illuminated halloween pumpkin jack-o-lantern with sparklers

Four seasons in one day or a season in four days?

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Halloween in Ireland - pumpkin - sparklers

Well Halloween is over for another year. So the pumpkin pie, apple pie, monkey nuts, toffee apples and all sorts have been eaten, wee fingers have been burned with that destinctive white burn scar that only dark but still hot sparklers can leave and cows have to avoid eating the remnants of the new chinese lantern phenomenon. Lots of driving round this year and thinking WTF is that!

autumn in ireland - running through the leaves

Its this time of year that we usually get an explosion of autumn colour about the place. Loads of memories of running up and down places like Lady Dixon, Shaws Bridge or the Falls Park kicking our way through the piles of dry dead leaves.
Memories of my dad coming home from work up at Stormont with a bag full of conkers. What we were to do with these we didnt know. Other than trying to make each other eat them or shove them up my sisters nose. Eventually we got a demonstration of the conker game where you thread the conker with string then beat each others conkers until they exploded in a mass of poisonous nut and spread about the place. At school some people would always win and then the secrets came out, put them in vinegar, bake them in the oven, varnish them and all sorts of failed remedies which usually including mixing up the instructions and generally causing some sort of minor fire alert, trip to casualty or waiting until next year to get more conkers.

autumn in ireland - conkers

Of course these days the health and safety killjoys wont let kids put each others eyes out, stuff house insulation down each others backs (we couldnt get itching powder) or throw bangers at each other. For some reason they think that natural selection should no longer be allowed to take its course, of course sparklers are still legal and I remember more burns and problems with them than anything else that has been banned.

autumn in ireland - autumn fallen leaves

Still back to the autumn colours, I was really looking forward to this years autumn colour and the odd chance, autumn might last longer than an afternoon to get out and get some photos. Last year autumn was a washout, rain and high winds put paid to the piles of dry dying leaves. One night, bang, they all came down, got wet and even I wouldnt have the cheek to try and make something out a pile of wet, sodden, mouldy leaves. Although to be fair that would probably be more of an approximation to autumn these days than the photos I do have. As I write there is about 2 inches of rain overnight and up to 30mph winds. That will be autumn gone for another year.
We often say that we get four seasons in one day here but last year autumn was about 4 days.

autumn in ireland - dying leaves on the trees

My one real photographic expedition last year was to whiteboard an attempt to become a nature photographer. Well I have these big long lenses, combat trousers, a copy of the SAS survival guide and a couple of flasks – how hard could it be?
I did my research and my target was the wee red squirrels, a dying breed apparently so I found out that Belvoir Forest Park has a fair size colony (or whatever the collective noun is – my research obviously didnt go that far) and there were a few other places but they were under the protection of the National Trust stasi (photography is verboten) or too far away.
I spoke to a few colleagues from around these islands who actually do know what they were doing and some advised going out and seeding out the area. Throw a few peanuts down in common areas and sit back with a pair of binoculars and watch before ever bringing the cameras.
I think they were taking the piss..
..or maybe they meant the non salted in a packet variety of peanuts…
Either way I just stood around getting cold and saying hello to a lot of old people out walking their dogs.

autumn in ireland - mixed autumn leaves

I refuse to be put off and I decided that it was a matter of timing. From my days on Safari it was obvious dawn and dusk were the best times to view wildlife.
So, next morning at 6am I was in the car and off to the park. By 7am I was sitting on my wee tripod stool, full covered in camouflage gear, poncho covering everything and a flask of coffee. My lens of choice was my 500mm and 1.4 convertor. Now, this is not a lens you want to be seen with wearing camouflage and sitting under the main flight path for Belfast City Airport. But hey..
So the mist cleared and the sun came up and people started to arrive walking their dogs.
It was then I realised that before long any movement I made would scare the living shit out of anyone walking past with their dog. Of course you cant fool dogs so people wondered why they were going over to smell this bush that smelt very much of coffee on a still crisp morning.
What do you do? Do you brave it out until everyone goes home or cough loudly, pack up and head back to the car, trying to avoid eye contact with the civilians and praying you dont actually meet anyone who knows you?
I chose the latter, packed up, tried to make everything as obvious as possible and had 4 squirrels run past me on the path back to the car. Not one of them was carrying any salted peanuts.
Still, I am undeterred and next time we get autumn that lasts more than a week I’ll give it another go. Or maybe I’ll start with something bigger and easier, like cows.

autumn in ireland - stormont parliament buildings

Getting back to this year I decided to go up to stormont to get some conkers for the nephews to give them a go at the conkers game. Didnt find a single one. Searched all day.
I went home and the next day had to return a library book for a friend who was on holiday. 2 horse chestnut trees outside the library. Stopped off for coffee with a friend on the way home. On the road outside her house there was a massive horse chestnut tree. The conkers were just lying there all over the road. I do now of course realise how odd it must have looked for a full grown man to be collecting conkers from the side of a country road as the school run traffic passed. Im sure thats just the type of behaviour parents warn kids about…

autumn in ireland - acorns and oak leaves

Ive been lucky this year, Ive been out and about and seen autumnal colours more than Ive seen here in years, so to finish heres a picture of Fanad Head lighthouse…
…nothing to do with autumn but I was up there last weekend and I’d never been…
…I will be back.

Fanad Head Lighthouse - county donegal - republic of ireland
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