In the Presence of Greatness

In the Presence of Greatness

Posted by Eric Dempsey, With 2 Comments,

It is a rare feeling of knowing that you are in the presence of greatness but, each autumn, it is a feeling I know well.


In my last posting I spoke about the real ‘gathering’ and our very own ‘skyfest’ at Sycamore Hill. I was of course speaking about the gathering of migrants we discovered in our garden on a blustery wet morning last week and of how we watched over 1,500 Swallows and House Martins provide the ultimate aerial display over the house the night before. I spoke about the journeys these birds make. These of course are European birds.


However, on a trip down to Wexford on 10th Sept last, as well as encountering European and Siberian waders migrating through Ireland, I also encountered Nearctic waders (waders from North American). These included a Semiplamated Sandpiper and four Pectoral Sandpipers. I just love Pecs!!!!!


Pectoral Sandpipers get their name from the dense streaking across their breast which contrasts strongly with the crisp white lower breast and belly. Their upperparts have rich shades of chestnut and black.


My First Pec!

As I am writing this piece, I have just taken down an old notebook from the shelf. I have over 60 notebooks going back too many years. I am reading about the very first Pectoral Sandpiper I ever saw. It was on 28th Sept 1979…is that really 34 years ago? I remember the moment as if it was last week.


I had been on Cape Clear Island and it had been reasonably quiet from a migrant point of view. The great migrant finder and birder Tony Lancaster was there along with his partner Pat and he suggested we take a day off the island and head to Lisagriffin, near Mizen Head. We took the only boat off and headed west in his car (not before seeing a juvenile Red-backed Shike first at dawn!).


We arrived at Lissagriffin, a mudflat dissected by a causeway. It seemed very quiet but Tony suggested we put on our wellies and walk through the reeds. He was right. There in front of us was this beautiful juvenile Pectoral Sand…my first Pec. It was so tame. It behaved as if we weren’t there. I instantly fell in love with the species. Here was a bird that had flown from the high Arctic regions of North America, managed somehow to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and which was feeding oblivious to our presence only feet away. I felt I was in the presence of greatness.


That feeling has never left me. On 10th Sept last I had the real privilege to share time on this planet with another Pectoral Sandpiper, this time at Tacumshin Lake in Wexford. It was again so tame and posed in lovely light for my camera (see the image above).


In The Presence Of Greatness

In the 34 years since I saw my very first one at Lissagriffin, I don’t know how many I’ve seen but it must be in the hundreds. However, each time I encounter a Pec, I am struck by their tameness and their beauty. These birds have not encountered human beings before and have no fear. So when I use the words ‘a real privilege’, I really mean them. It is so rare in this world to find a sentient living thing that has no fear of humans. So many birds and animals have everything to fear from man.


That such a bird has travelled so far and is so enchantingly confiding, it is hard not to have the feeling of being in the presence of greatness.


Eric D Birdman





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