The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods | Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for October 12th, 1841

On this day one hundred and seventy six years ago, this is what Nathanial Hawthorne wrote in his diary….

Biblioklept

October 12th.–The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods. A sentinel is aware of your approach a great way off, and gives the alarm to his comrades loudly and eagerly,–Caw, caw, caw! Immediately the whole conclave replies, and you behold them rising above the trees, flapping darkly, and winging their way to deeper solitudes. Sometimes, however, they remain till you come near enough to discern their sable gravity of aspect, each occupying a separate bough, or perhaps the blasted tip-top of a pine. As you approach, one after another, with loud cawing, flaps his wings and throws himself upon the air.

There is hardly a more striking feature in the landscape nowadays than the red patches of blueberry and whortleberry bushes, as seen on a sloping hill-side, like islands among the grass, with trees growing in them; or crowning the summit of a bare, brown hill with their…

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“it is very difficult not to anthropomorphise puffins” – Peter Reason on Puffins

I have been posting some thoughts inspired by Peter Reason’s book In Search of Grace. I am trying not to let this blog turn into nothing but a series of extracts from the book! However I do feel that this nice little passage on puffins near the Shiant Islands Shiant Isles (owned by the family of another author I have featured here, Adam Nicolson) worth quoting – and a near illustration of the near impossibility of avoiding anthropomorphism:

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Soon Coral was surrounded by puffins, with the distinctive markings around their eyes and their wonderful colored beaks. The air was full of puffins too, so full it reminded me more of a cloud of mosquitos than a flock of birds. Those afloat seemed to be juveniles, pufflets (puffins live up to forty years but do not mate for the first five years), while those airborne were clearly adults, tirelessly flying out to the fishing grounds and returning with sand eels hanging from their beaks to feed their chicks. These adults were so intent on their business that they often seemed not to see Coral, passing within fet of the mast and only diverting at the last moment.

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It is very difficult not to anthropomorphise puffins. They do remind one of neatly turned out, rather insecure, self-important people. As I took Coral slowly across the pool towards the anchorage, steering through the floating flocks, the pufflets swam energetically ahead, looking anxiously from side to side as if to say. “I am not really bothered by this great white creature.” But when Coral drew too close for comfort, their heads bobbed this way then that even more urgently, while they made up their minds whether to dive or take off. Diving is the more elegant choice: a neat flip takes them the beneath the surface, leaving concentric rings of ripples. In contrast, taking off is usually a bit of a mess: their wings don’t seem to get much initial lift, so they splash frantically along the surface, wings and feet flapping away, often to crash inelegantly back into the water.

Here is the yacht Coral moored on the Shiants:

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Lough Neagh sand in Croke Park and Stormont – An Irishman’s Diary, January 2008

Came across an interesting Irishman’s Diary on Lough Neagh by Paul Clements from 2008 . Some highlights:

Lough Neagh was famed in the past for its winter floods and many people feel it is best visited in winter. Migrating birds agree that this is the best time to come. Tens of thousands of wintering wildfowl, including tufted duck and pochard, fly in from eastern Europe while whooper swans, scaup and greylag geese swoop in from Iceland to feed over the winter.

Eddie Franklin, the retired warden of the Portmore nature reserve in the lough’s south-east corner, knows the birds well. Spend a little time with him and he will show you the hiding places in the reed beds of the ruddy ducks, explain the activities of the rare male smew, and tell you about the families of gregarious nesting tree sparrows as well as the lapwing recovery project.

It’s not just birds for which the lough is renowned. The eels in Lough Neagh travel more than 4,000 miles to breed in the Sargasso Sea and the young fry return by drifting on the Gulf Stream back over the Atlantic, entering the River Bann as young elvers. The lough also has its own unique species of fish including dollaghan, which is a huge trout, and a small freshwater type of herring called pollan.

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Those with an inquiring mind may wonder, for example, how Kettlebottom Island in the south-western corner of the townland of Balloo got its name. According to the Ordnance Survey Revision Name Book of 1856 it came, prosaically enough, from its shape, which “resembles the bottom of a kettle”. Or what of the delightful-sounding place called Half Umry? It was first recorded in 1637 when it was referred to as the half towne of Umery.

Other names that roll mellifluously off the tongue include Clintycracken and Knocknamuckly, Limnaharry and Moneyquiggy; and two that twist the tongue are Tamnafiglassan and Gortnagwyg. As every broadcaster knows, the village of Magheralin is pronounced as in Marilyn Monroe, while the civil parish called Montiaghs – from Na Móinteacha, “the bogs” – sounds much like chocolate “munchies”.

The curiously named townland called British stretches from Ballyginniff on the west side to the Dunore River on the east and includes the terminal of Belfast International Airport. The name derives from the Irish word briotás, a direct borrowing from the Norman-French bretesche.

 

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And incidentally, as well as forming a base layer in Croke Park, Lough Neagh sand was used for the mortar in the building of Stormont Castle in east Belfast.

