Growing up on a farm, I was used to seeing creatures that could best be described as furtive. Apart from the usual shy suspects such as foxes and badgers, I occasionally came across common lizards, I recall hearing a corncrake in nearby cornfields (this was in the late Seventies), and for a time, there was a stoat that would sneak into our backyard to help itself to the contents of our farm dog’s feeding bowl.
In recent years, since I’ve been wandering around the Connacht countryside taking pictures, I’ve glimpsed some other creatures that I have only encountered rarely if at all. A couple of weeks ago, near Silver Strand, I spotted two stoats crossing a small road. A car was approaching as the stoats made their crossing, and one of them took fright and doubled back. As soon as the car had passed, the one that had made the crossing reappeared from the hedgerow, walked back to the middle of the road and waited until the second one [the timid one] emerged from the verge again. Together, they made the crossing – uninterrupted this time.
Sightings of stoats are rare enough but I spotted a creature the following day that I had never seen before.While driving along the M6 motorway in east Galway, a pine marten dashed across the road (had it waited a few seconds later, I might have run over it). There was a coniferous plantation beside the motorway so I presume it was heading home after a bit of a wander.
The picture above is of a buzzard, pictured near my family farm in Co.Westmeath (in the midlands). I had never seen a buzzard in Ireland before that moment – the picture was taken in March, 2010 – but in the 6 months subsequent, I’ve spotted buzzards twice since – both times in Kildare (once from a train and once while driving). According to Michael and Eithne Viney (who gave me some info via email), buzzards are becoming more plentiful throughout the country. The picture above was taken from quite a distance (it is a very large magnification of the original image). I had a similar encounter (i.e. at long distance) with an otter near Craughwell 18 months ago. It was too far away to take a still image but I did manage to get some video footage instead – click here. You’ll also see some whooper swans in the video – also shy creatures but very loud too.
On a related note, if the Irish Times converted Michael’s weekly column on nature and the environment to a proper blog with its own easily accessible archive, it would be a wonderful resources for anyone interested in Irish nature.