The second week began with a ferry crossing from Cairnryan to Larne. Unfortunately with P&O as I'd paid for tickets before their shameful treatment of staff and they wouldn't give me a refund. If they had I'd have switched to Stena. Seabirds from the crossing included 45+ Manx Shearwaters, c25 Kittiwakes, 1 Razorbill, c15 Guillemots, 1 Black Guillemot, 2 Red-throated Divers and c5 Sandwich Terns.
After a smooth crossing we disembarked and made our way north up the beautiful Antrim coast. On the way 2 Great Northern Divers in summer plumage in 2 bays were great to see. Our destination for the day and night were the Glenariff Forest and checking into their brand new campsite just after lunch gave us the opportunity to explore the area and in particular their famous waterfall walk. The forest is truly superb and the gorges dripping and rainforest-like. After a bit of searching along the way I found some St Patrick's Cabbage near the end of the walk plus Smooth Lady's Mantle, Woodruff, Oopposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Wood Speedwell, Sanicle, Pignut and Great Scented Liverwort. Siskin, Grey Wagtail and Willow Warblers made up the birds. The Glens of Antrim have some seriously good verges full of Early Purple Orchids.
The following day we spent slowly exploring the Antrim glens and coast visiting various scenic sites including some associated with the filming of Game of Thrones. One of these was the 'Dark Hedges' at Armoy. Here some odd naturalised plants were found including Fringecups, Garden Lady's Mantle and Thunberg's Barberry. Our spectacular coastal 'park 4 night' spot overlooking the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge had Woolly Thistle and Lesser Pond Sedge.
The 15th May proved to be an absolute mega day of walking. Our first walk took in the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge and Ballintoy Harbour. A singing Twite started things off nicely with 3 Eider, 2 Ravens and the usual seabird culprits around the cliff stack. Rock Pipits and Stonechats were very obvious and then 2 Chough flew past at Ballintoy. Most pleasing of the plants was, without doubt, Spring Squill with White-ramping Fumitory, Sea Sandwort, Sea Milkwort, Kidney Vetch and one lane that had a whole bank of naturalised Snow in Summer.
With the forecast for the next day being poor we decided on a late afternoon/evening walk to Giant's Causeway from Bushmills. This is a long walk and made the day total 26.5km! Whimbrel, Grasshopper Warbler and Sedge Warbler were seen/heard en-route with Heath Spotted Orchids, more Spring Squill, Heath Milkwort, Burnet Rose and Wild Thyme on the top footpath above the causeway.
Next day was spent with a quick walk at Denseverick Castle and Falls with a drake Eider and Spring Squill followed by the rest of the day and evening in Derry City where I just noted Grey Wagtail and Sparrowhawk. The city was very nice though and a visit to the Bogside area and it's murals 'interesting'!
With us having done everything we wanted to do in Derry a day early we had a day to spare and decided to use it to explore a bit of north Donegal. We stopped in for a nice walk along Tullagh Strand and a visit to the waterfall there before heading up to the NW tip of Ireland at Malin Head. The only real sightings of the day were a female Wheatear at Malin Head and confirmation of Eared Willow after abortive attempts in Norfolk. The day finished with a long drive down into Co.Londonderry towards Co. Fermanagh doing a loop to avoid the Derry traffic and finishing at a nice little campsite called The Meadows, once again in the pouring rain!
The weather had improved a lot by the morning so we had breakfast in the sun and headed to nearby Gortin Glen Forest Park for some hiking along a couple of the trails. My first Dipper of the trip was seen by a small waterfall with 2 Grey Wagtails and several Siskins also seen. Then, as we cooked up some bacon for lunch by the carpark a Red Squirrel popped up on the edge of the woodland carpark. Japanese Larch was a new tree for me there too. After exhausting our possibilities there we drove south into Fermanagh to our wild camp by the shores of Lough MacNean near Belcoo in readiness for a planned rendezvous the following morning. Around the small carpark were Bogbean, Water Avens and Colombine of note.
That rendezvous was with my friend Sean Cole and a group he was leading for a few days of Irish orchid fun. Sean and Mike Waller have been in regular contact with a local farmer in the Fermanagh hills who has a good population of Dense-flowered Orchid on his land which he is rather proud of. And we were very keen to see them! Meeting the group in Belcoo village we made our way to the site and up a steep mountain track in the cars. And during the next 3 hours managed to see c80 Dense-flowered Orchids scattered over the limestone hills! Into the bargain there were also loads of Early Purple Orchids there plus Mountain Everlasting, Southern Lady's Mantle, Yellow Pimpernel, Wall Cotoneaster and a fantastic large beetle Carabus granulatus. Cuckoo, Raven and several Lesser Redpolls were also noted. It was a fantastic morning and a good laugh - huge thanks to Sean for inviting us along!
The afternoon had a lot to live up to as we visited the nearby Polnagollum Cave (another Game of Thrones filming location). After a short walk to the cave we were back at the small parking area where I noticed a small weak flying white butterfly with some Green-veined Whites. Closer inspection revealed it to be the endemic Cryptic Wood White - get in! Eventually it settled so I could get photographic proof. The rest of the afternoon was spent on a rather boring long walk Ballintempo Forest where I couldn't find Irish Damselfly at Lough Alaban. I did get Water Horsetail there though and a Dingy Skipper on the return walk. That night we stayed beside Logh Erne near Enniskillen.
The following morning was wet once more so we opted to visit the Marble Arch Caves in the UNESCO Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark. It was a spectacular showcave and well worth the entry fee. It also served a purpose while the weather cleared above ground! After that we walked in the adjacent Claddagh Glen which was beautiful. Green Hairstreak, Small Copper and several Burnet Comapnion moths were seen plus a surprise Great Spotted Woodpecker. I later found out the species is now colonising Ireland but there are still not mny records from Fermanagh. Southern Lady's Mantle, Colombine, Pendulous Sedge, Early Purple Orchids and a Willow Leaf Beetle were the best of the rest.
We left Northern Ireland and headed west to te Co.Sligo coast and in particular the spectacular mountain of Benlbulin. Our 'park 4 night' was on the walkers carpark just below the mountain and we had time for an evening walk in lovely light. Redwing was a surprise find - I wonder if they're breeding here? Tree Pipit, Common Buzzard, Grey Wagtail and loads of Willow Warblers were around the walk.