The lazy, leathery flap of a heron’s terodactyl wings, gathering its awkward legs back under itself as it rises, disturbed, from the waters edge, landing again, feet first, a hundred yards or so along the shore, unfolding its same dark silhouette, the daggers edge of its beak clear and sharp against the water.
Two hering gulls mob a heron around the trees at the back of the orchard over The Butter House. The birds wheel and whirl over the branches, the heron showing surprising urgency for its size, letting out a throaty Kwaww as it manages to twist away from its pursuers who had been trying to force it to vomit back up the small fish or frog that it had just caught down amongst the weeds.
Two or three cormorants cruising, their bodies low and the elegant S bend of their neck and head just breaking the surface. When disturbed tupping themselves up, a slight pop, their webbed feet briefly pattering the air. Wait a minute or two and they bob back and continue cruising the same stretch. You might see them beating an urgent path back to Owen Island an overlarge fish still shaking in the tight clasp of the beak.
Looking out over the bay the only colour I can see is silver, cut up at low tide by the black rocks of weed slowly revealing themselves where the sun casts its light on the water, a moving shining glow, tapering to grey for the clouds and a clear blue where the water is clear and the sky is empty. Then as the dark rain clouds gather the light moves away from the water and the blues shift to grey.
As the tide goes down gulls and the odd oystercatcher gather at the place over which the waters of Ahakista Stream flow into the sea. Some of the gulls ruffle their feathers in the running water as if welcoming the opportunity to have the fresh water flowing through rather than the salt, others pick at the titbits of food washed down from the hills.
Gannets – something in the quality of their whiteness that means they can be spotted across such great distances – half a mile away soaring across the middle of the bay – they can be seen a quick white spot caught in the corner of my eye before rising up and then down for the white splash into the sea. A thin veil of mist flows down the middle of the bay, elsewhere there is some blue sky allowing the sun to come through and its light catches six or so of the birds circling and waiting.
In Beowulf’s time the sea was called the Gannet’s bath such was the enthusiasm they dropped into the water. Their presence in the bay usually means that shoals of mackerel are coursing through the waters. As the days draw in and night steals more time over the waters they will follow the shoals out to the deep waters.
In August 2007 we had some of the best fishing ever. The engine on Montbretia was not working so it was all done in the grey inflatable, Jolly Roger, motored out beyond Owen Island and allowed to drift in the wind. Every time we went out fish were caught. This was the year Harry and Anna came to stay and they both caught four mackerel on the same line. Anna’s line became so tangled we could not undo the knots out in the water and had to come in to untangle the mess of orange string. I can’t remember seeing as many gannets as we saw that year. Normally you only see them when out in the bay and then it is a solitary bird in the distance. But this year I could see them from the garden. At any one time there were five or six of them off Owen Island, cutting through the sky, watching them, one would break off and wings back make the dive into the sea. When the wind was down it was possible to hear the faint thump as they hit the water with a splash of white. A few days later there was a group of terns diving into the water inside of Owen Island. They were smaller and did not rise so high in the sky but it was still possible to hear the wet clump as they hit the water.
The different way a herring gull holds its head as it calls in flight. The less raucous KAW which is more drawn out the head held steady and then the KAW KAW KAW of alarm and complaint, the head is pulled back as the yellow beak hawks out its cry.
Swallows on the water in midsummer chasing midges in a twirl of bending black shadow.
Hooded crows, almost identical to carrion crows from the UK – the main difference being the grey cloak over their shoulders. In the early morning they gather in groups of a dozen or more on the roads in the small towns we drive through on the way home after the holiday shifting nonchalantly as we swing pass.
Swans – the couple who swim across kitchen cove and between here and Durrus at least two other pairs. The first swimming in a line of ten fully grown swans. The second couple followed by half a dozen grey cygnets.
If the sun is crowded by clouds the water is made to shine ever more brightly against the diminishing light.
The garden faces south onto the sea so that most of what we see against the water is in silhouette above the rocks with only the odd flash of colour that might come from the orange of an oyster catcher’s beak as it picks at the waters edge.
Then there is skittish flock of half a dozen turnstones rising suddenly from behind the rock where they had been hiding, choosing, at the last moment to depart.