Bird feeding notes, mid July

I have sheepishly avoided posting anything on bird feeding since this fatal illustration of the principle of unintended consequences.

Disposing of the prior feeders (although this may have been overkill) and regularly cleaning, and moving around, the newer ones, seems to have helped.

There have been no more dead greenfinches. This is coming into a quieter time in garden bird feeding anyway. I have seen greenfinches since, but not in the same numbers. The sad thought that this is due to my own doing persists.

A pleasing mix of species, currently dominated by corvids but with a proportionally higher amount of tits than before, still feed.

Unintended consequences, good intentions, and dead greenfinches (Warning – Dead Bird Photos)

I have used this blog as a sort of journal of various observations on bird feeding.  Unfortunately, and humblingly, I have realised that my bird feeding activity has in fact been doing the precise opposite of what I hoped. Killing, not preserving life.

I was familiar with Trichomonas infections– an condition which especially effects greenfinches – and had washed and even replaced my feeders fairly regularly, I had thought  (but far from regularly enough)

A few weeks ago I saw some definite cat / hawk kills in the garden with evident wounds.   There were also a couple of less evidently predator related deaths. Foolishly I put these down to cat activity also, based on dim memories of cats killing birds but not eating them. I also wondered if there was some dehydration going on given recent hot weather and redoubled putting out water.

I had noticed also that sometimes the greenfinches seemed to have a few seeds in their beak at the same time, a little like what can be seen in the above. In retrospect, this should have tipped me off the something was wrong.

Finally yesterday, having found two dead greenfinches – one of which was entirely unmarked, the other of which had some plumage damage. I realised what was up. The advice from Birdwatch Ireland and the RSPB is to remove feeders and bowls and wait at least two weeks to put out food again (with cleaned feeders). The BTO advice is as follows:

Rotate positions of feeders in the garden to prevent the build up of contamination in any one area of ground below the feeders. Empty and air dry any bird baths on a daily basis. You may wish to consider stopping feeding if you have an outbreak of the disease at your feeding station, in an attempt to force the birds to feed elsewhere at a lower density (although in reality they may end up visiting another feeding station and possibly one where no hygiene measures are in place.

It is humbling and sobering to realise that an activity that you thought was helpful and in some way kind, and also had put some thought into in terms of what kind of feed to put out etc (and it wasn’t that I didn’t know about Trichomonas infections and try to take some steps to prevent them), can end up doing the opposite of what is intended.

I am not sure if this bird is the same as the one photographed above, but I fear it is.  Apart from other lessons, in future I will think more carefully and analytically about dead birds in my garden… and clean/replace feeders much more systematically.

Bird Feeding Notes, mid April

A month on from the imaginatively titled “Bird feeding in Mid March” here are some random thoughts and observations on bird feeding in Mid April.

The mix of birds is roughly the same, with a predominance of finches. Many are notably less afraid of myself or my family, particularly juveniles. I worry that they may be getting too trusting of humanity. However, they flit nattily away when someone gets even semi-close.

It has been a time of change. Firstly, I no longer can get the King brand bird feed I favoured. So a range of others have been tried. Tesco’s own brand bird feed is not all that popular, and their sunflower hearts even less so. Sunflower seeds, however, are wildly popular. Peckish bird food’s brands have been tried to some success. Secondly, the bird feeding pole which helped to keep the food off the ground and the birds safe from their cat enemy, finally has given up the ghost during a children’s party. Perhaps it is time to buy or even make a “proper” bird table.

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“sound as a way of sense-making”

Sound Artist Lawrence English on the Power of Radical Listening

From Observer.com

Interview here

 

How did you become interested in working with sound as a creative medium?

When I was a kid, I’d go bird watching with my dad at this waterfront area of Brisbane that’s now populated with condos. My dad would take us there and we’d look for Reed Warblers on binoculars, which is cruel for children because they can’t control their own eyes, let alone a second set of eyes that’s meant to help them see deeper.

I was constantly looking for this bird, and after several months of not seeing it, my dad told me to put the binoculars down, to close my eyes and listen. He said, “Now that you know where the bird is, put the binoculars back to your eyes and look where you sense the sound is.” I did that and I was able to see the bird straightaway. That was the first time I understood the role of sound as a way of sense-making, as a way of being into the world.

 

Later in the interview:

You intentionally collaborated more on Cruel Optimism. What can connection, real physical connection, do for us in these times? Are you hopeful that we can discern how to move beyond the issues that ensnare us in 2017?

I’m incredibly optimistic about the future. But, in saying that, I’m the past. My children are the future and their children are the future. My place is to support them and to love them and to encourage in them a way of being in the world that is reflective of the things we’re talking about. This is one of the most critical things I feel that I can do with whatever time remains for me.

There’s this great quote from Neil Postman, who was a wonderful academic who lived in New York. He wrote a book called The Disappearance of Childhood, and at the beginning he basically said, “Children are the living messages that we send to a time that we will never see.” That’s a profound way to think about the idea of time and our time on the planet.