It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve been guiding US and UK birders around Ireland, sharing my passion for our wonderful bird life.
Shay Byrne, the presenter of RTE’s early morning radio show, ‘Risin’ Times’, commented on air this week that ‘Eric has the best job in the world’. He’s right!
I have always held the belief that knowledge has no value if it is not shared. I have been lucky to be given so many different opportunities to share my love of, and my knowledge on, Irelands birds with so many people. It is the best job in the world.
When I was a kid growing up in Finglas, I used to watch wildlife documentaries on TV. I would see these people who spent their time out looking at wildlife and sharing their knowledge with me, sitting watching them on the small little ‘Bush’ black and white TV and think to myself: ‘When I grow up, I’m going to do something like that’!
And now here I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do. How lucky am I to be able to say that?
Yesterday, I smiled to myself as I saw a very young kid in the local supermarket. He had his football gear on… jersey, shin guards and socks over his knees (what is it about ‘the socks over the knees’ with soccer players these days?). As a kid I played football with all the other kids on the road. We all had ambitions. Most of my friends reckoned that someday they’d be professional footballers when they grew up. In fact, thinking back, many of my friends had a great variety of ambitions…one was going to be train driver while another was going to an astronaut.
However, for me, many of my childhood ambitions were quite different. I elaborated on this in my book, Don’t Die in Autumn. Many people who read the book commented on this aspect of my childhood. You see, when I was a kid, my ambitions were not about being a footballer or an astronaut. No, my ambitions where that some day I would see a Wandering Albatross in the southern oceans or see a Lion roaming across an open African landscape. I have seen these things. These, and so many other childhood ambitions, have been fulfilled.
Really...how lucky am I?
These childhood ambitions drifted into my young adult life and evolved into many different aspects. I was so lucky to be given a camera by my parents for my 21st birthday (instead of a party). It was an old Minolta SLR. Having a camera and a Tamron 500mm lens (which I bought from my savings) allowed me to commence my other love…wildlife photography. Capturing moments when I’m out in the field added a whole new dimension to my experience.
Now I had new ambitions and so many of those have been achieved. I have photographed big game in Africa, hummingbirds in South America and parrots in Australia. However, one of my photographic ambitions was a very modest one indeed…I wanted to photograph a Cuckoo. It really seemed such a modest ambition to set for myself 34 years ago (this month I am turning 55 years old…hard as that is for me to believe). Over those 34 years, summers came and summers went. Cuckoos came and Cuckoos went. Years passed and, for so many reasons that seemed to conspire to prevent me from photographing a Cuckoo, this seemingly modest ambition was never fulfilled.
There was even one Cuckoo that turned up at Kilcoole two or three years ago that seemed to pose for everyone but me! There were even ‘selfies’ taken with this Cuckoo by people who confine their wildlife photography to what they can capture with their SmartPhones. So many times I went to Kilcoole. So many times I didn’t even see the bird, never mind photograph it. So many times I would just reach home having spent hours there to hear that only minutes after I’d left, the bird was posing again. I was beginning to give up.
A Cuckoo Moment
A few weeks ago I went down to Wexford and spent a long time watching a Cuckoo pose on posts but always 400-500m away. Get any closer, and the bird was gone. It seemed that another year was passing. I gave up and went for a coastal walk along Killoughter in Wicklow. I had lugged my camera around for hours that morning and, as a result, decided to leave it in the car. Myself and Suzie (my obedient birding Springer Spaniel) were enjoying watching a Hobby hawking over the marsh and soaking in the heat of the late afternoon. Then, over 1km from the car, I flushed a bird…a Cuckoo. It sat up in front of me no more than 10m away in perfect light. The perfect image…if only I had my camera! Was this Cuckoo moment yet another which I would reflect on as another missed opportunity?
I rushed back to the car and got the camera. I returned to the spot where the Cuckoo was. No sign! I walked the length and breadth of the area several times, cursing my own stupidity for leaving my camera behind me. As I turned to leave, it suddenly appeared in flight. It flew by me before swooping back on itself and perching on a fence post. It wasn’t close but it was posing. I raised my camera, exhaled and took three shots before it was off again.
I took a deep breath as I looked at the images on the screen at the back of the camera. The three shots I had managed to capture looked okay…distant but sharp enough. They would not win a wildlife photographic competition…but they were shots of a Cuckoo at last.
It has taken me 34 years to fulfil this modest ambition but what a feeling of joy at having achieved it. Perhaps like a bus, I might have waited so long for one to come along only to find that lots more will suddenly turn up waiting to be photographed. I hope so. Perhaps I’ll get a better shot.
However, for now, I am delighted with the shot I managed to capture. You see, it’s more than a photograph; it is a life ambition fulfilled. I have lots more ambitions in my life but I will enjoy this one for now.
How lucky am I to have fallen in love with the natural world as a kid? How lucky am I to be in a position to share this love with so many people (young and old) in so many ways. Ultimately, how lucky I am to have the best job in the world?