I am inspired to write this blog after reading “Sweet Killough, let down your Anchor”, written by Maurice Hayes. His mother was born in Listowel Co Kerry. Living in Killough at the other end of Ireland seemed a million miles in the 1930s. Her mother sent her a copy of the Kerryman every week. News from home kept his mum in touch. She seldom got to visit Kerry.
Hopefully my experience will give you a flavour of life along Strangford Lough near my home in Portaferry, N Ireland. For my family abroad, my friends and followers dotted around the world, please take a walk with me on this pleasant November morning.
Brendan and I decided to take a walk, soon after sunrise. Each time we take a walk we get a glimpse of the wildlife along the seashore, in the water, in the air or on the nearby grasslands. This morning was no exception.
In the bay in front of us many colourful buoys, all shapes and sizes bob about in the water. They provided anchors for yachts during the summer. The swallows have left and so have the boats. They will winter out in the safety of some yard. Each buoy has a bird perched on it. The biggest buoy has the biggest seabird, ranging from a heron, cormorant to some seagulls. They squabble for supremacy.
They rest there enjoying the rising sun and still air.
Along the road I see a small upturned crab, partly eaten. How did a crab get stranded along the road. I believe it is the remains of a meal a crow had left behind. There is a forest along part of the shore. Crows settle there in the evening. In the morning most of them head off to feed on fields inland. Not so our resident crows. There are a dozen of these birds that have adapted to living off food from the shore. As I was driving one day a crow dropped a sea shell onto the road. The shell cracked open and the crow enjoyed a tasty morsel. Clever creature. They have adapted to foraging along the shore: food at their doorstep.
Brendan drew my attention to two aeroplanes flying west overhead, one in front of the other, to a far off shore. We are enjoying having our feet on the ground after our recent travels. We are beside still waters instead, having our souls restored.
The Lord is my shepherd; he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Psalms 23:1-2 KJV)
We heard a honking sound from the other side of the lough. There were large birds, I think swans, flying in formation to our right. Brendan counted fourteen, the number of our children. They have flown the nest. Gone but not forgotten. This day forty four years ago I gave birth to our first child. So started many years of child rearing. A new season for us now.
A group of oyster catchers were hardly noticeable along the water’s edge. They sprang into flight as we approached. Herons and oystercatchers live happily together along the shore. Gulls will try to chase herons, much to their annoyance and screech their disapproval.
A lone curlew catches Brendan’s attention. He takes a closer look with the binoculars. It has a distinctive long curved bill. My Little book of Birdwatching comes in handy. A few blackbirds dart into the hedgerows, taking shelter for the winter. I was delighted to see a group of the Brent Geese sheltering behind Ballyhenry Island. They had ventured down the coastline from Newtownards. They looked fat and their white under bellies were high lighted in the low sunshine. I can expect them soon to be feeding near the bottom of our garden.
A large bird dropped speedily into a field nearby. It later perched on the top branch of a tree in the hedge row in the distance. We could see markings on the back feathers. We knew it was a bird of prey, but which one? I looked up my Little Book. It was a female kestrel.
The ultimate visitor was a seal diving into the seaweed offshore. This area must be his territory. We have met him before.
All of us were enjoying the unexpected warm morning. Brendan and I returned home uplifted, thankful for the beauty of creation around us. I had braced myself for a cold wind with hat, scarf and gloves. But no, it was a pleasant, warm, bright morning down by the sea. Unlike John Masefield’s description of his going down to the sea in his poem ” Sea Fever”.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
Thank you for sharing my walk down by the sea.
“All creation rightly gives you praise.”