Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ireland Vacation

On the 24th of March, Marjie and I left on a 10 day visit to Ireland. We were very fortunate to have our friends, Bob and Kay Glathar, as travel companions. They had lived in Ireland for 2 years in the late '90s when Bob worked for HP and was helping set up a new plant near Dublin.

For the first week we stayed at The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort near Killenard about 25 miles west of Dublin. It is a 5-star luxury resort with more amenities than you could ever use. I think they were feeling the pinch of the economy and the extras were included in our travel package at a very reasonable rate. We had what they called a "2 bedroom self catering on course suite". A couple steps up from our camper.

Yes, we did see some new birds. This is what they call a Robin. A little different than our Robin, but a Robin none the less.
Each morning our tour guides went over the day's itinerary and off we would go. There must be more castles in Ireland than any other place in the world. Some small and some gigantic. A short review of Ireland's history will explain why all the castles were needed. The Irish have been fighting the Vikings, Normans, Romans, English and themselves for centuries. Lots of blood spilled on this island. This is a very poor shot of the Bunratty Castle on the west coast near Limerick. Built about 1400 it was a stronghold of the O'Briens of North Munster.

Associated with the Bunratty Castle is a folk park which was constructed beginning about 1950. The small village of old buildings, farm houses, working shops such as blacksmiths and coopers, and other small shops depict rural life in Ireland between 1850 and 1900. All the buildings were made of stone. By 1900 all the large trees were gone. The pile of "stuff" behind me in the photo is peat bricks which they used to burn for heating and cooking. The Irish still use peat today.

Even the fences were made of rock. The fields are surrounded with stone walls and fence rows.

The country side is full of old stone churches. Most have a long history and are still in use today.

At Newgrange, north of Dublin, there is a burial mound that dates to 3200 BC. That's 5000 years ago!!! It wasn't fully excavated until 1960. We were allowed to enter the mound through a narrow underground passage and see the burial chamber. The Newgrange site is located on a hill over looking the surrounding country side.

You have to wonder what this area looked like 5000 years ago. This is how it looks today.

Another new bird for us. The Bullfinch.

And the Blue Tit

The inside of some of the restored castles are almost hospitable. I bet in the 1400's with no electric lights and heat they weren't so cozy.

I really enjoyed the doors. This one is about 3 inches thick, made of Irish Oak and looks like it could withstand quite a bit of abuse. It is the main entrance to Cahir Castle

A lot of the castles like this one, The Rock of Cashel, were located on a high hill. Best to see who is coming and from what direction. It was very windy and cold here. Can't imagine living here in 600 AD when it was the home of the King of Munster.
Some of the roof was gone but the walls were still standing. No wood used in this construction.

In Ireland they drive on the "wrong" side of the road. Lucky for us Bob did all the driving.

It wasn't bad in the country but in the villages and small towns driving would have been a nightmare for me. As Bob said, "the center lines and directional arrows are only "suggestions". They have very few stop signs but a zillion round-a-bouts.

For the last 4 days we moved to a hotel in Dublin and parked the car. Our main form of transportation was the "Hop on and Hop off" bus. It took us everywhere.

Typical street in Dublin with shops lining the streets and apartments above. Many of the buildings were painted different bright colors.

Dublin is a very beautiful city but not a place I would want to drive.

Grafton Street was for pedestrians only. Lots of neat little shops, coffee houses and pubs line the street.

These life-size sculptures depict the Irish people during the Great Famine of 1845, 1846 and 1847. The potato crop failed because of the potato blight and over 1,000,000 people starved and another 1,200,000 emigrated, many to the U.S.

We toured both the Guinness Brewery and the Jameson's Distillery. Very interesting and we got a free glass of Guinness.

At the Jameson's Distillery both Bob and I were selected out of a group of about 25 to be "official" Jameson's tasters. We had to compare the taste of Jameson's with Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. I can honestly say that the Jameson's was the best.

This was one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen. The Samuel Beckett Bridge crosses the Liffey River which flows through Dublin. The national symbol of Ireland is the harp and at the right angle the bridge looks like a harp.

The bridge from a different angle with Marjie holding up the hand rail.

We ran into Molly Malone selling cockles and mussels and ????

This door is one of the main entrances into Trinity College, in down town Dublin. Trinity was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I.

Most of the Georgian houses in the city look much the same. Built of brick and 3 or 4 stories tall. The people seem to take pride in their front doors, some of which are very colorful.

Another front door.

