Sunday 30 June 2013

Walk with Nature in Strangford Wood

It was Birding Watching Monday and a small number of my class decided to go by bus to Portaferry, then take the ferry to Strangford and walked through a lovely small wood.  Apart from seeing Gulls and a few Oystercatcher from the bus, Common Tern and Cormorant from the ferry, then the usual woodland birds like Blue, Coal and Great Tit with the odd Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird and Wood Pigeon, there was not much else showing.  Nevertheless, we did find things of interest which I am going to share with you.

Hogweed - Heracleum sphondylium

There was still some Queen Anne’s lace although most had past their best however the Hogweed was coming into bloom.
Hogweed flowers from June to September. The flowers are self-compatible and usually insect-pollinated.  There are several hundred seeds in each flower umbel. The average seed number per plant in ruderal habitats is 5,030.  Seed is shed slowly from August until winter.
Ripe seeds contain a rudimentary embryo that requires 2-3 months at low temperatures to after-ripen. Seed has given 3% germination after 14 days at 5°C and 69% after 96 days.  Seeds do not after-ripen fully at higher temperatures and there was no germination of seed kept at room temperature.   Seeds buried in soil develop a light requirement for germination.

Bud of Hogweed

Roger Phillips in his book 'Wild Food' says "This is unequivocally one of the best vegetables I have ever eaten.
Hogweed is a member of the celery family (umbelliferae) and is actually nicer as a vegetable than braised celery.  However - the taste is not at all like celery.  Hogweed tastes like - hogweed. I know of nothing else similar.  Hogweed has a distinctive and pleasant smell when the leaves are bruised.  The young leaves, slightly furled and young stems are best when cooked as a vegetable".

Plantain -  Plantago lanceolata

Apart from the Plantain above, there were a lot of different types of grasses which none of us knew the names of, however there was one with a reddish/pink colour and was shedding is seed all around the place that I videoed and you will see at the end of this post.

During our walk through the wood we found 2 wood carvings.   Below is an Owl and the bottom was part of a tree with chiseled out words.

"Big bright yellow eyes like moons,
searching into dark forests for careless creatures".


"Big red fox sleeking along the hedge,
white tipped twitching tail, alert and listening".
When we finished our walk we had lunch in the Cuan Hotel and were greeted outside with this lovely cart smothered in small colourful Pansies
Lunch was delicious and this photo below was shot for me by the owner’s wife of some of my group. 

On our way to the ferry we passed a lovely garden and I spied a tree that I knew was unusual.  I found out later that it was Sambucus Nigra ‘Black Lace’ and in the Elderflower family.

We also saw this shrub called Olearia macrodonta.

Every time you cross the ’Narrows’ between Portaferry and Strangford, you see the Tidal Turbine and I thought you might like to know about that.

It is world's first commercial-scale tidal turbine was commissioned in Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough in July 2008. The 1.2MW SeaGen project was developed by Marine Current Turbines (MCT).
The project, SeaGen was installed in Strangford Lough in May 2008.  It was towed to the mouth of the Lough by a barge.  The turbine as a whole weighs 1,000t, and is 43m wide from tip to tip. Designed by engineer Peter Fraenkel, the rotors drive a generator that sends energy along a cable that then links into the national grid across the Lough in Strangford village

"SeaGen works much like an 'underwater windmill' with the rotors being driven by the power of the tidal currents rather than the wind."  Strangford Lough has a highly energetic tide race and so is recognised as one of the main tidal 'hotspots' in UK and Irish waters.
Built at Belfast's Harland and Wolff's shipyards, the birthplace of the Titanic, SeaGen took around 14 days to install, with the system literally being bolted onto the Lough's bed.  SeaGen briefly delivered 150KW of electricity into the grid while it was being commissioned in July 2008.

SeaGen has a mobile cross arm on a single supporting pile 3m in diameter and 9m above the average sea level. The twin rotors begin to generate electricity once the tide runs faster than 1m/s. At maximum speed, the tips move at around 12m/s, which is around 1/3 of the average wind turbine speed. The two rotating blades turn at 14rpm and drive a gear box system. comprising of two 600KW turbines, required a total investment of £12m.

