Coast Diary – April 23rd

Traffic out my way has gone (more) haywire as part of the road has been closed for a month to facilitate new storm drains, presumably for the new estate down the road. The old wall that runs beside a footpath lined with trees has been taken down as have some of the trees for access. And in nesting season too. I saw a pair of bullfinch in there one year, only the second time I have seen bullfinch in this area. I imagine the lovely old wall further down, the one that runs along Newtown Woods (New Town, how ironic), will be next to fall. The new (mindless) one way system has also been temporarily abandoned for the second time in months to add to the mayhem. All the cars from the housing estate are being redirected out by my house and they are all travelling at speed without regard to anyone along the road. An SUV changed course to drive straight at me to avoid another SUV one evening. I am not sure how I am still here. The choice between an SUV or ‘hedge monkey’ is no contest to some of those housing estate folk. I know because I grew up in one. A housing estate not an SUV…

But there’s good stuff too. We have been having some lovely dry weather with a bit of a chill in the air. I had a lovely walk on the main beach mid-week. There were not as many birds as there used to be in this Special Protected Area, possibly because of the the boom in dog walkers who allow their dogs to run wild here (insert more giving out with swears), but I saw geese and oystercatchers and a snowy egret. Best of all I found a horses tooth (pictured above).

Why would there be horse teeth on a beach? There used to be a race course behind the beach from 1785 to 1911. The land had been reclaimed and the sea held in check by an embankment from the mid 1800s, however this gave way in April 1911 and the race course flooded. The only lives lost were those of three puppies belonging to the local hunt. The racecourse was moved up the town to its current location. While you might not think a racecourse would also be a cemetery, there seems to be precedent for it. The bodies of three famous horses were exhumed at Hollywood Park, the once famous track in California, to make way for a housing development recently. I suppose it makes most sense to bury a horse where it falls, as must have happened more than once at Tramore.

I found a horse’s tooth on this beach many years ago and thought it belonged to some sort of sea monster. They are big, horse’s teeth. I was soon put right but the thought of a sea monster lingered. Then my tooth disappeared, stolen, I think, by another horse tooth appreciator. Now I have found another one, I feel I have some sort of closure. Laugh all you like but I take my consolations where I can. You can’t be depending on any of the big stuff to make you happy…

The new bird hide had its official opening this week too. An initiative of the industrious Tramore Eco Group it’s is situated overlooking the Back Strand on the small nature reserve that has evolved on the old town dump. The nature reserve has its issues with irresponsible dog walkers too, especially in nesting season, as does Fenor Bog out the road, but maybe, eventually, these people will wake up to the rights of others – both people and creatures – and their part in the continuing existence of all. If they do it will be down to those strong hearts in groups like Tramore Eco Group.

I saw my first swallows of the year out on an evening walk (me walking, not the swallows). It was April 20th so I am not setting any records at all – sure they are practically on their way back to Africa now!- the first ones were seen weeks ago and further north. Someone spotted a basking shark too, on one of the sunnier days, down off Kilfarrasy. Yesterday morning I walked down to another of the smaller beaches and paddled in the ice cold water. It was a lovely, grey morning i.e. it was quiet. I saw a lone whimbrel on the beach and sat and watched it until it was chased off. By a dog. Sigh. Then I walked the grey road home.

Coast Diary – January 8th

Buzz in his tree

The temperature dropped this week. Monday it was deliciously chill, the air like a knife pressed lightly to my cheek. Tuesday it was more like having big daggers stuck in my face. I still like that though, that sharpness. Lets you know you’re alive anyway. I have been taking my binoculars (or bins) out, in the hope of whales and I always keep my eye out for wildlife – stoats, badgers, weasels, frogs – but I never see them. I did get excited on Tuesday when I saw what I thought was a toad in the muddy margins but it turned out to be an old kitchen sponge.

The birds though, are a constant. In the fields, fat wood pigeons fed or basked in the early sun -for once it was not raining. The rooks, the jackdaws marched about and some chough, hoarsely called from the old barbed fenceposts at the cliff edge. Along the road the bright-eyed robins patrolled, two punky blue tit faffed and chattered – I love their furry yellow elbows! – and a busy-bottomed wren threaded her way in and out of a hedge. I had been worried about the local buzzard who I had not seen in his usual hawthorn – bent double by the south westerlies – but there he was on Tuesday, embraced in its thorns, staring morosely out at the opposite headland. Or pehaps looking for rats. A pair of curlew flew overhead as I walked. You’ll see them them a lot here in the cold weather, usually in a large flock. I spotted a snipe this week too, one afternoon in a field by the cliffs, which was a treat as I had not seen one in a few years.

One morning I startled four goldfinch out of a tree and they took off in their looping flight that suggests they are flying on sheer will power, rising and dropping and rising again. The more I watch the little birds the more I am in awe of them. They live at such intensity, their tiny wings, and hearts, and lungs, beating constantly as they search for food. Snug in my bed as the wind got up on Monday night I tried to imagine where they were all sleeping. The sparrows huddled in a cosy gang in a hedge maybe, the blue and great tits and stonechat with their partners. The wren, the robin, alone, deep in some gorse, clinging to precarious shelter. If you had to live like a bird you would know you’re alive then.

I did see whales this week too – or perhaps just one. A fin whale, given away by two or three blows, spotted due south from the cliffs on Tuesday morning. The following afternoon, as the sun set in a stunningly peachy sky over sea fading to white, I saw numerous groups of common dolphins travelling and feeding, dark fins cutting the silky seas. Here and there a boisterous little calf leapt clean out of the water. I reported them to the IWDG which I sometimes neglect to do. They, the IWDG, published a map recently which marked all the areas important for ceteaceans. The coast off Waterford was notably left blank which surprised me as this is a migration route. In not reporting sightings we are leaving ourselves open to developments that may not take into account our ecology. So I will report everything from now on.

Later, on the whale day, I drove further west with my sister to see if we could spot more whales but saw none. It was a beautiful day to look at the sea spread before us from one end of the county to the other. On our way home we stopped at one of the small beaches which my sister had never visited and walked the rocks and looked at limpets and barnacles. I told her how one of my friends, out on the tear in a pub far away to the north and west, realised, as he was getting cigarettes, that the illuminated picture on the front of the machine was in fact this very beach. Nature, it gets everywhere.

The day after the dolphins it was raining again.