The pub is the meeting place for friends and neighbors across Ireland. Each little village has several and the streets in Dublin are lined with small pubs. This would be a typical pub in Ireland.
And, of course, no trip to Ireland is complete with out several pub stops and a pint of brew. Guinness is the drink of choice. We had a great time on our very short visit and didn't begin to see all of Ireland. Even in March the weather was fine. We did have some rain and a little snow but also several warm sunny days. Put Ireland on your bucket list for sure.

Winter in Arizona

Trying to escape a little of the Central Oregon winter Marjie and I left on January 19th and headed south. Our destination was Green Valley, Arizona, where we had rented a house for the month of February. We got out of Sisters and over the Siskiyous just as a winter storm was rolling in off the Pacific. It was snowing hard in Weed, California, as we poured on the gas heading south for sunshine. Shortly after we crossed the summit, I-5 was closed to all traffic in both directions. We stopped at the Sacramento and Kern National Wildlife Refuges as we passed through northern California, stopped and visited many friends and family (free room and board) and arrived in Tucson on the 31st and then on to Green Valley the next day. (Click on any picture for a larger view)

Our rental in Green Valley was a very spacious 2 bedroom home and it backed up onto a marvelous arroyo (draw) just off the patio. We went to the Ace Hardware store and bought a couple bird feeders and by the end of the month we had quite a variety of birds coming to our patio.

Snow Birds (like us) weren't the only birds in southern Arizona. Many of our northern birds migrate south and spend the winter here and in March and April many birds migrate north out of Mexico and nest in the "sky islands".

The "sky islands" are the mountains which rise up out of the desert, some to the elevation of over 7000 feet. This photo is of the Santa Rita Mountains about 10 miles east of Green Valley. There was a little snow on the peaks when we arrived and it was still there when we left. We visited many world class birding areas such as Madera Canyon, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Patagonia Lake, Sulphur Springs Valley, Chiricahua Mountains and Whitewater Draw near Bisbee.

It is the mountains which attract the birds and make Southern Arizona a world class birding area. This Gala Woodpecker had a nest in the Saguaro Cactus just off our patio. Every morning a first light he/she would start the day with some very loud calls. Not a bad alarm clock!!

Marjie had a little covey of Gamble Quail visit her feeder and water dish several times a day.

We found a couple Burrowing Owls right off a very busy street almost in down town Tucson. Didn't seem to be bothered by the noise. Maybe they hit the shopping centers for a little shopping after dark. They spend the winter in the sunshine living in squirrel holes then head north to nest.

Bridled Titmouse

Harris Hawk

The little town of Tubac, south of Green Valley and about 15 miles north of the Mexican border, is a tourist trap for sure. Lots of little galleries, shops, stores etc. many with a southwest flavor. Marjie grows some pretty nice flowers in her garden at home but not like these. They had their annual Craft Fair while we were there. A major event with crafters from all over the country. Must have been 500 - 600 booths.

Nothing here we wanted but it was fun to just look around.

At the Whitewater Draw near Bisbee there were 25,000 wintering Sandhill Cranes. Some of these birds will migrate all the way to Siberia to nest each year.

We often packed our lunch and found a spot somewhere to eat. One day there were a couple Acorn Woodpeckers in the trees near where we were eating our lunch. As I got my camera and was trying to get a picture of them one flew down and helped himself to my sandwich.

This is the one I was photographing while the other was eating with Marjie. I think they had seen birders before!!!

Arizona Woodpecker

Just at dusk at Whitewater Draw a large flock of Yellow-headed blackbirds flew in to roost. Must have been a couple thousand of them and they were all males. Male and female blackbirds migrate in separate flocks. Maybe that way the guys don't have to listen to the girls telling them which way to go, where to turn, not to go too fast, etc. Maybe not a bad plan.

In the town of Bisbee we visited an old copper mine. Had to put on all the safety duds and then down into the mine we went. Not a place to go if you are a little claustrophobic. The mine hasn't operated for many years and it is pretty much the way they left it in the 50s. Our guide had actually worked in the mine so it was a very interesting tour. Now they are mining the tourists!!

Marjie needed a little wine after we got back up the mine shaft. Bisbee is an old mining town that time has passed by. Lots of little shops to check out. They mined us for a little.

We found some very interesting rock formations in the Chiricahua Mountains. Also saw the Mexican Chickadee here but no picture. This is the only place in the U.S. that it is found.

We really had a great time and are already planning to spend March and April there next year. The weather wasn't all that warm in February (note the snow in the shade of the rocks) and the birding will be a little better later in the year.