Coast Diary – January 8th

Buzz in his tree

The temperature dropped this week. Monday it was deliciously chill, the air like a knife pressed lightly to my cheek. Tuesday it was more like having big daggers stuck in my face. I still like that though, that sharpness. Lets you know you’re alive anyway. I have been taking my binoculars (or bins) out, in the hope of whales and I always keep my eye out for wildlife – stoats, badgers, weasels, frogs – but I never see them. I did get excited on Tuesday when I saw what I thought was a toad in the muddy margins but it turned out to be an old kitchen sponge.

The birds though, are a constant. In the fields, fat wood pigeons fed or basked in the early sun -for once it was not raining. The rooks, the jackdaws marched about and some chough, hoarsely called from the old barbed fenceposts at the cliff edge. Along the road the bright-eyed robins patrolled, two punky blue tit faffed and chattered – I love their furry yellow elbows! – and a busy-bottomed wren threaded her way in and out of a hedge. I had been worried about the local buzzard who I had not seen in his usual hawthorn – bent double by the south westerlies – but there he was on Tuesday, embraced in its thorns, staring morosely out at the opposite headland. Or pehaps looking for rats. A pair of curlew flew overhead as I walked. You’ll see them them a lot here in the cold weather, usually in a large flock. I spotted a snipe this week too, one afternoon in a field by the cliffs, which was a treat as I had not seen one in a few years.

One morning I startled four goldfinch out of a tree and they took off in their looping flight that suggests they are flying on sheer will power, rising and dropping and rising again. The more I watch the little birds the more I am in awe of them. They live at such intensity, their tiny wings, and hearts, and lungs, beating constantly as they search for food. Snug in my bed as the wind got up on Monday night I tried to imagine where they were all sleeping. The sparrows huddled in a cosy gang in a hedge maybe, the blue and great tits and stonechat with their partners. The wren, the robin, alone, deep in some gorse, clinging to precarious shelter. If you had to live like a bird you would know you’re alive then.

I did see whales this week too – or perhaps just one. A fin whale, given away by two or three blows, spotted due south from the cliffs on Tuesday morning. The following afternoon, as the sun set in a stunningly peachy sky over sea fading to white, I saw numerous groups of common dolphins travelling and feeding, dark fins cutting the silky seas. Here and there a boisterous little calf leapt clean out of the water. I reported them to the IWDG which I sometimes neglect to do. They, the IWDG, published a map recently which marked all the areas important for ceteaceans. The coast off Waterford was notably left blank which surprised me as this is a migration route. In not reporting sightings we are leaving ourselves open to developments that may not take into account our ecology. So I will report everything from now on.

Later, on the whale day, I drove further west with my sister to see if we could spot more whales but saw none. It was a beautiful day to look at the sea spread before us from one end of the county to the other. On our way home we stopped at one of the small beaches which my sister had never visited and walked the rocks and looked at limpets and barnacles. I told her how one of my friends, out on the tear in a pub far away to the north and west, realised, as he was getting cigarettes, that the illuminated picture on the front of the machine was in fact this very beach. Nature, it gets everywhere.

The day after the dolphins it was raining again.

Image of the Week: Buzzard

DSC_0867.JPGLike last week I again decided to choose an image from a list instead of thumbnails. This is a bad picture of a buzzard I was watching during the week as she cruised over the fields looking for breakfast. Buzzards were rare here in Ireland but have begun to spread naturally in the last ten years. I saw my first Irish one in 2013. I was speeding along on my bike when I saw it. I was so excited I nearly fell off the bike…

‘Its a bloody eagle!’ I yelled to no one in particular.

Our buzzards are not the same as the in the U.S. and though they feed on carrion they do eat small mammals and birds. While they can be seen hunting on the wing they also favour sitting on fence posts and telegraph poles keeping an eye out for rats and the like. Some people believe the decline of the grey squirrel, once the scourge of the red squirrel population, is due to the return of the buzzard. What goes aroundcomes around.

Though the buzzard is very useful in the countryside in controlling the rat population and cleaning up carrion – not to mention that they are uplifting to see – there are still people who will shoot and poison them in case they start carrying off their dogs or cows or horses. As if. For, while at first our buzzard looks fierce and majestic, that is only a front. They are no good at catching birds on the wing.They are noisy when diving, scaring off any prey. They seem to be scared of just about everything and are often seen being chased by crows – this one was chased off by my rabble of doughty sparrows.  To top it all their feathers make them look like they are wearing a brown ‘Christmas Jumper’ all of which seems to make them pathetic characters. A sort of low end eagle. Or perhaps an Irish eagle. But they are ours and long may they soar.