The Brent Geese have Left.

In the last week the Brent Geese have left for Canada. Isn’t it amazing the timing in nature. These birds have been migrating since creation. How marvellous our creator is.

“Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the fifth day.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭1:20-23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Many centuries ago before man has cultivated the land people living along the shores of Strangford Lough would have welcomed the arrival of the geese.  Perhaps there could have been a source of food. There are many historical Christian settlements along the Lough, Greyabbey, Nendrum and Movilla.
Nowadays the Brent geese are protected.

When the Brent arrive on the Strangford Lough shores in September, they look like ducks. They have flown across the Atlantic from Northern Canada, a journey of two thousand miles. They spend the next eight months in Ireland. They feed on eel grass, which grows on the intertidal shore especially where fresh water meets the salt water of the sea. There are two such areas on the shore near where I live. I am privileged to watch the birds close up.

For the last month groups of geese gather near my home to feed. I can hear their guttural calling when they arrive. They are fattening up for their flight across the ocean. They now look like geese. They waddle from where they are feeding to the shore and float away when they are disturbed. They conserve energy at this stage only flying off when in danger. They can be approached up close to get a picture. When they do take flight they travel very fast just above the level of the water and disappear into the distance.

The name Brent means charcoal in Norse. Their feather colours are dark on the neck and wings. Their wing tips and underbelly are white. When the sun shines the light highlights the white feathers, making the birds look regal with the black and white contrast.

I thought the same geese return in the spring. The Irish Brent Research Group tells me the parents remain with the young for fifteen months before the fledglings are strong to make the long journey to feeding grounds along the shores of Ireland. They stay home with their young. This reminds me that even the birds follow the truth in the scripture,
“He gently leads those who are with young.” Isaiah 40 v 11.

“The migrating geese leaving en mass signify a powerful force in nature.” quote from Naomi Hart, artist. They know when the time is right. Perhaps there is a strong wind blowing that helps their journey north. The desire to leave and return are part of the bird’s life cycle. I am learning from the birds.

“Look at the birds of the air, for they don’t sow, neither do thy reap.”  Matthew 6 v 26.    I have learnt so much by looking at the birds.

When I travel to Toronto, Canada the flight from Dublin is seven hours. The journey home is only five hours. Why? There was a strong tail wind behind the plane helping it along. Similarly I believe the strong winds help the birds migrate.

Perhaps by looking at the birds St Brendan was inspired to make a boat to travel north into the Atlantic on a path of discovery. Swans and Geese head north into the horizon where the human naked eye can see no land. “But there must be some place out there for the birds to land,” he may have thought?

Brendan and I often go to far off nations around May and September.  Like the birds we know when it is time to fly.

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I Must Go Down To The Sea Again

imageI 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.”

Family Friday. Sea Birds Thirst for Fresh Water

A few weeks ago I awoke to the call of Canadian Brent Geese that were along the water’s edge below our home.  I looked out to see half a dozen pairs swimming in the shallow water.    They love to eat Eel Grass.  It grows along the shoreline where fresh water flows into the sea.  There is a small stream that enters the sea below.  

I fetched a pair of binoculars to take a closer look.  The brown colour of their body feathers are a good camouflage against the brown, grey, seaweed covered stones. They have a white feathers on their lower bodies. They swim about on the edge of the water avoiding other gulls that are there.  

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When the gulls fly off, the geese come up out of the sea and begin to drink from a small stream that flows across the stones.  They come to get a drink of fresh water!  They wait for each other to get their thirst quenched.  Then the whole group fly off, their outstretched wings, with white V markings on the tail, blend with the colour of the moving water and disappear into the distance.  

A couple of Great Black Backed Gulls come for a drink later.  There are a few pairs of them along this part of the bay.  A couple of Herring gulls rest nearby.
 
It never occurred to me that these birds needed fresh water.  I would have thought they would have got water from the food they ate in the sea.  When we went for walks along Tyrella beach I remember flocks of different sea birds gathered at the end of the beach.  A river flowed into the sea there.  The wildlife rested there in the sunshine for a while.