The project reached an important milestone in September 2012 by producing up to 5GWh of power since its commissioning.  This is equal to the power required by 1,500 households annually.  The milestone indicates the completion of the demonstration phase of the project.

Lastly I am showing you a very short video and can be accessed at

I hope you enjoyed today's post even though we did not see many birds.
I would like to thank ALL the bloggers who left comments yesterday on any of my posts.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Rathlin Island Visited Part 8

Yesterday I finished my post when I returned from my walk from the East Lighthouse at 8.30pm and was just in time for breakfast.  Although we had all brought our own breakfast because we were staying at the Hostel, Ronnie had brought bacon and rolls for everyone and so it was very welcome as I was starving after my early three and a half  hour walk!  The photo below is the last photo  I am showing you of the Harbour and village on Rathlin Island.

After breakfast we decided to walk to the South Lighthouse, locally known as Rue.  As I had the group with me I had less opportunity to take photos as I was making sure everyone was able to see the birds through the telescope and doing some teaching when appropriate.

Reed Bunting


As we walked and stopped often to look at the birds, we saw this man with a bicycle and realised it was 'Rush Hour'!!!

 These sheep had huge horns and we all thought there would be more sheep on the island.

Below is the Bay just before we reached the South Lighthouse.  We stopped here and watched the Seals and Eider ducks in the water.  There was an old building where we found Common Gulls nesting and Rock Pipits very busy bringing food to their chicks.

Common Gull 

Eider with ducklings

Rock Pipit
The South Lighthouse below (known locally as the Rue Light) is the smallest of Rathin Island's three lighthouses and stands just 35 feet tall.  It has operated since 1922 and was designed as an unmanned lighthouse.  It flashes twice in quick succession followed by a short gap.

We headed back again and stopped again in Church Bay.  This photo, entitled, 'Solitude' below was one I took last year and is a member of my bird class and unable to come with us this year.  

 Our time was coming to an end however we were looking forward to Emma's award winning fish and chips.  They were the 'real deal', so fresh I think she must have fished for them that morning!

Below is how the outside of her cafe was decorated.

During our time on Rathlin Island, we had seen 55 different species of birds and I was telling the group that normally I see a couple of Ringed Plover and just when we thought we would never seen one here, I spied one among the seaweed.  Can you see it?

There is a wonderful Visitor Centre and this plague below is on  a wall.  So out of interest I looked on the Internet to learn about the history surrounding Robert the Bruce and I thought I would share that with you.  It is the story of an Rathlin Island, a King in exile, a determined spider... and the greatest military triumph in Scotland’s history. (read more below if interested)

Exactly 700 years ago, King Robert the Bruce was on Rathlin Island, planning his return to Scotland.   Under the East Lighthouse at Altacarry lies the most famous cave on Rathlin, Bruce's Cave.   Legend tells how Robert the Bruce fled from Scotland in 1306 to regain his strength in this great cave.   The story also tells how he was inspired to return to the battle in Scotland, and victory at Bannockburn, after watching a spider steadfastly spinning a web inside the cave.

I am sure you have heard the proverb:
 'If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again? No? Well, listen up.

You may have spotted a version of his persona in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart in 1995.  Hollywood’s version wasn’t altogether the most accurate portrayal of the real man, but his legacy is remembered not just by the Scottish, but also by Ulster-Scots people in Northern Ireland.

In its entirety, the story is complex, dramatic and includes daggers drawn, a Scottish army at loggerheads with its English neighbours, and the exiled King Robert fighting for his country’s freedom.

