Like fish in a barrel

An Indian summer was predicted for Ireland and the UK for the last week, and the UK certainly reaped it, along with much of Ireland. The south coast though, as I mentioned last week, had either blanket fog for days or continuous rain. In fact I decided to take a break from swimming. But this morning dawned clear and warm, though gusty. So with the air temperature at an extraordinary (for Ireland, this year) 21.5° C.,  off to the Guillamene with me. However only a couple of miles down the road the fog came down again, though not as heavy as last week, with still good visibility, but the temperature also dropped, by 6° C. by the time I reached the Guillamene.

Beyond the fog

Walking toward the steps a commotion in the sea became very obvious. Hundreds of seabirds, all different breeds, flying, swooping, swimming, diving, in a flustered frantic floating furore. Obviously there must be a large school of sprats in close. Even larger than the usual schools I often see, usually below me, darting around. Southwards, the edge of the fog bank could be seen by the light on the horizon. As I dis-robed, the tight knot of birds drifted away out from the coast and deeper into the bay on the current.

The water is still a warm 13° C. but the wind had driven the same rough conditions typical of this time of year. Turning down at the pier however, in just a few moments, the sky transformed, like dirty dishwater sliding off all sides of an inverted bowl. Overhead turned light blue with occasional clouds, while all around, lower down toward the earth the grey cotton wool remained.

Toward the end of the swim, outside Newtown Cove, I swam through the edges of the flock. While drying myself, I saw that the birds were still present, this time more in towards Newtown Cove. Over the hill, there were many birds (which scattered as I walked down toward the cove) right inside the cove and stretching outwards.

After shooting some video, I carefully walked down the heavy weeded  and treacherous slipway.

The sprats had been so numerous that waves breaking onto the slipway had deposited bodies right there, and so plentiful that they were still there without having been devoured by the birds.

Looking into the water below was astonishing. The cove (now empty of birds who were still engaged in a frenzy outside) was dense with fish, looking green and grey and turquoise and metallic under the surface. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands probably since the school obviously reached out for hundreds of metres.

Look at this at full size to get a better idea of the numbers

So dense that I was able to reach into the water and touch them! feel them slip around and through my fingers. So dense, that despite haze, and reflections and foam and rippling water, and most of all the reflectivity of the surface layer, I was able to take pictures of the school.

We all see nature documentaries. We get used to seeing Snow Leopards hunting, crocodiles pulling down buffalo, polar bears emerging from hibernation, and seeing “never-before-filmed sequences”. This is good. We are reminded of the inestimable value of the natural world. But we are also spoiled. We see nature from a distance, and because we see what is exotic for most of us, we forget how extraordinary “ordinary” wildlife can be.

A flock of wheeling and screaming seabirds, a dense school of fish, fog lifting and the light off the water.

Fulmar in the distance

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