I believe God our creator wants us to drink from the flowing river of the Holy Spirit and rest a while.   Jesus told us to look to the birds of the air.  They don’t sow nor reap, yet their Heavenly Father cares for them.  I am taking a lesson from the birds of the air this morning.

As I watched the wildlife from my window, I was reminded of the Holy Spirit.  Very often life makes us weary, tired, dry and barren.   Our lives seem staved of life with nothing new happening.   But God invites us to come to him to get a drink of refreshing water to nourish our thirsty souls.

Jesus said to the woman at the well he would give her water and she would not thirst again.  
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

The Holy Spirit is the Living water that Jesus promised.  He is described as the river that flows from the throne of God.  We are invited in Isaiah to come to the water.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.  (‭Isaiah‬ ‭55‬:‭1, 3‬ NIV)
As we drink in the Holy Spirit life flows again.

As I spend time praying in the Holy Spirit I get refreshed and have new strength.  No matter what age we are, we still run out of strength if we are too busy.  We need life from God to renew our energy.

Tableau Thursday. The Season of Singing of Birds has Come

“The season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. (‭Song of Solomon‬ ‭2‬:‭12‬ NIV)

It is the 29 th April today in Co Down, Ireland.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a swallow swoop towards my window this morning.  Hooray the swallows have arrived. It is a new season. There is a different song outside.  Robins thrill, doves coo, chaffinches chirrup as they call to their mates in the warm mornings.  It will be safe to start building nests to prepare for having their young.

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The migrant birds are on the move.  The Brent Geese that had visited with us since September left the shore below while I was away in Scotland.  When they arrive in September they look like ducks.  They have shed weight while rearing their young in the Tundra in Northern Canada and have used up energy flying thousands of miles to our shores.  The Brent Geese come to the shores of Strangford Lough to feed on Eel grass. By April they have grown and fattened up.  They look like geese.  When the new season comes they fly away.  I miss  them.  Some geese came to feed and drink each morning below at a spring of water that joins the sea water lough.  I would hear their throaty calls from my room.

Jesus tells us to take the birds as our example and not to worry but seek first his kingdom.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body.  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭25-27‬ NIV)

I was shaken from my melancholy when I noticed the swallow this morning.  I went to share with my husband , “The swallows have arrived”.  It was an unexpected visitor.  He has flown here thousands of miles from South Africa.  He has made it as his family before him did.  What a feat.  Such a small bird can fly such a long way.

He had no luggage with him.  No belongings.  No passport. He has no purse.  He is free to fly over borders and nations.  He is no threat to anyone.  God had prepared a place for him in the barn behind our house. He will eat the food and drink the water here. He is welcome. He has brought joy to me. The singing has come to our land.

I watched a nature program about the flights of migrant birds.  On the swallows’ journey up North they stop off at different points to feed and rest for the next stage.  One stopover is by a lake.  The swallows arrive there just when millions of flies hatch out.  The air is dark with the flies.  The swallows swoop in and out of the cloud of flies and have a feast.  This is another example of God providing for the birds of the air.  I rejoice to see God’s timing and provision for the birds of the air.  Our Creator and Father looks after all his Creation.  I marvel in his Glory. I see his Glory in Creation.

The swallows song will join with the resident birds in the dawn chorus.  They will build their nests and rear their young in the barns behind where we live.

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. (‭Psalm‬ ‭84‬:‭3‬ NIV)

I will hear a different sound in the morning.  Instead of the Brent Geese’s call, there will be the chirping of the swallows on the wire.

