Country Matters: Defiant thrush sings in the snow
A song thrush suddenly appeared, busily food-searching about a metre away. It seemed to be unaware of my presence behind an old iron railing. I stopped moving, hoping for a closer look. I was rewarded.
The bird appeared drab - what wouldn't in this weather? - and was poking irregular thrusts into a bleak corner of mud and half-dead grass.
Suddenly, an earthworm was grasped, and pulled carefully, emerging long and dangling. The bird examined it, pulled it about. I had expected to witness a bout of al fresco butchering, as I had last seen with a blackbird which had spent an age cutting up its bounty. The thrush had no time for such finesse. It began swallowing the worm immediately, Down it went, every millimetre!. Then it took off, hunger sated.
How many wrens or robins died, how many moths or insects, in this one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance between winter and spring?
Paul Evans, an English naturalist, posed this question the other day. Such cold snaps have sealed the fate of millions of Romeos and Juliets. But one snipe found succour in a cow-house in West Cork!
When the farm manager came to see to his cares in the dark, hard cold of dawn the bird was there before him on the ground - and not inclined to move, he told me, though light switches were thrown and milking machinery began to hum.
However, as gates and doors opened it took off. There is a wetland area on this farm, a home for snipe and mallard and other water birds.
Snipe are scarce in the countryside now mainly because of habitat reclamation. They are usually visible at this time of year. In my shooting days long ago I regularly shot at snipe in bogland near where I lived in Co Meath as they zig-zagged ahead of me and dog - but never downed one. This was a challenge rather than a shot for the pot. The birds sit tight relying on superb camouflage to escape danger.