“Birds of the Air”, Sharron Krauss

This haunting song reminds me of the eerie folk of the seventies – especially, for some reason, Magnet’s ‘Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man (if you have seen the movie you may recall Britt Ekland prancing round naked to it, much to the unease of Edward Woodward in the adjoining room)

This is one of those “I can’t understand why it isn’t massive” songs.


David Monacchi: “Fragments of Extinction”, the sounds of vanishing nature

With the prospect of mass extinction in the news, it seems a good time to reflect on the loss of soundscapes. In Ireland, the corncrake and the curlew were once the background sounds of daily life; now they are nearly vanished.

I have posted before about nature recording artists such as Gordon Hempton and Chris Watson who have captured soundscapes in the natural world that one hopes will not vanish altogether. I came across David Monacchi and his Fragments of Extinction project.

Monacchi records (and streams) soundscapes from the dwindling number of intact, untouched forests around the world. What makes his work especially compelling is the clarity with which he illustrates how these ecosystems have a panoply of harmonious acoustic niches, across species and genera. The best way to get a sense is this short video:


via Rabid Oak, Issue 12,  a poem about recurrence in history. And crows:

History gathers up in a swirl of images
seemingly unconnected as individual incidents
clumping together to form a definite picture
of a species or race or culture.
There is much to be embarrassed of, proud of,
things to distance ourselves from
and things to claim heritage to.

Outside, crows flock in the snow-covered yard
and I wonder if they know they are capable of math
and basic human speech. I join them in the snow
wish myself wings and the will to leave
scatter seeds on the ground and ask them to stay.

The Birds of Castle Espie

I haved blogged before about WWT Castle Espie, Co. Down. Another visit over Easter re-confirmed just how wonderful a place it is for a family day out. It is also a place where the serious ornithologist can observed the internationally important RAMSAR site of Strangford Lough, and one can also get up close to a range of international wild fowl. I found the last in particular fascinating. Seeing Eider, Hooded Mergansers, Cinnamon Teals, Red-Breasted Geese, White-Headed Ducks, Bufflehead Ducks and sundry others was an aesthetically and dare I saw it spiritually satisfying experience.

While on Easter Monday Castle Espie was busy, I noted no other “Southern” (always an ironic usage given Donegal is further north than most of “The North”) regs in the car park – a contrast to say the Titanic Experience.

I came across the Birding For Pleasure  blog which is maintained by Margaret Adamson. While it isn’t exclusively about Castle Espie, it features heavily and I find her posts – like this one and this one – – really capture the place and the birds well.

She also has made YouTube videos of the birds of Castle Espie:


Curlews in The Thirty-Nine Steps

John Buchan’s thrillers are not exactly politically correct by today’s standards, but contain many gems of prose – especially on the natural world and on the cares of power.  There is a wonderful passage on fowling (ie hunting waders) in “The Island of Sheep” and scattered through his books are unself-conscious evocations of now lost worlds (such as the huntin’, shootin’ fun of “John McNab”

There are two references to curlews in  his most famous book, “The Thirty-Nine Steps”; neither is necessarily that evocative, but the casual presumption of widespread curlews is sadly dated.

At one point, Richard Hannay cannot even find his spirits lifted by the cuckoo (it is interesting how often Buchan’s supposedly arch-imperialist heroes find themselves struck by various funks):

“If I had not had such an anxious heart I would have enjoyed that time. It was shining blue weather, with a constantly changing prospect of brown hills and far green meadows, and a continual sound of larks and curlews and falling streams. But I had no mind for the summer, and little for Hislop’s conversation, for as the fateful fifteenth of June drew near I was overweighed with the hopeless difficulties of my enterprise

Fortunately, we also have curlews (along with plovers) lifting his spirits elsewhere:

It was the same jolly, clear spring weather, and I simply could not contrive to feel careworn. Indeed I was in better spirits than I had been for months. Over a long ridge of moorland I took my road, skirting the side of a high hill which the herd had called Cairnsmore of Fleet. Nesting curlews and plovers were crying everywhere, and the links of green pasture by the streams were dotted with young lambs. All the slackness of the past months was slipping from my bones, and I stepped out like a four-year-old. By-and-by I came to a swell of moorland which dipped to the vale of a little river, and a mile away in the heather I saw the smoke of a train.

Often in thrillers and adventure stories there are arresting details which stop us short in a way more ostensibly “literary” works may not. The 100th anniversary of The Thirty Nine Steps passed in 2015; one  hopes that for the 150th the “continual sound” of the curlew again is heard “crying everywhere”

Henry Williamson on Curlews: From “Tarka the Otter”

From Tarka the Otter

Within the moor is the Forest, a region high and treeless, where sedge grasses grow on the slopes to the sky. In early summer the wild spirit of the hills is heard in the voices of curlews. The birds fly up from solitary places, above their beloved and little ones, and float the wind in a sweet uprising music. Slowly on spread and hollow wings they sink, and their cries are trilling and cadent, until they touch earth and lift their wings above their heads, and poising, loose the last notes from their throats, like gold bubbles rising into sky again. Tall and solemn, with long hooped beaks, they stalk to their nestlings standing in wonder beside the tussocks.

The mother-bird feeds her singer, and his three children cry to him. There are usually but three, because the carrion-crows rob the curlews of the first egg laid in each nest. Only when they find the broken empty shell do the curlews watch the crows, black and slinking, up the hillside. Soon the curlew lifts his wings and runs from his young, trilling with open beak; his wings flap, and up he flies to fetch song from heaven to the wilderness again.

“The tide rises, the tide falls, / The twilight darkens, the curlew calls”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a poet whose stellar reputation of the late 19th and early 20th Century is rather in eclipse, to say the least. No doubt his star will rise again. However, “The tide rises, the tide falls” is one of the more enigmatic, haunting poems I have come across. And again the curlew’s cry, here as perpetual as the tides and twilight. Another marker of what we have lost and what we will lose if the curlew’s cry goes silent.

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls