Grebes, egrets and a view of the wild west
‘ THEM little fellas are everywhere these days’, said the old man, as he pushed his bike past my lough-side vantage point last week in Connemara but, I didn’t get chance to speak to him as his limping and snapping collie put paid to any conservation we may have had.
‘Don’t mind him’, he said, calling the mutt to heel.
The dog didn’t bother me, except for the fact that I’d been waiting for half an hour to take a picture of the resident little grebe, a little dark-brown fella, and the barking saw the critter skittering over the water and beyond my lens.
I was perched on grasses, heather and dwarf gorse by a small tidal inlet at Ard West, a delightful spot where the water flows both ways depending on how the tide is running.
Skinny little birds they are at this time of year, and look like drowned rats when they emerge from the water, that’s if you are lucky enough to see where they come up, as they can swim a good distance underwater in search of prey.
Their diet comprises insects, molluscs, tadpoles and small fish at depths to one metre.
They are also known as ‘dabchicks’, and this is the only bird name to have the first three letters of the alphabet occurring consecutively.
Just thought you would like to know that, and perhaps two more pieces of Wood’s Trivia to whet your appetite: Firstly, William Shakespeare preferred ‘dive-dapper’, notably in his poem Venus and Adonis, and secondly, the ‘dab’ part of the name may refer to the flatfish of the same name, although, that could be a complete red herring, as I can find no reference to the dabchick eating dab at all. See what I did there? The Old Man was referring to the little egrets, migrants from the Mediterranean and now resident along coasts and rivers throughout Ireland, but still scarce in the midlands and the north-west of the country.
They were considered rare in Ireland until they first started breeding in 1997.
The little egret is a medium sized white heron, with long black legs, yellow feet, black bill and blue-grey lores, between the eye and the bill, and two elongated nape-feathers in breeding plumage.
A proper beauty. However, I also dipped out trying to photograph the egrets and I couldn’t blame the dog this time because, as we drove past the tranquil sunset seen here, two of the birds were standing in perfect silhouette on the near rocks but the canny little blighters lifted off into the red sky when we stopped.
Pesky birds but, as you can see, a Connemara skyline is a thing to behold and everywhere you look as far as the eye can see, the sea, loughs, rivers, mountains and bog-lands flow in and out of each other in some kind of artistic reverie.
In 1988, the year my twin sons were born, a wildlife writer said of the wild west of Ireland: ‘Even in winter, fuchsia hedges bloom in mild Connemara, and donkeys hold sway on roads that last saw real snow in 1963’. That’ll be me then. Next week, I’ll tell you how to get to Connemara, and where to stay for your own wild west experiences.
Sunset in Ard West, Connemara, minus the little egrets!