Driving along the Ring to Clonakilty bay side road in bright sunlight with the tide out, I saw bunches of dunlin roosting along the channels, and a small flock of golden plover.
My friend, Peter Wolstenholme, potter and ace birdwatcher, tells me they may have been knot. I didn’t have binoculars with me at the time.
We used to have sizeable flocks on Courtmacsherry Bay, and big gatherings of golden plover, up to 7,000 birds.
However while there are still some knot, the plover have moved off: I see flocks on Rosscarberry Bay. Such are the vagaries of birds.
Talking about vagaries, Peter tells me that in 30 years of west Cork birdwatching — including an annual month in September/October spotting migrants at Crookhaven, one of the farther southwest points on our coast — he has never seen so many American vagrants as this year.
The obvious joke would be that they’re fleeing Trump but, in fact, they were migrating to South America for the winter but got blown by Atlantic storms to our shores. While it is a delight for birdwatchers, they are aware that most will never find their way home and will die in Ireland.
Among the list, some were exotics, never seen here before. Most unusual was a night-hawk, the equivalent of our nightjar. It is, apparently, entertaining birders from far and wide in Sligo, where it regularly flies over the river side field where it has fetched up, and comes into full view.
At various venues, storm-blown redeyed vireos made landfall: so far, 12; usually no more than one or two arrive in Ireland. The list of Americans, as Peter said, is extraordinary. A myrtle warbler, a black-and-white warbler, two Baltimore orioles, a lesser yellowlegs, (like our native redstart but with yellow, instead of red, legs).
Also, for the regular autumn Crookhaven watchers, the thrill of seeing one of our own sea eagles circling leisurely over the local beach.
Last week, the sun was bright and warm as I left the pub after seeing Ireland defeat Samoa at the rugby. Walking home, I came on a surprise, not of birds but of butterflies, two dozen or so gathering on an alder tree.
It was a red admiral, basking with its wings laid flat and wide on an alder leaf, that riveted my attention. We often see red admirals but rarely do we get one displaying its red-orange, black and white-tipped wings to such advantage. There were others, all in fine fettle, as if new born.
And perhaps they were, a September hatch catching the October sun.
It was unusual to see so many butterflies on an alder, but perhaps they were using it because the broad, almost circular, leaves made ideal roosting stations, green sun-beds gathering the heat.
Hemp agrimony grew nearby, the flat flower heads of many blossoms no longer deep pink but fading, and yellow flower clusters of the Old Man’s Beard; perhaps these were the real attraction.
Certainly, a particular small tortoiseshell butterfly favoured the hemp agrimony, even though its nectar would have been much depleted compared with a month ago when it would have provided a feast for butterflies, bees and wasps of every description.
Nevertheless, it returned again and again, and sat on the flowerhead and basked, only moving to find a better angle to the sun. I’m writing this article a week ahead of publication because there’s so much to report.
On Monday, my wife and I will go to Greece — to who-knows-where in Greece — but certainly to Athens and the islands.
We will, I regret to say, have to fly. We should go by train and boat, following the ecologically-sound suggestions of “The Man in Seat 61” (see Google Wikipedia). We will do that when we have more time: this is a 13-day holimost day and six days would be expended getting there and back by land and sea transport.
Instead, we will buy carbon credits, as we have before. Previously these went toward providing families in deserts with solar cooking stoves so that they weren’t forced to cull the remaining trees for firewood. This time, however, we will donate to the IPCC, the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, who will invest it in drain blocking and sphagnum moss transfer in bogs.
Bogs are 90% water and only 10% solid earth. When water drains, the leaf litter of the plants, normally without air or oxygen, dries out, decomposes and releases the carbon gathered by the living plants over thousands of years.
It seems a good idea to pay our carbon credits by supporting local initiatives. It seems a good idea of the IPCC to suggest that we can make some amends for our air travel here at home.