The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur.
Don’t Die in Autumn was launched at the end of August and, since then, I have been on radio all around the country, have had articles published in on-line news media, had a lovely review by Michael Viney in the Irish Times and was even on ‘telly’ talking about the new book. I was also invited (along with some very well-known authors) to write a small promotional piece for Easons and was a speaker at the Hodges Figgis book festival. On top of all this, I have given public talks on the book and my birding life in Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, with more talks coming up over the next few weeks for Dublin, Galway, Laois, Kerry and Northern Ireland. It has been a wonderful experience.
The book has been very warmly received by everyone…including some of the hardcore birders who are, at the best of times, very hard to please.
Thankfully, between these crazy periods, I have also managed to get some great birding in. I have constantly walked the local areas almost on a daily basis enjoying the visible passage of Northern Wheatears and taking note of the gradual arrival of ducks back to the wetlands. Autumn migration is slow at the moment due to the unusually calm weather.
Wexford has been kind to me by providing my annual fix of Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Tacumshin Lake. An obliging Osprey also performed well along with lots of commoner autumn shorebirds like Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. A delightful pair of Wood Sandpipers added an exotic feel to a day at Tacumshin. Last Tuesday, I even headed to Fethard-on Sea, near Hook Head, where I encountered a tame and engaging Wryneck…its cryptic plumage pattern allowing it appear and disappear into the trees where it was feeding.
However, of all my bird experiences so far this autumn, there is one like no other. It happened at Tacumshin Lake on Thursday 17th Sept last. I had seen lots of good birds and was simply enjoying just being out with bins around my neck. I had seen Buff-b Sandpiper, Osprey, American Wigeon and lots more…a great morning. Strolling out across the sticky mudflats, I was contemplating the many great moments of the previous weeks that I had enjoyed in relation to the book. I was thinking of the warm positive reaction I had received and reflecting on how my late father might have enjoyed the experience had he still been around.
Around me and over me flew thousands of Swallows. Tacumshin is a staging post for migrating Swallows and, on this day, there were large numbers present. As anyone who has read Don’t Die in Autumn might know, Swallows (European Barn Swallows to give them their correct name) are my favourite birds in the world. They have inspired me since I was a toddler.
Such reflective thoughts on the book, my life and Swallows, were abruptly interrupted by a sight I had never seen before…
I glimpsed it from a distance…a white ghost gradually taking shape among the hordes of Swallows over the lake. It then approached closer and flew around me. A white Swallow! It was a thing of sheer beauty. It circled and flew back and forth around me for over 30 minutes…I was transfixed. I have never seen such a bird before. How had it survived to this stage in life? Being white it would have been the first bird targeted by predators. It was a young bird…short, forked tail and fresh wings showing no wear.
I managed to take a few shots. The images revealed that it was not a true albino as it had dark eyes and faint orange tones to the underwings. However, from above, it was the purest of pure white. It flew up and down around the lake, and past and around me for over 30 minutes before it simply vanished. As quick as it had appeared, my spirit Swallow was gone. I was left with a feeling as if what I had seen had been a dream. Of course, I had some shots to convince myself that I had indeed seen a white Swallow.
I left Tacumshin feeling that this encounter was very special. I have been watching Swallows since I was a child and, in my 54 years on this planet, I had never seen a white Swallow. It appeared before me as I contemplated the warmth of good will the book has created over the previous few weeks. It appeared as I contemplated on my late father and how proud I think he might have been of the book (and me). It appeared at the very moment I reflected on just how at peace I felt with the world. I know that this white Swallows appearance at those very moments of reflection is sheer coincidence…but for now, let me also feel that maybe, just maybe, my Spirit Swallow was a good omen of things to come.
I wish it and all those amazing migrant birds a safe journey.