It’s January! Where has the past few months gone? It seems like only last week when my memoir, ‘Don’t Die in Autumn’, was published… but that was over four months ago. I am pleased to say that it has been warmly received and I am told today it is up on the ‘Bestseller’ shelves in Easons (one of Dublin’s main bookshops). That can’t be a bad start to 2016.
I have received so many emails and letters from people who have enjoyed the book and that has been the unexpected surprise of 2015. People have been so generous in their comments and feedback. Thank you to all of you who took the time to let me know how much you enjoyed it.
It has been an eventful few months on other fronts. Hazel and me were in Paris during those horrible days when the city was attacked. It was a sad, slightly scary and life-sobering few days. It was a moment in our lives when we truly said to ourselves ‘that could so easily have been us’. Life can be short and we really don’t know what’s around the corner. We also spent a few days birding in Mexico City in December but that will be the subject of another blog.
Speaking of blogs…I had great plans to write a weekly ‘blog’ here. I have thoroughly failed to do that but it is among my New Year resolutions. So here is the first of many that will appear over the coming months…
Over the past few weeks, it seems Ireland is about to sink under water. We’ve had storm after storm which has dumped more rainfall in a week than we would get in three months. There has been a series of deep Atlantic fronts that have continuously swept across the country. Rivers have burst their banks, high tides have swamped coastal towns and storm force winds have battered our shorelines. The sources of these winds are from the south resulting in the warmest December in Ireland since records began. It is also the wettest December on record. Anyone in Ireland who doubts Climate Change is very quiet at the moment!
From a bird and wildlife point of view, it has thrown up some very unexpected things. I saw a young (Barn) Swallow hunting insects over Greystones in Wicklow on 10th December. This is the latest personal sighting of a Swallow in my 45 years of watching Swallows. I feared for its survival.
On 20th December, I was birding with my good friend Michael O’Clery in Wexford when we met Tony Murray, the local Wildlife Ranger. In his van was a moribund Loggerhead Turtle…from the Caribbean. It had been washed up on a local beach. It was still alive but unfortunately died in care that night. It was one of five Loggerheads washed up on Irish shores over the past few weeks.
And as if that wasn’t good enough, a few days ago a washed-up corpse of a seabird was found at Owenahincha in west Cork. It was a Brown Boobie of all things…the tropical cousin of our own Northern Gannet. It was well dead but did it die in Irish waters? Or did it die well out to sea only to be thrown up in Cork during those same storms that threw up five Loggerhead Turtles?
Cork seems to be hogging the birding limelight this winter. I was lucky enough to be in Cork to give a talk in early December and took the opportunity to ‘twitch’ an American Bittern that was frequenting a small lake near Owenahincha (about 500m from where that Brown Boobie corpse was later found!). It was a thing of beauty and hunted for fish with scant regard for the collection of admirers who had gathered to pay homage to this trans-Atlantic avian superstar. It was a nice early Christmas pressie to get an Irish tick. My Irish list stands now at 385…about 40 behind the top listers in the country.
Irish ticks (or new species for the uninitiated) are few and far for me since I packed in the twitching side to my life some years ago. Twitching is a life of chasing to all parts of the country to see new species of birds that have been reported. Yes, we all love to see new birds but when getting the tick takes over from the simple pleasure of birding, then it doesn’t ‘do it for me’ anymore…you really do need to read Don’t Die in Autumn to understand my thinking and experience on this subject.
To Twitch or Not to Twitch
Of course, that is all easier said than done. As I sit writing this, I am aware that Ireland’s first Glaucous-winged Gull is sitting in west Cork. It is a sub-adult bird and it looks amazing. It is ‘giving itself up’ to everyone and there are some super images of it on various websites. This is a species found on the Pacific coasts of North America and far-eastern Asia…yet here is one in Cork. Did it make its way through the North-west Passage from the Pacific out into the Atlantic? Did it get caught up in a storm and get blown to Ireland? Or is it the same bird that was seen in Norway last year? To twitch or not to twitch…that is the question!
I have been immune to the draw of twitching for a long time but…I am a bit of a ‘large gull’ fan. I have seen lots of Glaucous-winged Gulls in my travels so do I need to travel all the way to west Cork (a ten-hour round trip) to see this bird? No is the simple answer. I don’t need to but I would like to…and that is the difference between the ‘old Eric’ and the ‘new Eric’.
You see, the Eric of old ‘needed’ to get the bird. It was the driving force of my birding. The Eric of 2016 does not need to get the bird but, if the weather is good, and the day is clear of other tasks, and I’m in the mood…the new Eric might just go for it.
Watch this space…
Here’s to a happy, safe, healthy and bird-filled New Year.