Summer time and the living is easy … those opening words from that famous song might well have been written by a birdwatcher. Summer is a wonderful time to go birdwatching. The weather can be lovely and with those long evenings, it can be an ideal time to visit many habitats.
May is really a busy time in the world of birds. All of our summer migrants have arrived and are finding suitable breeding territories while most of our resident birds may well be raising their first brood of hungry chicks. These months are also a time to take time to listen to the sheer wonder of a dawn chorus as all of our breeding birds sing at first light. For those too lazy to get up that early, it’s also a great time for a dusk chorus which can be as amazing but is usually shorter in duration. There is still a dawn chorus in June but, by July, it is but a brief burst of song. Birds are either too busy feeding young or have finished breeding.
One of the best summer birdwatching experiences is to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a seabird colony. Activity at these colonies is usually in full swing by June. There is a constant arrival and departure of adult birds from the colony as ever-hungry chicks are fed. As an island nation, we are lucky to have so many wonderful colonies to visit. In fact, our seabird colonies are among the largest in Europe and we are the envy of many of our European neighbours.
One evocative but rare sound of the summer is that of the Corncrake. Once a widespread species found in every county, the Corncrake, is now a globally endangered species, with an increasingly fragmented population. Its rasping ’crek-crek’ call, once a familiar sound of the Irish countryside is now little more than a memory in many of its former breeding areas. While parts of eastern Europe contain small breeding populations, islands such as Tory Island in Donegal represents the last strongholds in western Europe.The calling of a Corncrake is a rare privilege to hear in Ireland in the 21st century.
Last but by no means least is our towns, parks and hedgerows. Ireland’s hedgerows are a very unique feature of our countryside. In summer, these ancient land boundaries are alive with songs of resident birds and visiting migrants. Our gardens and parks are like mini-woodlands in a cement wilderness and provide rich food and safe nesting sites.
Finally, I must mention my personal favourite, the Swallow. These birds return to the same nest sites year after year following a 10,000km migration from South Africa. It is hard not to marvel at these small wonders of nature that have achieved such incredible feats of endurance to return to their birthplace. I find myself welcoming each and every one I see. I was so lucky to have Swallows nesting in my shed last summer and, as I write these words, I am watching and hoping that they return once more … fingers crossed.
’Finding Birds in Ireland. The Complete Guide’ by Eric Dempsey and Michael O’Clery, is now published by Gill & Macmillan. Organised county by county, this is an easy-to-follow handbook giving the site names, grid references, detailed descriptions and maps for the main sites. It includes the best times to visit each area, a breakdown of the different seasons and the species you are likely to find, and lists rare birds seen at each site in the past.