmet food, taste olive oil, visit boutiques or craft shops if that’s your wont.  Or do as I did and have an organic salad and listen to some accoustic music in the garden of San Benito Cafe. That was a pleasant surprise.

Now I was really on Highway 1 so I headed south. I took every opportunity to get off the freeway onto the coast and there were plenty of places to stop and walk down the cliffs to deserted beaches.  At San Gregorio Beach, at Pescadero Beach and then the lighthuse at Pigeon Point Bluffs. And one of the best windsurfing and sail boarding locations in California at Waddell Creek.

On the way there were rugged cliffs, and jagged coasts, banks of fog rolling in with blue sky behind, a lighthouse silhouetted in the mist, pods of pelicans, marsh and bogland with a congregation of egrets, a phallanx of wind surfers and sail boarders taking advantage of a favourable breeze, hardy flora, solitary birds of prey and all the time the Pacific Ocean on my right.

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Coastal scene at San Gregorio Beach

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The coast near Pescadero Beach

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Pigeon Point Bluffs

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A bank of fog rolls in over Pigeon Point

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Egrets at home in the Pescadero Marsh

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An egret takes flight.

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Man takes flight.  At Waddell Creek.

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Waddell Creek Beach

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Waddell Creek Beach

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The food bowl of America.  Growing Vegetables near Monterey

I had intended to visit the boardwalk at Santa Cruz but the crowds and the chaos turned me off.  After all it was just a collection of carousels and rides though the fact it had been there since 1907 was of interest to me.  So I continued on and finished the day in fading light in a classic American motel in the town of Marina, just north of Monterey.

The next day I wanted to take the 17 mile Drive around Pebble Beach south of Monterey.  Renowned for its wildlife and for its scenic beauty I was a tad surprised when I was asked to pay $10 but the fine print on the ticket says I could have my money back if I played a round of golf.  Yeah sure. Read on.

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The Monterey entrance to the 17-mile drive.

Once you drive in the gate the first image you have is of the lush greens of a luxury course where it meets the Pacific Ocean.  There are indeed eight golf courses on the peninsula. Including two that are regularly rated in the top 10 in the world.  Pebble Beach which is open to the public and costs $525 a round (but you get your $10 back) and Cypress Point (which is NOT open to the public and is the most exclusive in the world with only 250 members!).  Non members just cannot play there and members include zillionaires such as Bill Gates but shamefully if your rich but black you can’t be a member.

Many of the courses hug the coast and reach inland to the marshes and forests.  Indeed there are greens and tees located within the beachside rocks dunes and cliffs.  Huge granite boulders and cypress pines are a feature.  Challenging would be one word to describe many of the holes.  The famous Par 3 hole 16 at Cypress Point requires a 230 yard drive over the swirling ocean to reach the tee.

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A glance down to the shore reveals a young seal seemingly unperturbed about being alone.  Just basking.   Lines of pelicans soar overhead making their way north and the rocks are covered with cormorants and gulls including the elegant California Gull with the red dot on the beak and the distinctive grey plumage of the Heermann’s Gull (The head turns white when they are breeding.

 

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A young seal basks on the rocks

 

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A pod of pelicans and a lonely cypress.

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Pelicans in flight

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California Gull

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Adult non breeding Heermann’s Gull

Look hard and you will see the perfectly camouflaged Californian Squirrel.  This is a ground squirrel unlike his tree based cousin perhaps more familiar to those on the east coast or London for that matter.  Darting about in and around the rocks and then standing up like a prairie dog.  Motionless.  Certainly they are cute but they are still considered a pest as they were in 1918 when children were enlisted to poison the rodents which were then apparently threatening the war effort against the Germans (see the squirrel army dressed in Kaiser -type hats in the poster below).

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California Ground Squirrel

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Squirrel on its back legs

 

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Poster from 1918 encouraging children to kill squirrels.  The poison of choice was strychnine.

I mentioned spotting a seal.  Well nothing really prepares you for Bird Rock Island.  I could hear the barking before I saw them.  It lies just off the coast about half way around the drive.  It is literally covered with sea lions and seals.  The sea lions are spread all over the rocks hanging precariously, with some occupying the summit.  Their climbing skills are remarkable.  The rock is shared with cormorants and gulls and the surrounding water is their playground.  The barking is incessant as is the cavorting.  Beats Sea World.

