Damien Enright


Rooks thrill the air in stupendous spectacle

There is so much to report in local nature, and so much worldwide that concerns us at home, writes Damien Enright

Rooks thrill the air in stupendous spectacle

AFTER two months with almost no rain, the leaves on the woodland paths are brittle as potato crisps and make a terrible racket as we walk.

The sun sets at 4.30pm.

By 5pm, it’s almost dark, and rooks fly in their thousands above our house in vast, moving curtains, black against the grey clouds.

They fly back and forth, interweaving, climbing or falling, never colliding; they do this for 30 or 40 minutes every evening before suddenly descending into the trees and leaving the sky empty for the stars. It’s thrilling to see them.

The racket they make above is louder than the dry leaves below.

They conjure up the elemental.

Down here, it’s the 21st century, up there, it could be anytime in the last 60m years; that’s how long modern birds have been around, and these evening and dawn rituals would have begun then.

How many they are in number is anybody’s guess.

Were they, say, golden plover carpeting a slob, one could count them in sections of 5m x 5m, and multiply up.

Scientific counters could probably have a camera-carrying drone fly overhead.

How they can be counted on the wing, mixing and melding and cross-hatching and weaving is beyond me.

Calling, always calling, with that shrill, metallic single note, they tour above us.

A cacophony of rooks, my wife calls the raucous chorus, their caw-cophony turning the quiet sky into a madhouse above our heads.

There is an elemental awesomeness in airborne things, locust swarms, murmurations of starlings — the 4bn passenger pigeons that migrated in flocks a mile wide across the American plains, taking several hours to pass, blotting out the sun.

The white man and “modernity” came: Shotguns, scatter guns, nets and poisons did for them. By 1900, the only birds left died off in captivity, too few to perpetuate their race.

Their story is far longer than this brief summary, as is the history of the evolution of birds. There is always so much to write about.

The problem is not to find a subject, but to chose which subject, and then to fit a gallon into a pint pot.

There is so much to report in local nature, and so much worldwide that concerns us at home.

My brother sends me a CNN report saying that a respectable study posits that by 2050 the world’s ocean will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish.

Nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today.

On remote mid-ocean coral atolls, so much human detritus, largely plastic, is washed in that, broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, it has become part of the shoreline and is called the “new sand”.

Some 8m tonnes of discarded plastic finds its way into the world’s ocean annually, increasing every year.

Americans use 2.5m plastic bottles every hour.

The World Economic Forum estimates that 95% of plastic packaging value is not recovered but is lost to the economy.

Most ends up in the ocean.

“Oceanic plastic” eventually sinks and breaks down into minute particles that mix with plankton.

The journal Science reports that young fish are favouring microplastics over real food.

This effects their growth, behaviour, weight and viability as a human food.

Larger plastic bits suspended in the water are eaten by fish that are consumed by predators higher up the food chain, including humans.

So, we eat the plastic we discarded. Plastic is found in one third of haddock, cod, mackerel and shellfish harvested in Irish and British waters.

While governments worldwide must focus on the problem, a cultural change in individual attitudes is called for — rejecting disposable plastic in favour of reusable drinks cups and containers of all kinds.

Unfortunately, in Third World states, plastic is being adopted rather than rejected.

When I travelled on Indian trains in the 1970s, tea was served in earthenware cups thrown out the window for natural recycling after use.

When I made the same journeys in 1998/1999, tracksides were ankle deep in plastic cups, with cattle browsing among them.

Cattle aren’t eaten by Hindus, but they drink the milk.

The CNN writer ends with the comment: “Remember smoking? We don’t do that as much anymore ...” Yes, mindsets can be changed by information and propaganda.

An internet article by the Irish Examiner digital staff alerts readers to an RTÉ 1 documentary this week about rapacious fishing: “Right now the second largest super trawler in the world is fishing off the Irish coast. It drags a net bigger than a football field.”

God help the sea!

Well done RTÉ!

Enlightened self-interest begins with information.

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