Several times over the last week I have been asked the same question: why birds?
What is it about birds that captured my imagination from such an early age? I suppose
the early chapters of Don’t Die in Autumn go some way towards answering that
question…or perhaps it documents the gradual awakening of birds in my life. Just to
clarify it for everyone, I do have a love for all things natural but birds are my ‘thing’.
Well firstly they are so accessible. Living in Finglas in north Dublin, I could see
Swifts and Swallows overhead and know they had travelled a long way to be in
Dublin. In winter, I saw Redwings and Fieldfares…birds of the northern regions
spending the winter in Ireland. Hanging feeders in the gardens, the birds came to me. I
would go a long way before I would encounter foxes or badgers, while I was not
blessed to live near sweeping meadows where plants and butterflies were easy to find.
The other thing that captured me so young was the incredible migrations of birds.
Looking at Swallows, my young mind was in overdrive thinking of the journey these
birds made. My much older mind is still in overdrive as I think about it now. The
constant movement of birds marks the changing seasons, the movement of time and
the knowledge that I have somehow survived another season. I believe it is something
deep and primal within us all. The arrival of Swallows in spring brings good times
And occasionally, I am lucky to witness when two worlds meet…
Last Thursday I was birding with my good friend, Michael O’Clery at Carrahane, in
Kerry. I was speaking that night in the Kingdom and enjoying birding with Mick just
like old times (we have birded together since 1983). Out along the grasslands we
found this beautiful Pectoral Sandpiper (above).
Pec Sands come from the high Arctic Tundra of North America. They migrate to
Central and South America but many young birds get blown across the Atlantic.
Yankee waders (as we call them) are always special birds. This bird was incredibly
tame, walking towards us as it fed. It is always a privilege to be in the presence of a
bird that knows no fear.
As we were watching this bird, we both suddenly became aware of a very distinctive
bird calling loudly several times as it flew overhead. The call was a sharp ‘pissih’…it
was a call that we both instantly recognised…a Red-throated Pipit! In almost 40 years
of ‘serious’ birding, I have encountered Red-throated Pipit on just two previous
occasions in Ireland. However, my ear was sharp to the call as I had experienced
hundreds of them last Christmas in Hong Kong. Yes…Hong Kong…that is where the
Here we were in Kerry experiencing birds which have come from two ends of the
world…one North America, the other from Asia. One was meant to be heading
towards South America, the other meant to be on its way towards the Far East. They
were both well off course yet, their respective paths crossed in one place in south-
west Ireland. It was a fleeting meeting of two birds from two worlds.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Michael and I were there to witness such a
meeting. How incredible is that? How lucky were we?
So why birds?
Do I really have to answer that question?