Celebrating St Patrick along the Ancient Pathway

I returned to Co Down sixteen years ago.  I was born and lived in Co Down till I was eighteen.  I went to university in Coleraine eighty miles away from home and remained there to get married and rear my children.  In those days I might as well have been moving to another country.  God led us to live return to Co Down.  This scripture spoke to us,

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6‬:‭16‬ NIV)

Today, St Patrick’s Day, I am savoimageuring the blessing of living along the shore of Strangford Lough.  There is a small bay below our house where gulls play about on the water.  The water is still. A lone heron stands on a stone for long periods of time looking out for food.  A flock of Brent Geese fly in low over the water.  They come to get some fresh water from a stream nearby that flows into the lough.  My soul is at rest.

I am amazed that these Brent Geese’ only winter habitat is along the shores of Strangford Lough.  Thousands land here after a long journey from Northern Canada in September.  Most are to be seen along the sunny side of the Lough.  They feed on Eel Grass and return in April to the tundra to have their young.  The Brent Geese link me to the past.  For generations  they migrated here.  Their generations back would have been here when St Patrick arrived as a migrant.

In the fifth century St Patrick came to these shores.  The main means of transport in those days was by boat.  A boat could access inland by river.  He came to Ireland answering the call of God to go as a missionary.  He would have sailed up the entrance to Strangford Lough and up the Quoile river.  It is recorded that he settled in Saul near the river.

The tourist board of Northern Ireland has mapped out the St Patrick’s trail which helps visitors travel to areas where early Christians settled.  I have lived in three sites that are along this trail.  I lived in. Saul St,  Downpatrick for sixteen years,  one year in Bright, and now in Portaferry.  I can imagine those early Christians coming ashore like the Brent Geese to get some fresh water after their sea journey.  They could have built a shelter and fished from the sea that was teeming with fish in those early days.  No pollution or over fishing then.  They may have even built a settlement on this land where we now live.

St Patrick’s writings mention scriptures, dreams, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  It is interesting that the Christian denominations, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Catholic all look to St Patrick as their patron in Ireland.  At least we are united in the heritage St Patrick left us.

In Ireland we are blessed to have a Christian heritage for 1500 years.  Ireland is known as the Land of Saints and Scholars.  Many missionarys travelled from these shores into Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.  God is calling the Irish men and women to remember the God of their forefathers. I celebrate St Patrick today, not with green beer, leprechauns, or parades, but by being quiet on this ancient site remembering the God of St Patrick.  He is the same God I worship, 1500 years later.  Praise Him.

I Hear the Brent Geese Honking.

My front door is one hundred and ten steps away from the sea shore.  This morning I can hear the honks of Canadian Brent geese that graze along the waters edge.  The sun is coming up over the hill to the left.  It will melt the crisp frost that has whitened the grass overnight.  It’s a new day dawning.

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I think of the song by Matt Redman

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

[Chorus]
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

The Brent geese come to this area of Strangford Lough for the winter.  I always think of our friends from Canada when I see them.  They remind me of the blessing Canadians have been to my husband and family.  Canadians have visited us and we have visited Canada.

There are four aeroplane trails going west to east as I look up in the sky.  Flight paths pass over Ireland from Canada to London.  After the Christmas festivities with friends and family my heart is being drawn to travel and the nations beyond to tell my story of God healing me from cancer.

I was reading from the scriptures this morning.

This message is from the LORD, who stretched out the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and formed the human spirit. (‭Zechariah‬ ‭12‬:‭1‬ NLT)

How good it is to sing praises to our God.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
He counts the stars and calls them all by name.
How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
His understanding is beyond comprehension! (‭Psalm 147 v 1 to 4

These scriptures remind me that the God who made the heavens, made me, and he healed my broken heart and healed my wounds and is restoring my life from sadness and sorrow.

I want to sing Bless The Lord Oh my soul.  I am alive to praise The Lord.  Psalm 88 says the dead cannot praise God.  It is good to be alive to hear and see the Brent Geese.

My sons, daughters and grand children were strumming on their guitars, playing a tin whistle and singing last night as we gathered together.  Songs of joy are filling our home and hearts.

One of my grand daughters gets up early to play her guitar and write songs.  She has to rush when her mum calls her for school.

He awakens me morning by morning and fills me with joy.