Dingle Peninsula, Republic of Ireland

Nearing the end of the All Ireland Rocker trip with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures. Today we explore the Dingle Peninsula, a stretch of land jutting out to the sea that like most of Ireland is breath taking and green. It should be noted that the ring road around the peninsula while 2-way is generally taken only in one direction by the locals and tourists in the know, that is because for most of the journey its a cliff-side road without a lot of room for modern traffic to allow for casual passing.

First stop on the ring road was a farmer’s estate where for a few euros you can pay to explore the Beehive huts (Clochán), the old farmhouse and pet baby sheep. Expecting a bit of a tourist trap I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty straight forward process. Pay to enter and explore at one’s leisure. The baby sheep where in one section and as long as you were gentle you could pick up one for a photo.

They don’t mince words… exactly as advertised… also historic Beehive Huts

But for a bit of culture I did manage to drag myself away from the cute baby sheep and check out the Beehive Huts that are another staple of the area history.

Next stop on the Dingle Peninsula is Coumeenoole Beach, first we stopped for another photo opportunity then headed down to the beach itself.

Overlooking Coumeenoole Beach

Its quite a trek down to the beach from the parking lot, I opted to grab some more photos and a awesome time-lapse using my iPhone and the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 which makes up my micro travel kit for photographers.

Next we headed out to the point of the peninsula, it got very craggy out there and the wind did start to pick up but was not unmanageable, again weather seemed to be on our side (fun note, the north side of the island was getting pelted by heavy rain so weather is highly variable on the emerald isle – I just got really lucky and I’m sure that luck with eventually run out… cough spoiler cough cough). The Devils Horn as the region is known is quite something, and looking out to the ocean you can see some islands which were used in a recent Star Wars movie.

At the start and subsequent end of our trip around Dingle is the small town of Dingle. Known for its dolphin Fungie that lives out in the bay I had to take a look and see if I could spot the elusive critter.

They even have a statue by the marina honoring their unexpected town mascot
Dingle Harbour / Marina
FOUND HIM!
(J/K – Photoshop is my friend – But I fooled a bunch of people on the bus!)

We did stop for lunch in town, so several of us found a nice place called John Benny’s Pub to have some lunch at the recommendation of our tour guide Gemma. I had the fish of the day and chips, which came with peas as the veggies.

And that was it for the Dingle Penisula, a great day exploring a unique region of Ireland. Along the way we did drive by the famous “Rose Hotel” and stop in town for a rest break. I managed to find a rose bush and an old car to take pictures of… but otherwise short break.

Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland

Today we leave Galway to check out Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands just off the coast. We had to walk 1.5 blocks from the hostel to catch the charter bus, everyone from Shamrocker Adventures and some other tour groups boarded the Aran Island buses. After a short trip along the coast we reached a marina where large sea ferries waited to take everyone over to the islands.

There are four different ways to explore the island, walking, cycling, horse drawn cart, micro bus. I choose a bicycle option for 10£ although there are now options for electrical bikes for a bit more. Out of the group about 80% took the bicycle option, and the remaining 20% when with the pony trap option.

The map we were given to navigate the island and estimated cycle times

I decided to check out Dun Aonghasa and the Seven Chruches, along the way there were a few other notable historic sites along the way but mainly it optimized views and I took the costal route to avoid to many hills (I have been sitting on a bus for the last 4 days).

First Stop at the Seal Colony – No Seals at the moment.
The beach on the island at the narrow point about 1/2 across the island. It is also the main split in the coastal road to the various sites found on the map.

Dun Aonghasa is my first stop, there is an additional fee to enter the site and its quite a hike up a hill. A fort on the highest point on the island, half of it fell into the ocean below when the cliff eroded.

Dun Aonghasa in half its glory!

Inside the fort was pretty barren, it is basically a large stone (semi) circle of stones that act as wall from the outside. There are a few holes in the walls to act as windows and a doorway.

The views from the fort are breath taking!

The View from the Fort back to the far side of the Island where the ferry dropped us off!
Fences? We don’t need no stinking fences..

