Bird is the Word

A habitat is a natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organisms. It can be a living creature’s both external and internal environments. A habitat can be manifested in many ways such as how a person decorates a home, the setting a bird chooses to nest in, as well as the micro-environments within an existing system. The birds on Inis Oirr have an interesting habitat. On our tour John Rattigan told us, “This island has less habitat variation and some of the birds migrate here for the weather during certain seasons. On this island, however, there is less biodiversity which means isolation.” A bird’s environment here does not include mountains, lakes, or the company of other animals because this small island does not have a variety of resources to offer.

Birds use the island’s resources and view their landscape as “home.”

In terms of the types of birds one could find on Inis Oirr, swallows migrate to this island from Africa to breed. They also fly close to the ground because they are visually attracted to rotting seaweed. Another type of bird is the Great Black Backed Gull which is a kind of seagull that is very powerful. One example of their power is how they can easily hold crabs in their mouths. For other types of birds who do not breed, they only come by Inis Oirr as a stopping point on their journey to another destination. There are two kinds of bird populations on this island. Both kinds can be very social. The small crow even makes a jack noise to attract attention from others. Other birds one can find here include the hooded crow, woodland bird, and other singing birds. A large singing bird can be best identified by the crest it displays on its head. However, these birds are scarce on the island. 

Sea campions, clints and grikes, and seaweed are just a few of the elements these birds experience.

When considering the habitat for birds on Inis Oirr, there are many elements to analyze. These elements can help explain why micro-environments work in the way that they do. On an island, the wildlife is exposed to weather conditions that can vary drastically when compared to where the birds migrated from.

The bird habitats on Inis Oirr offer a limited environment and resources so this fact does have an influence on the numbers and types of birds that can be found here.

Sheep Haven

Killary Sheep Farm

Tom grips the scissors tightly in his right hand while he strongholds a sheep in his left.  He makes quick decisive cuts while shearing the long sheep wool. By the end, free of the heavy wool, which sits in a large pile, the sheep looks half its original size. Now the sheep will be able to be cool for the summer and slowly grow back its wool, until next year, when it will be sheared again. I am astonished the sheep did not get hurt once. Even as Tom allowed volunteers who had no experience shearing a sheep before cut some of the sheep’s wool, the sheep is free from even the tiniest of scratches. The scissors never once touched the sheep’s skin.

At home, I own three sheep. Each spring my sheep also get sheared, however the technique used by the shearer is not as kind. Instead of scissors, the common practice in the U.S. for sheep shearing, is to use an electric razor.

As Tom leads us on our tour around his luxurious sheep farm in Killary, Ireland, I scramble to catch up with him. Once I catch up to him I tell him about how my own sheep are sheared with a razor, not scissors. Due to this, I explain, my sheep often get nicked and develop open wounds that are prone to infection.

Tom sputters. “That is just plain cruel!” he exclaims, speechless. “You need to find another shearer this instant!” From his face, I can tell that Tom is visibly upset about how my sheep are sheared. I explain to him that shearers in Maine, where I am from, are rare to find and all that we have employed have used the same method of shaving. Before coming to his sheep farm, I hadn’t even known there was an alternative.

As Tom and I discuss his sheep and my sheep, I take a moment to take in the scenery around us. The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. We are surrounded by a five hundred acre sheep farm, filled with luscious green grass for the sheep to graze and set next to the water, which offers a cool breeze on this warmer than normal June day. It is a sheep’s paradise.

“I used to name the sheep,” Tom tells me, “but now there is just too many, I can’t keep up.” The fact that he cares enough to name his sheep proves the level of care he gives his sheep – a level  most large sheep farmers in the U.S. do not. Tom provides the sheep with a habitat now close to extinction in the U.S. Most sheep in the states that are bred for meat are kept in pastures that don’t even pass F.D.A. standards. Tom has created a haven for the sheep to live in. Two lambs skip behind us, bleating excessively.

“They think I’m their parent” Tom explains, “Their mother died during birth, so I had to feed and raised them myself.” In the U.S., it would be rare to find a farmer willing to put the time and effort into raising two lambs on their own. It is more likely, had those two lambs been born in the states, neither would have made it past a week. I am hopeful that before more animals lives are negatively impacted that the U.S. will begin to mimic a model similar to Tom’s sheep farm for raising animals.


