Castle Espie WWT reserve has had a lot of major work done to it and is still more like a building site in places. It was fascinating going around the reserve with Carl [Thanks also to the ladies behind the reception counter, Frances etc for being so wonderfully welcoming]. Carl has worked there for 17 years [and the girls behind the food counter still don't know whether he has a six-pack] and he's very proud of the place and rightly so. The hides are brilliant, the views over Strangford Lough are spectacular and with the history of the area going back 9,000 years, there's a lot to see and learn about there. Well worth a visit. It'll be interesting to go back and see how the new areas change.
Birds? 5 pale-bellied brents left over from the winter [30,000 there in the winter], a few eider, bar-tailed godwits and a couple of red-breasted mergansers were the highlights but I just enjoyed exploring htis new reserve for me.
Another plus, and this has turned out to be typical of my trip around Northern Ireland, was the lack of plastic rubbish on the tideline. I'd walked along the tideline of the Ribble Estuary a couple of weeks ago and the contrast of that with this one was very striking. [Actually the same happened yesterday where the difference in the amount of rubbish disguarded on Snowdon and that on Slieve Donard was equally marked. Yesterday's walk up Slieve Donard had me carrying every piece of litter to be found, 3 plastic bottles to be exact. On Snowdon I would need a very large bin liner at least!]
Another delight was the amount of sandhoppers and sea slaters under the rotting seaweed on the strand line. In case you don't know, sea slaters are large woodlice type creatures about 2 to 3 centimeters long.
Walked out at low tide over the sands to the brown mussel beds just as the sun was setting, giving beautiful views towards Strabo Tower. I love this place!
Sunday 30th May 2010
An early morning birdwatch around Castle Espie, another piece of that fabulous cake and then cycled along the minor roads south, through Killyleagh with it's impressive castle before getting to Quoile National Nature reserve. The centre warden, Gregg from Ballymena, was helpful and very friendly and when he tried to put the blue tit nest box tv on it came up with Father Ted instead.
Ever onwards and this time to Killard head where there's a colony of 200 plus green-winged orchids. Now here's where it gets spooky. Regular readers will remember the uncanny coincidence of meeting someone whose opening words were 'are you the man with the robin on his bike?' Well, this time I went up to the door of one of the cottages in order to ask whether I could leave my bike in their garden. After seeing the orchids returned with some new friends, a family, Janet, Sidney and William [future birder at the age of 10] and the owner of the cottage Catherine, said 'were you at Tintern Abbey in April? It turned out that she remembered seeing me there with Barnaby Bear [my teddy] when she was visiting her son! Incredible.
Sidney and William were new birders, with Janet, Sidney's wife for 30 years making this a lovely family to meet and walk with; Pentacostal Christians deeply into their faith.
Camped that evening, after chips and gravy [rivetting stuff this Gary], in a field just before Killough. Beautiful views over an inlet.
Monday 31st May 2010
What fabulous views of Slieve Donard as I cycled along the road. Got there for lunchtime and left my bike at a sheltered accommodation home [Thanks Jackalyn]. Got a bit lost amongst the forest but as usual on this trip fate leads me. Met a brilliant family of Mum - Rita [Queen of Speed!], Dad - Dave and sons Tom [forget that football team of yours - try ASTON VILLA!] and the joker, Connor. They were camping out using hammocks. Must get me one of those. A Hennessey hammock.
What's small, round and white and can't stop laughing - a tickled onion. Thanks Rita.
Up Slieve Donard, a long climb but relatively easy with a good path the whole way and a large stone wall along the side of the upper slopes sheltering one from the wind/gale.
Met a group of folk musicians from Birmingham. They were going down as I was going up but we had a long natter anyway. The Tamworth Folk Club
Met Mark at the top, a man who has walked up Slieve Donard over 300 times. A real inspiration this man as he'd only been up once before he was 52.
Thanks Keiran from Armagh, for chasing after me with my pen that I'd dropped some way up the mountain.
Boy was I.lucky, the weather at the top was clear even if rather cold and with a gale blowing. So the views over to Scotland, the Isle of Man and towards the Wicklow Mountains were clear also. A few clouds bubbled up but these were below the summit and added to the atmosphere.
Down the mountain, collected the bike and journeyed through castlewellan, camping about 5 miles to the NW on the Banbridge road.
Tuesday 1st June - the 6th month - day 162 and still going.
Heavy rain overnight and some water and a few slugs in the tent. Really though had a good night's sleep and was up and at them at ... 9 o'clock.
So, heading for Oxford island where a ringed necked drake has been seen recently, called in to a library in Banbridge, after a meal at Tesco's cafe there. Many thanks to all the wonderful staff at this library who let me use the internet for so long that this blog has now gone past the interesting phase to the .. when is he going to shut up phase.
Thanks to Pamela, Caroline and Ruth at the above library - lovely girls one and all.
Thanks to to all of you.
all the best