Eye On Nature

I regularly swim in a lightweight wet suit across Kilkee Bay from the pier to Edmond's Point

I regularly swim in a lightweight wet suit across Kilkee Bay from the pier to Edmond's Point. In mid September, as I came into Edmonds, I became aware of a tugging, then a series of blows to my calves. I first thought I had snagged a rope from a pot. Then I felt a series of grip-like bites, first on my foot and then on my right arm and, all in a matter of seconds, a claw on my left hand. I thought - "I'm being attacked by a fish, no, a crab, no, a lobster".

The claw closed on my left hand and I wrenched it out of the water. Attached to it was a coromorant, with his wings half-outstretched, shaking and biting into my hand; the hook on his beak was firmly stuck into my hand just behind the knuckle of my middle finger and his beak was between my index and middle fingers. I was being mugged by a cormorant. He let go, or I broke free, but he stayed six to eight feet away from me. I turned to swim back to the pier and he kept abreast of me, diving to emerge on my other side and in front of me. Normally cormorants swim away or fly off when I approach them; this was the first time I was mugged by one. This fellow gave me an inch-long cut and a swollen, very painful, hand. All his attacks were from under the water.

Michael O'Connell, Kilkee, Co Clare

Recently I came across a most perfect example of natural camouflage. I picked up off the windowsill an apparent piece of stick which was obviously a moth. On checking in the Collins Guide I identified it as a Buff-tip, described perfectly: "At rest the wings are rolled tightly around the body and the buff wing-tips, together with the brown hairs of the thorax, give it the appearance of a broken twig."


Caroline Bonham, Castlepollard, Co Westmeath

In mid September I saw a flock of about 10 very hungry thrushes in the garden. They were much larger than our song thrush with larger spots on their breast. Could they be fieldfare or redwing? Are they migrating or moving in flocks? Kathleen Conneely, South Connemara, Co Galway

They were mistle thrushes, which are larger than the song thrush and move in flocks at this time of year in search of berried tress or shrubs. Fieldfares and red-wings return in spring to their breeding grounds in northern Europe.

When fishing about five miles off Slyne Head, I spotted a bird that looked like a wader, about the size of a ringed plover, was pale grey, and appeared able to sit on the water. It was feeding on some weed that appeared on the surface of the water.

John Brittain, Clifden, Co Galway

Your small bird was most likely a Leach's petrel which is somewhat larger and paler than the dark storm petrel. These pelagic birds live at sea and only come ashore to breed in summer in burrows and rocks on the islands off the west coast. When feeding they can paddle their feet in the water while holding the wings flat or slightly bowed. They feed on plankton, small fish and trawler offal.

Edited by Michael Viney, who welcomes observations sent to him at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo. e-mail: viney@anu.ie. Observations sent by e-mail should be accompanied by postal address as location is sometimes important to identification or behaviour.

Michael Viney

Michael Viney

The late Michael Viney was an Times contributor, broadcaster, film-maker and natural-history author