Yes you can look over the edge, if you want too! The remnants of the fort can clearly be seen below in the ocean. Its quite a unique experience and hope everyone acts responsible so to allow people the opportunity to gaze over the edge!

Well.. gulp!

After having lunch and enjoying the views such a vantage point allowed it was time to head back down the hill and jump on the bike once more, my second location awaits for no one and the time on the island was running thin to fit it in!

View as I trek back down the hillside to the parking lot where my bike awaits!

Down the hill and past the beach again, this time turning left I cycled along some shallow rolling hills and farms, at least it will be downhill on the way back to the beach!

Now All I have to do bike 2/3 of the length of the island before the Ferry leaves… totally doable… erk!

Low Tide, guess the Ferry is stuck here (Just Kidding, its behind the derelict ship)

Connemara Countryside – Republic of Ireland

The quintessential Irish landscape, endless rolling hills of green. It feels like we drove through the region for hours but with every new bend in the road was another breathtaking view. In a way it was good I was on a bus I didn’t control or I would of stopped over a dozen times in the first hour alone. But words can’t describe how beautiful this area in western Ireland is… and the photos barely do it service as well!

Its just so majestic, the landscape… not me 😛

Mid-way through our travels in Connemara we came across a small village nestled beside a shallow wide river. Here was our afternoon stop where we could try Irish Coffee or Hot Chocolate (both being mixed with Irish cream). I went with the coco and it was amazing.

Gaynor’s is our afternoon stop for a hot beverage!

The Gaynor’s field bar itself was pleasant nook which had a faint smell of smoke from the fire place and was full of locals in addition to the odd tourist that had stopped like us to grab a nip and use the facilities.

A final group image as we leave the Connemara Countryside, definitely making the “return” list.

Butterfly Site at Adirondack Park Interpretive Center – Monarch Butterfly

On the way back from a bit of hiking in the Lake Placid High Peaks Region, we stopped once again at the Adirondack Park Agency Interpretive Center at Paul Smith’s.  My interest, this time around, was the butterfly interpretive site, where I expected to find plenty of Monarch Butterflies at various stages of their development.  I wasn’t disappointed.  However, at the same time, I also learned that the Adirondack Park Interpretive Center would be closing due to a lack of state funding.  Rather saddened to hear the latter information since this location was almost always one of my stops on my way into the Adirondacks.

Male Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Caterpillar of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

After we left the center, we headed northward and, out behind a shopping center parking lot near Massena, NY, I found some more butterflies and other creatures to photograph.

Pink-edged Sulfur Butterfly (Colias interior) – I think.

Hover Fly

Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) – State butterfly of Colorado

I am always looking for fields of thistles because, wherever there are thistles, I am almost guaranteed to find interesting subjects to photograph.

Foxes – Irving Nature Park in St. John, New Brunswick

Foxes – Irving Nature Park in St. John, New Brunswick (Nov 21, 2009 – from archived photos)

I started off the morning in overcast windy conditions photographing bridges. When I arrived at the Irving Nature Park late in the day, it was cloudy and the light available for photography was pretty diminished. Faced with two choices: photograph the beach or take a trail into the wooded hill region, I decided that I might as well take the trail even though I didn’t expect to have enough light for any decent photography.

As I walked out onto an upper level parking lot which was closed for the season I was really surprised to see a fox looking around the parking lot for some tidbits that humans might have left behind.

I had switched to my Nikon 70 – 200mm lens and grabbed a few shots when the parking lot fox decided that it was time to leave the parking lot and just ambled away to a nearby wooded area. Although the fox was ‘wild’ and somewhat skittish, it was not unduly frightened around humans so wasn’t in any big hurry. As it wandered off into the woods, I expected that my photographing of foxes was over for the evening. Boy, was I mistaken.

A short distance from the parking lot, there was an opening where I could sit on the cliff edge and look out over the waters below. I sat down on the edge and was photographing the shoreline when I looked up to see a fox stick its head out of a thicket and look me over before coming out into the open.  At about the same time, there was a break in the cloud cover and I had near perfect lighting from a setting sun.

