Friday, December 18, 2009

Still and Silent

I went for a walk by the village quay. The water was so still and silent I could hear the dripping of water trickling down a mooring rope on a nearby boat. Although I couldn't see it, I knew a Grey Heron would be standing like a silent sentinel out on the seaweed covered rocks beyond and that the calling Curlew were still shuffling for position near their watery roost. The Bull reared to defy Orion the Hunter and the Seven Sisters seemed to be winking in the direction of Perseus and Cassiopeia in the night sky. It's OK, the little shopping that had to be done was nestling in the car and my wallet neither filled my soul nor weighed my coat as it was empty - I didn't care. The castle to my left looked as cold and grey as the air that surrounded it, yet mystical as it might have done in the days of the pirate Queen as she moored for the night beneath the limestone hills. Even though from where I stand I can see no coloured lights or hear any carols, I can feel its Christmas. Maybe its the frosty weather and short days. There are troubling thoughts and worries swamped in my internal landscape yet I feel lucky to be alive and humbled by the love given to me.
Happy Christmas & Peaceful New Year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


A few years ago I had a very interesting conversation with someone about control freaks. Those of us who endeavour to have everything running to an exact rhythm and everything in its right place. I think it is linked with insecurity and even obsessional behaviour. This discussion has stayed with me for a long time and has caused me to chuckle at times when things go wrong in my life or don't pan out just the way I want them to. My friend made a spectacularly simple yet incredibly logical point. Life is not meant to remain static or stand still, it really is like a river and its just when we think we have it all under control that it changes and sends you scrambling to get a grip again. We all work hard to gain security in our lives but yet it seems it makes us stiff and unyielding to fate. We refuse to go with the flow and accept the changes.

I have tried to loosen my own grip, I have tried to not look too far ahead and advance plan or speculate. Something has changed in my world over the last few months; someone close to me has become weaker and weaker and is now basically bed bound. The medical care claim that 'it's a slippery slope'. Now the rhythm in my routine has changed again and I must change with it and go with the flow. Maybe life itself is a strange wriggling organism and we are riding this bucking bronco bareback.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guilty As Charged

Oh the guilt, the shame! Yes we just had to do it - see we couldn't help ourselves. In defiance of an unwritten rule that states one should wait until at least the 8th December, we have put up our Christmas decorations - extremely early! I will admit, I am very sentimental when it comes to this time of the year. I am not a fan of mass consumerism ala bottles of perfume that cost the earth or eating so much that you can't walk for ten hours. Without meaning to be self-righteous, I feel a donation to a good cause and a cosy day with family and friends is the way to go, that's if you are very lucky to be able to have all that on the 25th December. Give me the glow of the lights and flicker of an open fire! (Although I wouldn't turn down just the odd expensive gift such as a new car - OK Santa in case your listening!).

There is major hardship due to flooding all around me at the moment and the country is in a right old state so to hell with the begrudger's and those who utter 'bah humbug' in my direction - I'm proud of our tree and dodgy Christmas tunes CD!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A landscape can be read like a history book. If you look carefully, you will find clues that tell of human endeavour and spirituality. This has never been more true than in the case of a region of bare limestone in North Clare, Ireland known as the Burren (from the Gaelic 'bhoireann' meaning rocky/stony place). Many forms of art have been dedicated to this incredible place; songs, poems, paintings, stories and documentaries. It is a wild windswept mystical sort of place with a long and varied history. Our stoneage ancestors farmed the area over 5000 years ago and left behind spectacular megalithic (large stone) monuments.

This Wedge Tomb sits on a hill where archaeological excavations have taken place. The research has revealed a Neolithic/Bronze Age farming community lived and worked on this hillside. This is one of their tombs where they communally deposited their dead. All those thousands of years ago in would have been covered by a mound of small stones or cairn. Some megalithic tombs are aligned to astronomical events such as sunrise/sunset at certain times of the year. One of the best known is the Passage Tomb at Newgrange in County Meath where the burial chamber is flooded by the morning sun (when its not raining) on the shortest day of the year or winter solstice.

I have marvelled at these monuments on sunny days when the Skylarks are singing out over the ancient stones and have sat in the mist, wind and rain imagining those people. When you place your hand on those tombs its like you can sense the energy of the spirits within.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Greed = Anger & Confusion

These are strange times or "most peculiar mama" as John Lennon once warbled. In this country there are construction workers becoming barbers and hairdressers, newly graduated fresh faced solicitors are applying for jobs at McDonald's and over 3'000 teachers applied for one job a few months ago. The car auctions are overflowing with repossessed Audi's, Merc's, BMW's and other flash models (I wonder are there still models hiding out in some of them!). Apparently at one particular auction these flash brands are mixed in with commercial vehicles such as vans from the defunct construction industry. So that's cars from the developers/real estate moguls and vans and trucks from the lads who made em' their millions (which they lost!).

