A good walk, interrupted
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.”