Saturday, June 9, 2012
Ecological notes: It was pretty comforting to know that my two years in grad school were not in vain. The heads of my program always talked about how we could (or rather should) be able to get dropped off in some unknown part of the world and be able to use our naturalist skills to interpret the area's history. On the 7 mile hike, I spent most of the time piecing together the story, and was pretty happy with how close I was to figuring out the story being told in the visitor's center.
Initially I was overwhelmed with all the new species of birds, trees, and wildflowers. But I quickly started noticing all these plants that I knew from Vermont (like oxeye daisy, Japanese knotweed, burdock, honeysuckle). Then there were all the species that I knew from their North American look alikes - willows, oaks, thrushes, crows. Once past the wall of green, I started noticing lots of patterns in where they were and where they weren't. Granted Ireland's land use and geologic history are pretty similar to Vermont's, but it was sill a rich experience.
Glendalogh's history was probably the most charismatic of the places I went. There were some really clear patterns and not so subtle clues to the geologic history and human history. The valley has an elegant U-shaped carve to it. and the vegetative community changes abruptly with the transition from a micaceous schist in the lower valley to granite in the upper valley. The valley wall in the background shows an abrupt edge in forest type - remnants of old logging and then sheep pasture. You can barely see a yellow patch in the distance - a stand of the spikey gorse, which was flowering while I was there. Why build a pasture fence when you can grow one? Farmers burn the hedges every few years to regenerate the gorse and keep out other species. The spine of the mountains was covered in fir and rowan while lower in the valleys was an abundance of oak, ash, alders, and hazels. An aldery, birchy swamp bridged the low, wet areas between the two ponds, which were separated by alluvial sediments washed in from a side valley.
I wish I had gotten to spend a bit more time getting to know the trees of Ireland - it was like a new toy I'd gotten for my birthday - the rush of excitement ignoring the directions and just going for it. I'd love to go back, read the instruction manual a bit more thoroughly, and really dig in to the natural history of that place. I did spend a fair amount of time carving spoons, which I'll post pictures of when I finish those up.
Where: Glendalogh, Ireland.
Other notes: A definite highlight was spotting the rather common "wee willy wagtail".