I too emerge blinded and stumbling armed with a trusty degree and M.Sc. into the bright sunlight of confusion. 'Hello' I offer meekly and politely. 'Would anyone care to look at my qualifications?' 'OK so can anyone offer a job then?' Getting mad now. 'I want a nice comfy career, job security and pension!!' Gimme Gimme. There ain't no one gonna help you now boy! Run away or change direction completely!

Alas, things have changed. Some would say for the better in the end. Community spirit will emerge. Greed will dissipate and slowly we will all get back on our feet. Yet confusion and anger still rain on the poor souls who didn't go crazy and buy the 50000000inch colour high definition watch it til your eyes fall out of your head flat screen t.v. and then bought another one to stick in their second home on the sunny coast. Why anger? well it is they who have to fork out the cash to bail out the greedy few. Very simplified but in a nutshell - true.

So, I drift on a sea of ideas, business schemes, further education schemes while watching our government fight like children over who wasted the money and who is to blame etc. I can only hope and have faith that destiny will send a fair wind and guide me in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deserted Farms

The night dropped its curtain at eight. What drew me out was the chance to see Jupiter sitting just below the moon (and a dog that had those 'walk me now please' eyes). Taking the flashlight and a slightly less traversed route, it brought me down a bumpy track which ended at a gate and two weed covered pillars. The pillar on the right bore the surname 'Reidy'. Beyond stood an old two storey stone farmhouse, the Curlews called out on the shore to the north and the moon appeared briefly from behind too much cloud. It could have been straight out of a 1940s epic about old Eire. It was calm, peaceful yet a touch sad also. Wild unpopulated landscapes are magical, they hold mystery and often bring out the best in naturalists, writers, artists and musicians. Then there are these old deserted houses. I try to imagine a summers sun creeping across a flag stoned floor. A kettle on the boil, someone getting ready for the days labor. Perhaps the family 'Reidy' made that house alive until America or foreign parts called too loudly. I hope the echos within are happy ones.

Deserted Farms
Is it too much for one man to handle?
To encompass so many years with just a single theory,
The empty farmsteads - the tea bottles buried out in the bogs,
Someday nectar for some future archaeologist,
But why leave?
Was it famine that cracked the whip of starvation?
Maybe it was the isolation,
The land just wasn't enough it seems,
The weekends without the laughter of women,
The worn roads to the sea no longer bustle with those wagons of kelp,
Weed covered machinery - rusted red from Saturday nights tears,
When you rub your face free of Manhattan sweat,
It is with the hardened hands of your ancestors,
Calloused and baptised with County Clare dirt.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rambo Season Has Begun

A hunting we will go.......lets go out with big guns and bullet belts strapped to our waists and criss-crossing over our chests and blow everything that moves out of the sky. Lets not bother our lazy asses, to walk the fields or foreshore in search of our prey, lets just drive at break neck speeds down narrow country lanes and park up, take two steps, take our potshots and leave. Why, with no trained gun dogs to retrieve our targets, they can die a slow agonising death instead. How marvellous to think, these creatures have survived this far only to die in such a manner.

Yes indeed, its that time of the year again. Its really not good that I'm getting mad as hell about this and its only the start of the hunting season. These idiots I describe are not sportsmen - they are ignorant fools and whats more they are dangerous. When out hunting duck and other wildfowl, real sportsmen can identify the species which they pursue and they know when they are in season and how many they can shoot. Their gun dogs are highly trained to retrieve shot (or unfortunately in some cases winged/wounded) birds. Many of these now deemed 'old fashioned' hunters, will eat the duck/wildfowl they kill or pass the fowl on to others who will use them for their pot. Yet, in every corner of Ireland you come across the 'Rambo's who just want to kill things, I presume in some vain effort to prove how macho they are: "hey lads I just shot a big slow moving bird over there - I must be a real man". I have seen them shooting at Grey Herons and Swans and have heard many reports of them shooting birds of prey, gulls and other protected species. They roll into areas where they have heard there is "loads of birds" and start popping away. Because half the time they do not know the area, they will illegally shoot from roads and in protected areas where there will be walkers or houses nearby. This has resulted in tragedy in the past with their ignorance of firearms resulting in accidental shootings.