So this is the tale of Rathlin Island, an exiled King Robert, and a very, very determined spider.
The year was 1306AD. After suffering a defeat and in exile, King Robert of Scotland was pondering his next move in a cave on the picturesque Rathlin Island.  He had received yet more upsetting news from his sources in Scotland.  His wife was being held in captivity, his brother had been executed and the Scottish village of Kildrummy had been taken by his enemies.
This was bad. His thoughts turned to his options. He could take himself and his brothers to the Holy Land or courageously attempt to restore freedom to his beloved homeland, knowing in his heart that the former would be both criminal and cowardly. But did he have it in him to continue?
Glancing upwards to the roof of the cave, he spied a tiny spider hanging on a thread trying to swing to a nearby rock so it could fix the line and create a web. Six times the spider tried and six times he failed to reach the beam.  But he didn’t give up.

Robert the Bruce had tried to free Scotland from the English and their allies six times, and six times had failed. The spider’s determination was not lost on him.

If the spider makes it to the rock on the seventh attempt, decided Robert, he would continue his fortunes in Scotland. If he fails, the Holy Land beckoned.

As he made this resolution, the spider – maybe sensing the moment, maybe completely oblivious – swung with all its might and reached the other side to fix his web. The deal was sealed and a return to Scotland followed.

Not only was this determined spider’s valiant efforts a major influence on Scottish history – and by default, our Ulster-Scots heritage – it also protected spiders from those who heard the tale in the centuries that followed.  On no account would people kill a spider because it had inspired a king and shown the power of perseverance.

This is the 'Writer's Chair' and I took this photo last year when I asked a friend to sit in it.  She is a writer so she sat in it looking for more inspiration for her next poem.  

So my time on Rathlin has come to an end and perhaps at least next time you see a spider, you will remember Rathlin Island and even some of you might visit next year!  
Above, (both Wesleys' photos) are some of us on the ferry back to Ballycastle and the scene (below) is before we boarded the bus on our return journey.

I will leave you with 2 short videos as I leave this beautiful island.

The first one can be accessed at

The last video can be accessed at

Thank you for visiting my blog and in particular to all of those people who have left comments. 

You can access more photos at the Bird D'Pot

Friday 28 June 2013

Rathlin Island Visited Part 7

Yesterday I finished my walk to the East Lighthouse, however I forgot to add in this newly fledged Chaffinch which was the best sitter ever even though at times, as you can see from some of the photographs, he nearly fell asleep!  I am sure if you watched the video yesterday you will have seen him however I thought you might like to see the stills I took also.

Give me a break, I'm tired posing!

While he is having a bit of a nap I will tell you a little about the European Chaffinch.

Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
This bird is not migratory in the milder parts of its range, but vacates the colder regions in winter. The coelebs part of its name means "bachelor".  This species was named by Carl Linnaeus who was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme for  formalising the system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms.  He found that the females depart in winter, but the males often remain. This species forms loose flocks outside the breeding season, sometimes mixed with Bramblings.

OK, this is my best side!

Mama, tell this lady to go away!!

Perhaps if I don't look at her she will give up!!

OK, this is really my LAST pose!

The following photos are  flowers I discovered during this walk.

I do not know a lot about Orchids however I know there are bloggers that do, so help is required here please.  I think most, if not all of the following Orchids are Common Spotted ones however I am not sure about the deep purple ones, they look a bit different to me.  Please advise me.

The Common Spotted orchid gets its name from its leaves which are green with abundant purplish oval spots. They form a rosette at ground level before the flower spike appears; narrower leaves sheath the stem. The flowers range from white and pale pink through to purple, but have distinctive darker pink spots and stripes on their three-lobed lips, ranging from 15 to 60 cm in height.  The flowers are densely packed in short, cone-shaped clusters.  They thrive in damp grassland and flower between June and July. 

Yellow Iris 

Double Gorse 

 Buttercup Field

 Iris Field


More Orchids Below 

Interesting, the common spotted-orchid is the County Flower of West Lothian/Linlithgowshire in the UK. 

A carpet of Orchids 

                                                                          Wild Cotton

I hope you enjoyed this post and I thank you for visiting.

Many thanks for those people who left comments on my posts yesterday.