CREATIVE Jane MacNamee

NWR Issue 97


Tŷ Nesaf, Bardsey (Ynys Enlli), May 2011

After breakfast, I sit for a while at the blue-checked cloth of the kitchen table, a small glass vase of lemon balm, mint and rosemary at its centre, and look out towards the lighthouse. The green wooden door of the temporary island home I share this week with two good friends is open, the morning sun streaming in to warm the tiles on the kitchen floor. A young boy, Connor, carrying a wooden staff as tall as himself in his right hand, appears in the doorway bringing news.

‘There will be a talk this evening at eight o’clock, at Cristin, on the history of the Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland.’

‘Brilliant,’ I beam back, which seems to startle him. He skips back down the lane, dancing with the staff on to the next house.

Eight of us assemble that evening in a converted outbuilding of the Bird Observatory where the warden Steve, Connor’s father, takes us back to the beginning nearly sixty years ago, when volunteers huddled nightly round a gas lamp for the bird log, carefully recording their observations by hand.

That continuous log, together with modern tagging devices capable of tracking annual migratory flights, present some extraordinary facts about birds’ endurance covering the same vast distances over and again. There are two things that capture my imagination tonight. The first is the story of a goldcrest, Britain’s smallest bird, which arrived here twenty-two days after leaving the Russian Federation, a journey of 1750km. That is a bird, weighing between 4 and 7 grammes (similar to the weight of a five pence piece), flying around 80 km a day. I think of the goldcrest I came across with a friend back home, a minute citrus flash flitting about in a bare blackthorn hedgerow, comfortable in our prolonged presence, and am overwhelmed. The second is a tale of the longevity of one individual manx shearwater. First ringed on Bardsey in 1957 when it might have been six or seven years old, the bird, overwintering off the coast of South America was recorded returning to the island several times, as recently as 2008, which would make it nearly sixty. In all that time, it had flown the equivalent of more than ten times to the moon and back. These remarkable, repeated journeys offer a glimpse into the mysterious force recorded by William Condry in ‘Bardsey’s Migrant Birds’ from A Welsh Country Diary (Gomer, 1993). Watching flocks of chaffinches, bramblings and linnets flying out from dawn onwards in September he writes, ‘When you see them all streaming purposefully out into the empty loneliness of the sea with no visible land ahead, you get a real feeling of the power that lies inside the migratory urge.’

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