Up to this point in time, I was only aware of there being only one fox but when the first fox turned and snarled uphill, I was in for an added treat since there were actually two foxes, not just one. An interesting stare, another snarl, another stare, etc. and I just held my breath assuming that I might be in some danger but hoping that I wasn’t in any great danger. (Distance sometimes about 10 feet or less!)

From that point in time, and for a bit of time afterward, I had to keep my eyes on both foxes. One headed down the cliff edge and the other stayed nearer to me.

Eventually one of the foxes just wandered off along the face of the cliff, leaving me with just one fox to watch and photograph.

The amount of light that I had was highly variable. The sun continued to move in and out from behind a large bank of clouds that was moving in from the west but each time that I thought that my photographing would be over for the evening, the cloud would move a bit and I would get a few more golden rays coming through to highlight the colours of my pair of foxes.

I wasn’t really “ready to flee” but did hold my breath when this member of the duo poked its head out from under the lip of sod that overhung an eroded area of the bank (only a few feet from my feet) and then, just as quickly, returned to its search lower down on the bank.

The second fox watched its companion travel along the cliff edge, sat there for a bit and then headed uphill back into the bush and I got up and watched the first fox heading off into the distance and got ready to head back to my car.

Another surprise! After heading into the bush, this second fox had traveled through the parking lot and was now coming back out along a different route.

Picked this one to be the last of this fox series.  I was only able to take this because the sun appeared from behind clouds for just a few moments before it dropped out of sight to end the day. The second fox in the pairing was a few hundred yards downhill at this point and this one was searching in the grass for something to eat.  Fun to watch for awhile but soon not enough light to photograph so I just stood there a bit longer and watched before walking a couple of kilometers back to my car.

I will admit to having been a bit excited throughout this adventure.

It was definitely a good day!

Dashboard

Lady Bug Larva versus the Red Aphid – Let the attack begin!

Lady Bug Larva versus the Red Aphid – Let the attack begin!

It was a nice July day and the daylilies were in fell bloom. In another part of the garden, however, a life and death struggle was underway! Each year some of my plants are infested with aphids. Since I’m not a great user of pesticides, I wait patiently for the natural predators to arrive and level out the battle field. Today was no exception. The aphids had already arrived and were sucking the juices from the stems of a number of my plants that were just reaching the flower bud stage.

Looking over the flower bed for a few moments and there it was – a lovely blue-purple larvae of a lady bug heading along the stem to meet the red aphids head on. The red spots on the stem are the signs of the previous successful attacks/meals of the larva. Notice how the aphids have moved back or moved to the underside of the stem. As the larva got closer, some of the aphids would wage a counter-attack and sometimes get the larva to back-off for a while.

Very interesting to watch the attack unfold.  The ladybug larva would move down the stem toward the group of aphids and one or two aphids would move out and actually attack (?) the lady bug larva and force it back up the stem.  However, when the chance presented itself, the ladybug larvae would strike out and catch the aphid from behind and after that it was meal time for the lady bug larva.

NOTE: I’m happy to say that the following  photo was published in the January/February 2009 edition of California Garden published by the San Diego Floral Association celebrating the Association’s 100th anniversary year.  The article was by Amy R. Wood and titled “Friend or Foe: Ladybug Larvae” and was intended to draw attention to the fact that both the well known spotted orange beetle (lady bird beetle/lady bug) as well as the larvae are very useful pest controllers in the garden. Although most gardeners are aware of the merits of the adult beetle Amy also wanted to point out that gardeners shouldn’t kill the larvae thinking that they are just some ugly creature. More info on the San Diego Floral Association can be found here: <a href=”http://www.sdfloral.org/”>San Diego Floral Association </a>

For the followers of the lady bug (ladybird)  “Attack on the Red Aphids” series, the following shot shows closer to the true colours and to give some idea of scale.

I wasn’t the only observer of the activities, as many more bugs play a part in my garden’s web of life.

I.d not certain. Robber Fly?

Scarlet and Green Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea).

Having had  a bit of a diversion, it was back to the original task of repairing the front steps of the house.