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Bird Rock from the mainland

 

 

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Just nearby was a ‘venue’ of vultures resting on the shore (trust me; It’s a ‘kettle’ if they’re flying and a ‘wake’ if they’re eating!).  At first in my naïveté I thought they were Condors.  But good old Google and no they are Turkey Vultures or that very American appellation Turkey Buzzards.  They are impressive birds and beautiful in flight.  They do have a bad rap though because of course they are carrion eaters and hey, they are not exactly pretty.  The featherless head is said to enable them to burrow into carcasses more easily.

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Just off the coast of Bird Rock lies Carmel Canyon an offshoot of the 10,000 ft deep Monterey Canyon.  During summer cold water wells up from the Canyon and this brings nutrients and feed and is responsible for the rich marine life.  The area was declared a sanctuary in 1992.  This time of the year there is also a variety of coastal flora.  Some familiar some not.  There is what we call ‘pigface’ a perfectly adapted succulent which actually comes from South Africa and heaps of others I have no idea the names of.

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Pigface.

But in truth the most distinctive vegetation is the Monterey Cypress.  They occur in forests or as single or groups.  They are native to the peninsula but have been cultivated widely around the world.  Often bare of leaves except for a canopy they can have twisted trunks and branches or even grow horizontally as they cope with the harsh conditions.

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A Cypress Forest.  Monterey,  The trees love the cooler summers and the constant fog.

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Near Pebble Beach.  Survivors.

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Monterey Cypress.  The road map of a hard journey.

But the area is synonymous with one particular tree.  The Lone Cypress.  It is located between the Pebble Beach and Cypress Point Golf courses and sits exposed to the elements on a granite outcrop as it has for maybe 250 years.  Held up now by wires.  it is seen as a symbol of rugged individualism and struggle.  It is much photographed but on this day my efforts fall way short, due to fog and haze.

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The Lone Cypress

My final stop was at Cypress Point.  The actual point not the golf course.  Of course it is covered with pines but of interest here were some sea otters.  Unfortunately I only caught occasional glimpses as there were a bit reclusive.  And really hard to photograph but they are recognisable.

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The coast at Cypress Point

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Two sea otters at play.  Point Cypress

The Peninsula is a place where conflicting needs seem to coexist.  Luxury homes sit beside extraordinary natural beauty, impressive wildlife and millions of visitors.  Golf and bird watchers inhabit the same space.  It all seemed to be pretty well managed.

 

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Innovative architecture.  Pebble Beach

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Grand houses grand view

 

I spent much of the day here but it was time to move on.  Big Sur was my next destination but I needed gas (as they say over here).  The helpful man at the gas station told me that I was wasting my time as the road had been closed over a year.  So Plan B.  Leave the coast, head inland through Carmel Valley across the hills, and join HIghway 101. Just keep that in mind if you want to drive Highway 1.  You can’t.

Heading inland I took local roads.  It was a very different landscape.  The fog soon lifted.  to reveal steep hills, sometimes forested sometimes bare and sometimes covered with yellow grasses.  IG3C9042IG3C9031

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Carmel Valley itself is a wine growing area and lies in a wide flood plain surrounded by a mountain range. I can’t comment on the wine but the view was special

 

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Carmel Valley

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The second night was spent in King City, A not very remarkable motel in a not very remarkable place.  That left just a short (?) few hours drive left to Los Angeles for the next day.

I stuck to the inland road so my dream of completing Highway 1 was not to be.  But this was my first dose of real US Freeway traffic.  There was one section near Santa Barbara where it took nearly two hours to travel 10 miles  There seems to be an inverse rule that the wider the freeway and the more lanes, the slower it will be.  Still the cd was blaring out Irish tunes and this is the American Dream isn’t it. The road trip?  Crawling along the Freeway.

Ahh no; really there was a lot to see.

The Salinas River Valley is home to the very large San Ardo’s Oilfield.  The Miocene sands here are rich in oil bearing sediments and oil wells with ‘nodding donkey’ pumps are as far as the eye can see.  It is surprising how the simple beam pump used in the mining industry for centuries is still in use as the main method of extraction.

 

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San Ardo oilfield

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A bean pump at San Ardo

 

 

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San Ardo oilfield

 

It’s not generally thought of as a pretty sight but for the geologist in me it’s like looking through a window into a decaying technology extracting a dying product.  Already in many parts of California the acres of nodding donkeys have been replaced by acres of solar panels and windmills.