Kyle’s Gallery


The annoyance of salty mist on my face and my stomach in a knot, all seemed to disappear when I saw the beautiful creature. It had been a long time since I came anywhere close to dolphins, until the boat ride to the Cliffs of Moher. My stomach was feeling uneasy due to the waves and the boat rocking. Once I saw the dolphins majestically jumping in and out of the water, I forgot about feeling sea sick. I zoomed in all the way on my lens, and captured the moment of the dolphin, frozen in time, jumping out of the water. While traveling via boat across the waters from island to island, it did not always occur to me what lived in the depths of the water that we were traveling on. There are such beautiful creatures that come to the surface to say hello to those passing by and who like to be seen. Then there are the creatures that are more shy and do not come to the surface often, especially with boats around. The blue, salty ocean is home to so many creatures, some that we are not even aware of or have ever seen. Aside from the ocean, even the grassy fields that seemed to stretch farther than the eye could see, are habitats for many animals. There are dairy cows and beef cattle that roam and survive off the fresh green grass. Sheep are also neighbors of the cows, just on the other side of the perfectly fitted rock wall, they also roam the grass. There are so many habitats that we as humans just do not payattention to and we constantly destroy them according to our needs. In Ireland the animals have large spaces of grassy fields that they can roam free in. While driving down the windy roads of Ireland, we sometimes saw animals who had escaped from their pastures. We saw donkeys in the road, and cows that would come right up to the 

fence to say hello. Many species of birds live in areas on the water, and the Irish seem to leave their habitats alone, and let the birds be. We as humans always put our needs first, when we should be coexisting with animals instead of taking over, just like Ireland is trying to do.

The “Mussel” to respect the world around you

The gentle breeze coming off the water, the sound of waves gently lapping on the shore. What imagery does this bring to mind? Perhaps a nice sunny beach in the Caribbean. Would you call me crazy if I told you that this was at the Killary Fjords, right in the heart of Connemara? I was surprised too, but this view was the result of glacial movement over  thousands and thousands of years in Ireland. Because of this Fjord the area surrounding it became a bastion for life, both land-based and aquatic.

The most delicious (and only) mussels that I have ever eaten

Taking advantage of this bountiful area many have set up farms around the fjord. We hiked deep down the fjord to visit a mussel farm, the owner, along with his wife and employees talked about how they harvested the mussels, ensuring that they do not take too much so that it throws the ecosystem out of balance, they harvest around 80 tonnes of mussel per year, which may seem like a large amount, but they ensure that they only harvest the two year old mussels, leaving the one year olds so that they may continue the cycle of reproducing and maintaining the balance.

One of the many ropes of mussels (along with other sea creatures) that are harvested every day

The mussels are farmed via a system of ropes and buoys which is a way that does not destroy their natural habitat. After seeing this system I gained a newfound respect for the way that the people of Ireland respect their habitat, unlike in the United States, they do not simply take whatever they can and destroy their environment, but seek to coexist with the world around them, many houses are small and simple on the countryside, there seem to be more farm animals than famers by a large number! Although this farm exists solely for the production of seafood consumption, the owner stated that “I make sure to try a few mussels from every batch that we catch, to ensure that they are fit for consumption, as well as that there are no problems within the ecosystem.” Comparing this way of farming to how it is conducted in China, with over-polluting and destructing the delicate ecosystem, it is easy to say which group of people have more respect for the world around them.

Those Little Yellow Flowers

Those Little Yellow Flowers

I walked through the eco-village in Cloughjordan and was suddenly surrounded by a sea of yellow. The hundreds of small yellow dots stretched across green grass fields for miles. At first I thought they were dandelions, but once I walked closer to them, I realized they were buttercups! These yellow wildflowers are spread across all of Ireland and I first saw them in Cloughjordan. I was amazed to see how many of them were scattered everywhere. The buttercups are a native plant to the Ireland mainland and mostly grow in moist grasslands. They bloom from May until August and its roots stay alive for two years. Each buttercup usually has five yellow petals and have three hairy, lobed leaves. I expected the many animals in Ireland, such as cows and sheep, would eat the flowers as they eat plants and grass, but the buttercups are actually poisonous to cows and humans. Therefore, that is why there are so many buttercups!  