Breeding Bird Survey – Alfred Bog, Alfred, Ontario

Breeding Bird Survey – Alfred Bog, Alfred, Ontario

When Gerhard and I do the breeding bird survey at Alfred Bog, we need to get there early in the morning, which, in June, means getting up at about 4AM.  On this particular morning we were sitting in the car waiting for the sky to lighten a bit when we could hear some noise in the nearby grass.  I pointed my camera in the direction of the noise and pressed the shutter.  The flash reflected off of their eyes and gave me an “alien moose” effect.  Had to really work on the images in PP to lighten up the exposure enough to actually see the bodies.

The counting points for this particular breeding bird survey are deep in the woods and bog and we need to walk a fair distance along a sometimes very wet trail before even heading into the woods. The humidity was high and a low fog clung to the low lying areas.

Once we reached the spot where we headed into the woods we followed various coloured trail markers left from the year before.  This worked fairly well except in those locations where a tree (with marker) had died and fallen down but we would eventually find the official markers and start our survey.  The process is fairly simple. Stand quietly for three minutes at an official counting point. Look for birds.  Listen for birds. Record what you see or hear and then head on through the woods and bog to the next location and do the same thing again.

Because Spring has already arrived and foliage is becoming well established, there are not too many opportunities to actually see much more than a glimpse of the birds that you hear so I usually turn my attention to photographing the signs of Spring rather than trying to focus all of my attention on the photographing of birds.

Spruce buds

Tamarac buds

At this time of the year, the ferns are really putting on a growth spurt and add an earthy aroma to the woods around them.

Cinnamon Fern

The soil in the area of the survey is very acidic since it consists almost entirely of sphagnum peat moss and is almost constantly wet. The plants that I am able to photograph in this location are therefore rather unique but sometimes I need to get my knees rather wet to get down at a low enough angle to get the shots that I want to get.

Bog Laurel

Cotton Grass

Some years swatting mosquitoes and flies adds to the difficulty of photographing flowers in their natural environment. This particular day was no exception with both flies and mosquitoes present in annoying numbers. The Pink Lady Slippers are a member of the orchid family of plants and thrive in the bog environment.

Pink Lady Slippers

Often found growing in wet acidic soils and sometimes in bogs, this orchid’s Canadian range stretches from Manitoba to Newfoundland. Sometimes referred to as Moccasin Flower.

Another interesting plant that can be found in the bog environment is Labrador Tea, an evergreen shrub of the Rhododendron family. The leaves can be picked and then steeped and consumed as a tea.

Labrador Tea (Rhododendron sp.)

Another very interesting plant that is found in the bogs of Eastern Ontario is the Pitcher Plant. This plant is an insectivore which has tubular leaves rising from an underground rhizome. The leaves of the pitcher plant fuse together to form a “pitcher” which holds rainwater. The pitcher plant survives in nutrient poor soils by capturing insects in liquid in its leaves which are designed to hold water like in a pitcher, hence the name, and have downward facing hairs on the inner surfaces. Once an insect falls into the water, it is very difficult for it to escape because of the slippery walls surrounding it. The plant excretes enzymes into the water and the captive insect is converted into usable food for the plant thus supplementing the limited nutrients that it can extract from the soil.

Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

I’m always amazed at the many interesting things that I can find to photograph when I am out for a walk in the woods and on this occasion it was this fungus that got the award for strangeness. My first glimpse of this fungus, I thought that someone had thrown globs of bran muffin dough at the sides of pine trees and left it there to dry. Whether you like bran muffin dough or not, this particular polypore fungus is considered to be inedible.

Cryptoporus volvatus

On this trip, I was only able to get reasonable photographs of the Red-winged Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird (male)

Red-winged Blackbird (female)

Not certain of i.d.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

When we emerged from the woods on the way back to our car, I was happy to see a few butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the sunlight. I believe that the first of these butterflies might be the Silver-bordered Fritillary while the second butterfly is the easily recognized Monarch Butterfly on fresh Milkweed leaves.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

With a wingspan of close to 3″ and the gleaming white abdomen of the male, these dragonflies are rather hard to miss if they are in the vicinity catching insects in flight.

Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia)

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium sp.)

This survey route is a tough one and takes quite a bit of time but is doable as long as one does not try to rush the hike through the sometimes knee deep water and moss that forms the foundation of the bog and provides for the species diversity.