I am an ornithologist, I study birds scientifically and for pleasure. In a way my pursuit involves the hunting without the killing. My personal belief is that all nature should be respected. This doesn't make me an eco-extremist and I know it is hard to live 100% environmentally friendly and in harmony with nature. However when it comes to this sort of mindless murder, there is simply no excuse for it. This evening, a car with two Rambo's sped by me up a lane. A few minutes later and literally in a field next door with a high hedge, the shooting started, as Mallard, Teal, Curlew and their allies took to the sky, I willed them to safety and wished a flat tyre and worse (which I couldn't publicly declare!) on those who wanted them dead.

RainyWest has now put his soapbox away!!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Sea

To be able to take off on a bicycle through a misty autumn evening, dog running alongside, dodging cow-pads and long limbed brambles. Binoculars around the neck and at the ready. Every trip outside can reveal something new or something familiar seen in a new light. This new pleasure came in the form of 12 Grey Seals lying out on an island, rolling, scratching, open mouthed and dark eyed. Curlews flew scolding the disturbance caused by my four legged friend and parked up in the dying grey light I marvelled at the sea all around.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Rare Visitor

This is a juvenile Sabine's Gull that dropped into a pool near my house. Dashed for the camera and got a few photos. A rare enough visitor that breeds in the High Arctic, most of the Sabine's that are seen in Ireland are seen flying at sea but occasionally especially during strong westerly gales, they will come into harbours and other more sheltered spots to feed and rest up before continuing on. The wind was strong enough last night so that may be the reason behind this young bird showing up.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Blackhead Lighthouse

On a nice autumnal day with a wild westerly wind, Blackhead Lighthouse provides great shelter when looking for seabird movement across Galway Bay. Built in 1936, this lighthouse is one of only two square lighthouses in Ireland. It sits on the most northerly point of Co. Clare and is very visible from the Aran Islands. The sweeping views with limestone hills behind, make it well worth a visit.

Highlights of a two hour watch included three adult Sabine's Gulls, Great and Pomarine Skuas.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Newtown Towerhouse

One morning last winter, I struck out on a stroll down a fog shrouded country road near Kinvara Co. Galway with a camera I had borrowed. It felt like one of those mornings when the honking of Whooper Swans emerging from the grey would have been entirely appropriate. Mixed flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were feeding in the fields and alighting on the ditches. Newtown towerhouse (pictured left on that morning) looked mysterious and silent, save for the calling of a Raven (a pair nest here every year). Looking about, the few scattered houses with obligatory satellite dishes were invisible in the fog, there were no signs or sounds of traffic. The only betrayal of my 16th Century world was a telegraph pole and wire running across a field to my left and the narrow winding road beneath my feet, otherwise I was lost in ancient Ireland.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Winter Sky at Night

The Winter is-a-comin'! Little by little the nights are already closing in, what! I hear you say - its only the end of August! Remember, yes we're not even through Autumn but this is Ireland where we fear such things. Losing even a few minutes of precious daylight will be the main topic of conversation replacing the weather, imagine! Lets try and look at it from another angle. On the occasion when there's a cloudless sky, the winter sky at night is a place ripe for exploration. You don't have to be a Galileo or a Patrick Moore to enjoy those constellations, meteor showers and planets. Kick those winter blues, let the stars become your muse (that's bloody awful isn't it!). A friend of mine has a fairly serious astronomy telescope but a pair of binoculars or the naked eye will also do nicely.

Some years ago, not just one but two comets were clearly visible in Irish skies, one was named Hiataki (possibly spelt completely wrong) and the other was Hale-Bopp. These were spectacular, one I recall had a fiery tail that was breath-taking. Yet so many people out and about missed these beauties or were two busy power walking and gossiping about local goings on to notice this once in a lifetime sight on view for free. 'For Gods Sake just look up!' I felt like shouting but didn't, instead some of us went out on the beach in the freezing cold armed with telescopes and binoculars as the power walkers went swish-swashing by thinking 'are these perverts looking in my windows? are they a new age cult?'

A great website for info on all aspects of astronomy and space is run by Astronomy Ireland

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Heaney's Postscript

In his poem 'Postscript' (from his collection 'The Spirit Level'), Seamus Heaney describes a moment during a drive along the Flaggy Shore and captures the atmosphere of the place as only that man can.


