Looking at weather maps lately has been a depressing affair.
Ireland has been permanently obscured beneath a swirling, seething mass of rain and wind, and as usual our little patch of the south west coast seems to be getting more than its fair share of the onslaught. Yesterday was a day to stay inside by the fire… watching naff Christmas telly. It was certainly not a day to venture outside looking for wildlife… or so you might think.
I get cabin fever quite quickly if I stay indoors for too long. So between downpours (I defy anybody to call that much water a shower) I ventured outside for a look around. I never risked going beyond the confines of the garden, and frequently had to dive back into the house to avoid a soaking, but nonetheless there was a surprising amount to see despite the inclement weather.
The bird feeders in the garden are very busy at this time of year. I’ve been trying to keep a tally of the different species visiting for the Birdwatch Ireland garden bird survey… but it’s tricky. With up to 20 house sparrows and a similar number of greenfinch and chaffinch coming and going, and blue tits, great tits and coal tits in attendance, along with dunnocks, robins, blackbirds and more, keeping track can be a challenge.
Watching the garden birds at their antics is great… but there’s always a sense that there could be something else around. As daylight began to wane — around 4:30 in the afternoon these days — I wandered around the front of the house and raised the binoculars to scan the ridge of a nearby hillside. There were six birds silhouetted against the skyline. Two of them were obviously ravens, which are always around. One, a tiny speck up high, suddenly plummeted in a breathtaking stoop, showing the classic outline of a peregrine falcon… the fastest creature on earth living up to its reputation. The other three were hen harriers.
I dived back inside to grab the scope, found the birds and cranked the zoom up to 60x. For the next 20 minutes I watched these exquisite raptors quartering back and forth across the hillside before, with the light fading fast, they dropped into the heather and disappeared, presumably to roost for the night.
As I returned to the house the dark, brooding sky rumbled its discontent, but it could do nothing to dampen my spirits. It was yet another reminder that you never know what you’re going to see until you look; that there are interesting things out there, whatever the weather and above all, that watching wildlife is an incredibly uplifting experience.
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