The drive along Highway 101 takes you in large part through the earliest settled parts of California.  The original settlers (ie invaders) were the Spanish and they set up a string of Missions between 1769 and 1833.  They were set up by the Fransiscans to evangelise the native Americans.  There were 21 of these Missions and they formed the basis of the colony of New Spain known as Alta California and part of the Spanish Empire.  They heavily disrupted native Californian life by forcing them to live in settlements, introduced ranching, fruits, vegetables, horses and technology but left a lasting legacy in terms of modern California with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco developing around missions.

Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821 and took Alta California with it and in 1849 ceded it to the United States as a result of losing the Mexican war.  Ironic actually as gold was discovered in California that same year.

 I visited one of these missions at San Miguel.  Built in 1797 close to a Salinas Indian village the aim was to convert these natives to Christianity.  It is still largely in original condition and though not run now as a mission is used for regular church services. You can tour through the building which includes many notable featurs such as a collonade of 12 arches all different sizes and shapes, a plaza with a fountain, a courtyard, an alley through the buildings to allow sheep to enter, original furnishings and art work, a beautifully decorated church and an adjoioning cemetery with the interred remains of 2,250 native Americans.

 

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Plaza and fountain San Miguel Mission

 

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Main gate to the Mission

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Collonade with 12 arches

 

 

 

These buildings are held in high regard and their preservation a priority as they are  a treasured part of Californian history.

The missions were accessed by a road known as the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) going from San Diego to north of San Francisco.  Much of it was just a goat track but in places it was marked by carved crosses in trees.  As you would imagine most haven’t survived but one was discovered near San Miguel and is on display here.  Today Highway 101 pretty much follows the old route and it is marked by bells on poles. Tradition has it however that the padres spread mustard seed along the route creating a golden highway helping the pilgrims to find their way.

So I’d certainly recommend the journey.  Check whether Highway 1 is open and be prepared to travel other routes.  Get off the freeways and take your time.  It’s always rewarding.  But that’s the great thing about travel.  There’s always something else to discover somewhere else.  It just might not be what you expect.

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California grass.

 

 

 

 

Categories: America, My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doughmore Beach, Co Clare. Walls, Donald Trump, drowned forests and a Man o’ War.

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It was Saturday and I was going to stay home and practice fiddle but  when I looked out the window I saw blue sky. And you have to take advantage of every such day with the Winter SADS not far away.  With Donald Trump on my mind after reading some anlysis of the debate (why do I do this to myself?) I thought I would go and have another look at where he wants to build his new Irish wall.

Doughmore is the location of Donald Trumps Doonbeg Golf resort, It is about tem minutes drive south of my little cottage near Quilty. So you see it’s pretty much my backyard.  You follow the signs with the blue squiggly line because the Wild Atlantic Way actually diverts to the beach.

Trump bought the impressive resort and golf course at a knockdown price of $12 million when the then owners were in difficulty.  An astute purchase?  Of course.

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Doonbeg Resort.  Golf course tucked behind the dunes

 

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Doonbeg resort complex

 

For those who are not aware, he now wants to tip 200,000 tonnes of rock along nearly 3 km of the beach (that’s a public beach mind you) to build a massive wall up to 4.5m high to stop erosion of the dunes to protect his golf links.   A little bit of science.  Erosion of dunes during a storm surge is a natural event. The event that scared Mr Trump happened in February 2014 and the dunes were cut back around 10m. This was a once in a lifetime happening that caused millions of euros of damage all along the Clare, Kerry and Cork coasts. But hey, erosion of dunes is essential for the replenishment of the sand to the beach. It is temporary as the sand returns to the dunes through wind. That’s how the dunes got there in the first place.  The Dutch understand this and monitor the normal movement of dunes as a natural barrier to inundation of the lowlands. A rock wall will destroy this continuum. Trump proposes to spend millions to save a couple of greens. Well stiff I say. Spend the euros on new greens and fairways. Leave the beach alone.

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Doughmore Beach.  Eroded sand dunes.  Note rapid partial regeneration.

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Doughmore Beach.  200,000 tonnes of rock planned to be tipped against these dunes.

 

So my visit this day is to see what’s at stake. And see it before it disappeared under a pile of rock.

Oh, and did I say that these dunes are classified as a Special Area of Conservation by the EU.

I was struck immediately by the relatively unspoilt nature of the beach. At the southern end where the resort complex is located is a rock platform, unusual because the shales are steeply dipping unlike most of the Clare coast where the strata is flat lying.  From here a beautiful sandy beach stretches around the bay for about 3 km. In the bright sunshine it is stunning.  The resort stands proud of course but the golf links is tucked away out of sight.  The impression is of pristine wilderness.   I found plenty of reasons to leave the beach as it is.

