As a primary school student, one of the projects the teacher asked us to do was themed “Irish Birds”. Memories of weeks spent on researching our native birds beyond the well-known few, come to mind. Intricate drawings had to be made, done through tracing out from photographs through greaseproof paper or parchment wrap. The names of some of these rare birds came back to me while reading the latest book from the Royal Irish Academy: Birds; Volume 9 from the New Survey of Clare Island Collection.
Written by Thomas C. Kelly, an expert in avifauna and from the 160 pages within the softback, he has an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject matter. Each chapter details the reference points extending beyond three pages in every case.
Such is the extent of the research that seabirds, land birds and water birds are included, together with a report on the investigation on the curious absence of breeding rooks from the island. A comprehensive listing of bird sightings is also featured, stretching back to 1887 to just two years ago.
The inspiration for Tom Kelly’s exhausting work stems back to the first Clare Island Survey of 1909-1911, which was a significant biological survey that included a ‘Birds’ Paper, written by Richard J. Ussher, based on fieldwork not only from the island but a wider area across the west of Ireland.
Interestingly, to offset the environmental impact of publishing this book in print form, a number of trees were planted with Easy Treesie, the Crann charity project organisation.
Almost two decades of fieldwork was undertaken to bring this volume together and it shows. It is a wonderful source for ongoing monitoring birds on Clare Island. Jarlath Sweeney