Take walk on wild side in Cape Clear

NEXT weekend, the May Bank Holiday, there is to be a Walking-Talking Festival on Cape Clear Island, Oileán Chléire, in Roaring Water Bay in West Cork.

I am billed to take part, to walk a few of the walks, provide a commentary and to do a bit of public talking and poetry reading in the evening. There will be further talk, story and poetry provided by Chuck Kruger, the American poet on Oileán Chléire and Paddy Leonard, the island historian, music and a goat milking demonstration by Ed Harper, a guided cliff walk by Séamus O Drisceoil and a guided birdwatching walk by Steve Wing, the Cape Clear Observatory warden, whale watching with Nic Slocum, sean nós singing by Máirtín O Méaóid, a comedy show by ‘Free Beer’ (a local ensemble that perform gratis) and meals at an island house which is, I’m told, a paragon of appropriate renovation.

There could hardly be a better time for walking the quiet roads of Cape than now, with a multitude of new growth pushing its way through soil, ditch and hedgerow and bursting forth from the branches of the trees. Everywhere one looks there are plants, insects or animals one hasn’t seen for a year. One would almost feel like greeting them, silly as it seems – top o’ the mornin’, Primrose, hello there, Violet, nice to see ya again, Daisy, good-onya Alexander! Put my lunacy down to spring-fever but it truly is marvellous to walk the byways these days and see all the old familiars in bloom again!

There are butterflies flitting about – small white and a few brown specimens (so fast flying I couldn’t identify them: I assume they were small tortoiseshells or speckled woods.) There are bumblebees and hover flies and wasps – some of the latter are queens, newly emerged from hibernation: one can identify them by their larger size. My son spotted a lizard sun-bathing. There are tadpoles in the ditches in the uplands: I rarely see them anywhere other than in hilly areas or forestry land these days. There are nests in the trees – the early nesters, the rooks, magpies and grey crows. There are four (or is it five; it’s hard to tell) fat, glossy ravens in the raven’s nest on the cliff, all well feathered and all but full fledged.

Swallows and martins again split the skies, skimming the earth or spiralling into the blue, spinning and diving, criss-crossing their comrades in the upper air. I saw my first swallow on Easter Sunday, flying high over the Bandon River. I spotted another on April 9, above Kinsale. The Sightings column on the website http://www.irishbirding.com, records that the earliest swallows seen this year were at Dursey Island, in the far south-west, on March 18, and at Ballycotton, in east Cork, on March 21. The website is fascinating for anyone interested in birds. One can contribute ones own sightings to this or another site http://www.springalive.net/ run by BirdWatch Ireland. One can join an all-Ireland butterfly survey via http://irishbutterflymonitoringscheme.biodiversityireland.ie/

On the coast, the herring gulls and kittiwakes sit on their nesting ledges, and fulmar, guillemots and razorbills colonise every niche and cranny of the cliffs. In the sea itself, clouds of opossum shrimp, and their various crustacean cousins, cruise the shallow water under the piers: they will provide the growing fuel for the baby pollock, herring and mixed sprat soon to follow. Gobies and shannies return to the rock pools as the sea temperature rises. Green weed, too, unfortunately, returns to the mudflats and sandbanks: there were high, but forlorn hopes that the hard frosts of winter would kill off the spores but this was not to be.

The Cape festival begins at 6.30pm on Friday, April 30, with a guided walk over North Harbour and Dún an Óir Castle, followed by an introductory talk by Chuck and myself. Saturday is replete with activity, walks, talks, singing, and evening buffet; there is traditional music every night.

Sunday is ushered in with morning birdwatching and goat milking, and followed by afternoon walks, a wagon tour of the island, whale watching if one fancies, then singing, buffet and entertainment. The last walk and talk session is on the Monday.

It should be one helluva enjoyable and busy weekend!

Information is available at www.walkingtalking.info, at tel. 028 39119/41923 or email seamus@walkingtalking.info.

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