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Unless to think you'll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Lady Gregory's Holiday Home

RainyWest was out on a Burren hike along the Flaggy shore. He was contemplating the future in these here recessionary times. The jobs or lack of, the bills, the payment of said bills. When he came across 'Mount Vernon', the summer residence of Lady Gregory. This idyllic country retreat has views across Galway Bay and overlooks the beautiful Flaggy Shore. He sat down to a sandwich and coffee on a limestone picnic table, observed the Brimstone and Peacock butterflies in the garden and the Sandwich Terns out in the bay and thought, Yeats - you lucky sod!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bad Mobile Phone Reception Yields Blackcap!

A bad mobile phone reception usually brings out the worst in people. Note the irate voice "what! what! no I cant hea.. I said I cant hear you... wait no Ill move... hello hello.. aww s**t his gone...bloody phone..." In my humble abode, there is one spot where I usually pick up OK reception and can hold a decent conversation without the above dialogue. This happens to be at a window looking out onto a lawn with a grand mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees including the brilliant Golden Willow. In turn this has been a godsend because while chatting away, I can keep an eye out for warblers, finches and other avian visitors. I'm hoping that this autumn, possibly after westerly gales, Ill see something a bit rarer from the U.S. My wish list includes Blackpoll Warbler, American Robin and any Vireo species! So far the back garden ticklist includes Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and just seen yesterday while talking to my brother, a male Blackcap (like this one seen above: photo by Jeff Copner). This warbler cannot be termed rare in Ireland but more uncommon. They are migratory but more have been over-wintering here possibly due in part to climate change.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Electrical Surges

Sometimes a poem or piece of music creates electrical surges and makes the hairs stand up on your arms. Stephen Fry recommends reading a poem like one might eat a bar of chocolate. Savouring each piece, letting it melt in your mouth slowly. Last saturday evening, Philip King on his radio one show 'The South Wind Blows' (highly recommended) read out Derek Mahon's poem 'Everything is going to be all right' and followed it up by playing Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds' (chorus: Every little thing's gonna be alright). What a combination, the hairs stood up. I also hear that both song and poem were released in the same year?

Everything is going to be all right

How should I not be glad to contemplate

the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window

and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?

There will be dying, there will be dying

but there is no time to get into that.

The lines flow from the heart unbidden

and the hidden source is the watchful heart.

The sun rises in spite of everything

and the far cities are beautiful and bright.

I lie here in a riot of sunlight

watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clever Fox

This character has been taking advantage of some take-out (calf nuts) courtesy of a local farmer! It appears to have a bald patch near its rump. Maybe it got into a territorial dispute? The wonderful photo was captured by I.Z. while out on an evening stroll in Killard, County Clare. It has been seen returning to the feeding trough at night for more free grub.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


The autumn is upon us and so many of us seawatchers are dusting off the rain gear, wellies and camp chairs in anticipation of a good seasons watching. This is not as its name suggests (unless its a very quite day!), a bunch of weirdos looking at the sea through telescopes all day but rather involves watching the migration of thousands of seabirds past the west coast of Ireland. These ocean nomads are moving from north to south and in some cases cover thousands of miles to reach the warmer waters off Africa and Europe. This annual migration sees species such as Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Great Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Leach's Petrel, Grey Phalarope and often rare species such as Wilsons Petrel (pictured above) passing along our coast. The Bridges of Ross in County Clare is one of Europe's best places to view this mass migration.

So, its a case of sitting on a cliff for hours looking out on the Atlantic ocean in preferably strong westerly winds, looking for these birds. The gales and driving rain never stops (rather encourages) sometimes up to a hundred seawatchers. A good on-shore wind helps the cause as the birds are blown closer to land thus enabling us cold, shivering and hapless birdwatchers to see them. Bill Oddie once suggested that seawatchers weren't actually looking through their telescopes but rather using them as prop-ups while they slept! Well if you see us propped up against our scopes asleep, leave us be because we're probably dreaming about Black-browed Albatrosses!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rain N' Drizzle

You just have to love it, well maybe just accept it. Its an Irish summer! Gives us something to talk about (by the way this is the case even in beautiful weather - "oh no its far too hot!"). Someday I might give an honest opinion at the shop counter as its bucketing down outside and the gale is howling:

Assistant: "Bloody awful out there".
RWest: "Ah..well".
Assistant: "Its set to get worse for the weekend but sher we're used to it"
RWest: "I like it. Makes me feel alive. Makes me feel like getting into the hills and watching the drizzle envelope the landscape like a scene from some Neolithic saga".
Assistant: "Oh right, good for you". Under breath "Loony".

Who needs sun?