Imagine, a wide expanse of moutains and heather, masses of Devil’s Scabious, an incredible ancient dune scape, the breeze of a beach, sunshine, birdsong and wildlife galore then you can visualise the absolute wonder and diversity that is Murlough Nature Reserve. We visited my Granny who lives in Warrenpoint, South Co. Down and this reserve was top of our list as we’d not been able to visit it so far. I was filled with excitement and read over and over what I hoped to see. I was not disappointed, if anything, it completely exceeded my expectations! What a truly amazing place.
Murlough Nature Reserve is situated at the end of Dundrum Bay and is a delicate 6000 year old dune system and was Ireland’s first Nature Reserve when The National Trust accepted management in 1967. It is possibly one of the most stunning reserves I have ever been to, the majestic backdrop of the purple cloaked Mourne Mountains and the sparkling sunshine of the day, just made it look perfect.
We took our map and started exploring and the first thing that hit me, was the vivid colours, there were the pinks and purples of Heather, Rosebay Willowherb and Devil’s-bit Scabious everywhere. In particular, Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratenis) is very important for wildlife, particularly bees, moths and the declining Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) butterfly whose larvae feed on it and also use it to lay their delicate web-like hibernating shelter; they spend the Winter inside, waiting for Spring. We looked for these alot, but to no avail – there was just too much to check through, but I easily could have done it all day! We were treated to hoverflies and bees galore, the dart of a Dark Green Fritillary and a wonderfully fresh (compared to my last one) Painted Lady Butterfly – I wrote a blog all about this beautiful migrant and you can read that here.
We continued on and were serenaded by the lovely song of the Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), I have heard their song many, many times and their darting shape, but I have never seen them stay in one spot, ever! Well, today was different and I was treated to a perching, inquisitive male, who gave us the privilege of observing and photographing it. What an absolute treat to see this beautiful bird.
As we walked along for quite some time, it was becoming clear that we weren’t following the map! Distracted by delicious blackberries, birdsong and flighty butterflies, we found ourselves on the outer ring of the reserve, and far away from the beach. Instead of turning back, we continued on the horse-path and I’m so glad we did! My mum’s eye was caught by a flock of white in a field of Murlough Farm and there in between the Grey Herons were a group of Little Egret (Egreta garzetta)! I was completely delighted by the quantity, there were loads! I have only ever seen singular birds, so this was just lovely. We watched them preening themselves, relaxed and unaware of our presence. What a cool sight! They were quite far away, hence the picture quality.
We walked for quite some time and the heat was making us all a little grumpy, but at every point we saw something of interest, grasshoppers, day flying moths (much too quick for us) and a cool predation of an unlucky bombus by a common wasp!
All of a sudden we could hear the crashing of the waves and the cries of the gulls; we could feel the cool sea air. We ran to greet the sea and just as I took off my camera, to run to the sea edge, a graceful, hovering buzzard caught my eye, what a day this was turning out to be! We were pretty tired but the sight of the sea rejuvenated us and after lots of splashing and larking about, I came back for my binoculars and camera to do some spotting. It wasn’t long before everything came into focus, a gulp (I love collective nouns!) of Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and a Harem of Common (Phoca vitulina) and Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus), were preening and relaxing across the inlet and I watched them in amused interest for quite some time. I love cormorants, they look so stately and regal, we also saw lots of gulls (Common, Kittiwake, Back-headed, Herring, Great black-backed). The sound was astonishing.
As we walked along, barefoot in the sand, sliding down the dunes (you are allowed to do this!) we saw a washed up Lions Mane Jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), it was absolutely stunning! They are the largest jellyfish found in UK waters and they can grow to 120ft – considering a Blue Whale is 108ft long, that is huge!! A single specimen may have stung over 50 people and even when dead, they have the capacity to hurt, so we kept a safe distance. How cool is this creature!
This was a great find to finish off our massive 5 hour wildlife walk and it certainly had the wow factor. As we were about to head off the beach and back into the dune system, I stood back in awe at the sights and sounds of this really special landscape.
I hope you enjoyed reading and journeying through Murlough Nature Reserve with me.