A good walk, in­ter­rupted

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - OUTDOORS -

If golf is a good walk spoiled, bird­ing in Tacumshin is a good walk, con­stantly in­ter­rupted, that gets bet­ter, and then bet­ter.

From the car-park, there is a path straight through the reed beds. But you need good waders, the kind used for fish­ing, to nav­i­gate 18 inches of water and six more of slurpy black mud.

The ter­rain then shifts abruptly to firm salt marsh, baked af­ter the long dry sum­mer, and ac­tu­ally warm be­neath oddly in­tense Septem­ber sun­light.

The shal­low, glit­ter­ing lake is alive with wa­ter­fowl, mainly wigeon, mal­lard and mute swan; the call of a sin­gle whooper swan her­alds an up­com­ing in­flux from Ice­land.

Tiny wad­ing birds skit­ter across the mud­flats on the lake mar­gins. They are mostly dun­lin, but Kil­lian Mullar­ney soon spots a curlew sand­piper, much rarer, and only pass­ing through en route to Africa, among them. And each time he finds an­other, he takes pains to dis­cuss its dis­tinc­tive fea­tures – slightly larger size, “cleaner” look, longer neck, and clear whitish breast – as I strug­gle, with a lit­tle more suc­cess each time, to pick it out from the dun­lin.

As we turn for home, we are hap­pily in­ter­rupted, again. He has glimpsed a grey phalarope, an­other scarce pas­sage mi­grant, swim­ming at the end of a long pool. It is busily pick­ing minute life forms off the water with its nee­dle-thin bill, and lets him wade al­most right up to it, sketch­ing its essen­tials as he does so.

What brings him back to this place, again and again, I won­der. Does he see a walk like to­day’s as a fail­ure, be­cause he hasn’t found some su­per-rar­ity?

“Ab­so­lutely not,” he says. “Of course it’s a plea­sure to find rare birds, and the an­tic­i­pa­tion is half the plea­sure, it keeps you con­stantly alert. But I’m al­ways keen to see some­thing new in com­mon birds, some­thing I’ve never noted be­fore.”

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