Grebes, egrets and a view of the wild west

Rossendale Free Press - - The Laughing Badger - SEAN WOOD The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

‘ 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!

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