In the Ross Castle carpark at 5.15 on April 21 it was dark, still, silent, with Billie, my wire-haired terrier as my only companion. Sunrise would not be until 6.30.
Along the old Mining Trail the distinctive scent of wild garlic with its white flower shining through the dusk. I still needed a torch to see my way. Here the dominant trees are alder and sally. In the background the dank odour of almost dry swamp woodland.
At 5.40 the first rich song of a blackbird followed closely by a chirping robin.
As the trail rose to dry ground the scent of bluebells. Now the trees were silver birch, beech and oak. Woods in Muckross and at Knockreer have extensive bluebell carpets at the moment. Along the Muckross Peninsula last Sunday bluebells mixed with clumps of primroses.
The soaring song as more and more birds joined in.
Imagine the heavy loads of copper-bearing rock that was pulled by horses along this raised route.
A light breeze gave a sharp edge to the dark lake waters at the 4,500 year old copper mines.
Here and there the occasional purple rhododendron blossom, each as big as a football. In Muckross Gardens these days more and more of the soaring rhododendron shrub-tree covered in flowers – pinks, reds, whites as well azaleas in orange, yellow and one purply/blue that looked too good to be true.
Now minute by minute bird song built to a great symphony of sound, at its best about 6 – some 30 minutes before sunrise. A sound of nature that has no equal.
On Governor’s Rock headland the occasional Irish spurge under specimen beech trees. It can be used to inflame the gills of salmon forcing them to the surface of the water where they are easy prey.
Now at every step the bird song was more intoxicating, making it necessary to stop and listen every other minute.
Through sally and alder swamp woodland the lakewater no longer fronted the demesne road.
On April 20 the cherry blossom drive at Killarney House was at its full, rich best. Storm Hannah on April 26 cleared most of the blossom for another year.
The track developed for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861, along the northern shore of Hyde’s Bay, has high views through woodland over lake with a headland and mountain backdrop.
Here in these weeks endless acres of wild garlic fill scent and sight.
By the time I got to Library Point it was 7 o’clock.
On the trek back solo bird recitals.
It would have been good to spend time on the wilderness southeastern corner of Ross Island. But not this morning.
I was back at the car at 7.30.
– Frank Lewis
PS The very special time of the day is the hour before sunrise — which on April 21 was 6.29/ From now until June 21 it will be two minutes earlier every morning.