Not only are buttercups found in empty grasslands, but they are also found in forests. On a nature walk though Cloughjordan, my friend Sean and I stayed behind our group to take pictures of things surrounding us on the forest path. The photographer, Fionan, was helping me take a picture of the buttercups with the right lighting and he said “buttercups are everywhere around you, no matter where you are on the west side of Ireland.” Buttercups can be in large or small clusters, making them a unique flower to grow in numerous places, big or small. In order to survive, they thrive on large stretches of grasslands and need plenty of water and sunshine. They also thrive off of insects that pollinate the flower with the petals’ sweet nectar. The buttercups also serve as great centerpieces for tables in hostels and restaurants. As they are scattered throughout the mainland, the buttercup can truly be named as one of the brightest and most popular flower in Ireland.

The Great Bog’s of Ireland


“A farmer was digging up through some bog and found the body, it was fully preserved and probably over 100 years old.” Can you imagine something that would be able to fully preserve something such as a body for over 100 years? Bogs can. It is a naturally forming substance that exists throughout Ireland and plays a huge role in Ireland’s cultural history. A bog is approximately ninety percent water and ten percent turf and while it may not sound like a lot,  it takes centuries to become a substantial amount. It forms at around 1 millimeter per year. A bog is essentially thousands of years of old wood. There may be a lot of bogs but it is not unlimited. Bogs are all around Ireland and are used by nearly every farmer around the country. 

Ireland is an interesting country in the fact that it has a really small number of different habitats compared to other nations. Ireland has two main habitats that are vastly around the parts of rural Ireland – bog and limestone. The interesting concept between these two habitats are from how much they differ, a bog is highly acidic while a limestone habitat is not. pH level is the level of acidity in anything rated on a 1-14 scale, 1 being the most acidic, and 14 being the least acidic, and a 7 means that it is completely neutral. A bog usually rates under a 5 on the pH scale*, rendering it very acidic land which inhibits the growth of a lot of different types of fauna. Limestone habitats usually lay above a 6.5** on the pH scale, which represents a very neutral state or non-acidic land.

        Bogs can be separated into three different categories: typical bogs, fens, and tropical tree bogs. A typical bog, which I was able to see most of the time traveling around Ireland, is covered in what is known as bog moss. The fens are mostly filled with grass-like fauna. Lastly, the tropical tree bog is almost entirely just three remnants of tree remains known as peat which formed over thousands of years, which each bog also consists of.* Limestone has what is known as alkaline soil, which means it can have a high pH level, which also limits the various amounts of fauna to grow on the soil. Some shrubs such as evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs, and perennials can be grown on this soil well, but it is tough to grow many other species in these areas.






Stepping off the plane at Shannon, I could feel the cool, moist breeze painting my face as a smile crept around the corners of my mouth. I had been looking forward to this trip for months and I was finally here. Upon setting my feet down for the first time on Irish soil, I could tell that I was in for an experience of a lifetime, but what would transpire during the following two weeks would be a journey that I will never forget. Very soon, I realized that I did not pack as well as I should have. I expected Irish summers to be hot and I received in return a wet, cold, Rhode Island type of weather that I had been wishing to escape since I was finished with my finals. At one point during the first few days of the trip, a man stated the “since we had been here, a heat wave had taken over the countryside” and it was only 85 degrees out…. shocked I exclaimed “What?!?” promptly regretting the amount of shorts and tank tops that I had packed along with the research safari hat which I was unable to show off. At the Connemara cultural center, we learned that “it rains about 250 days out of the year here” which plays a key role into the type of landscape that Ireland has.

Céide cliffs
Céide cliffs

Made up of vast, beautiful grasslands that are trotted upon by various kinds of livestock, Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. With the amount of rain that Ireland receives each year, a lot of the land is made up of bogs. Once shoveled, the bog turns into a substance that is called turf or peat. The dug-up turf is then burned to be used for cooking and heating up homes. The bogs can also act as a preservative. At the cultural center, we were told that “the bogs can preserve human bodies for longer than a hundred years” and we were even showed an example of the bone tissue that had been infused into the muscle, creating an eerily bendy matter.


Mussel farm fjord
Mussel farm fjord

Agriculture is clearly a massive aspect of Irish life. About halfway through the trip, we visited a sheep farm where we were able to witness the amazing display of a border collie herding in a pack of sheep for them to then be hand sheared. It was quite a sight to witness, as the shepherd was able to handle the animal with grace without causing them any harm. We then walked down to a fjord, which is a glaciated valley surrounded by great big mountains. At the shore, was a mussel farm, which takes in “about 80 tons of mussels per year.” The farmer only takes in a certain amount of mussels each year so that he does not have a negative effect on the ecosystem, which goes to show how the Irish respect their habitat and have no interest in seeing it change.