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Doughmore Beach.  Wide sandy beach at low tide.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  View towards the north.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Another view.

 

It is very wide and predominantly sandy with only a narrow zone of boulders at the base of the dunes as distinct from many beaches in the part of the world which are boulder rich. This day there were many using the beach but paradoxically it seemed empty.  Most were just Irish families not people from the resort. I  spoke to quite a few. There was a family walking their Labrador, which, by the way, was having the time of his life. Another family, home from Australia, building a sand castle, people walking, jogging and just sitting and staring towards the Cliffs of Moher, visible as clear as a bell in the distance.

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Doughmore Beach.  Enjoy.

 

There was plenty of bird life. I saw a pair of Oyster Catchers going about their business along the shoreline, there was a Grey Heron and a flock of Mute Swans, really a surprise to see them on the ocean. Could have watched them for hours. A bit of Tchaikovsky would have been perfect.  Perfect synchronicity from one pair as they performed a pas de duex for me.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  A pair of Oyster Catchers.  Looking towards Liscannor and the Cliffs of Moher.

 

 

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Doughmore Beach.  A Grey Heron with the Cliffs in the distance.

 

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Part of a flock of Mute Swans.

 

Some kind folk pointed out to me a Portuguese Man o’ War washed up on the beach. Alive mind you.  A very rare occurrence as they are usually found in warm water in open ocean. A few have been spotted recently along the west coast of Ireland. So there is a bit of an alert out for them. They are related to the famous Australian blue bottle which though not as deadly as the Man o War, stings upwards of 10,000 people on Australian beaches every year. They are a beautiful and fascinating creature. Not actually a jellyfish, they are a colony made up of a number of different specialised individual animals (called zooids or polyps). They are attached to each other and to a bladder which is inflatable. The bladder, which is filled with gas, has intricate patterns etched in pink and the polyps and tentacle are shades of purple and cobalt blue. They have extremely long and venomous tentacles which is for gathering food and defending itself. They are at the mercy of the ocean currents and travel in schools of over 1,000. So keep a lookout. And don’t touch.

I noticed a small patch of peat exposed on the beach. This part of the beach is littered with old timber and tree stumps and roots. Part of an ancient drowned forest such as was revealed near Spiddal after the February 2014 storms. I’ve seen this before also at Caherush, though that one is now covered over again. Here there is very little of the peat exposed and it is is very narrow (less than a foot thick) and is clearly eroding fast.  It sits on a bed of quite soft mudstone which was the original forest soil layer. The stumps with roots attached many in situ and upright with the roots extending into the substrata. Chances are this represents an old forest from around 4-5,000 years ago, most likely inhabited. Most of the stumps appear to have met with a natural end, but I did notice one which had a definite saw cut – evidence of timber harvesting? This is amazing; they had saws back then? I can think of no other explanation.  This is a remarkable and unheralded window into the past.  Unfortunately it won’t be around long I’m guessing.  Not Trump’s fault this one, just the forces of nature.

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Doughmore Beach.  Part of submerged forest and remains of peat layer.  Grey rock underneath the peat is original soil layer of the forest. 

 

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Large stump, showing roots.

 

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Doughmore Beach.  Ancient tree stump and roots.  Peat all washed away. 

 

I have to go back to that accursed wall. This is not his first attempt. Trump began to dump boulders along the beach soon after purchasing it, without any permits, before Clare County Council intervened and forced him to stop the work. Then he came up with a relatively benign solution which had the support of environmental groups. No this was too namby-pamby. He changed his mind, sacked the very experienced consultant and hired another who would support his now much more drastic proposal. It is currently before Council. Trump firstly applied to bypass the council and declare it a project of national importance (the nerve!). This failed and Clare Council to its credit has initially rejected the application and is seeking more information on 51 questions. This will take many months. Trump’s bullying tactics have so far not helped. We will watch with interest.

I urge everyone who reads this to go visit Doughmore and see for themselves. If you live overseas and intend to visit Ireland, it is a short drive from the Cliffs of Moher and is on the way to the Kilkee cliffs and Loop Head anyway (which should be on your list of must-see places). Hopefully it will all still be there when you come.

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Intricate flow patterns of sea grass on an exposed rock platform

 

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