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Beauty

Today, we will try to deal with those birds that are more or less part of Dublin's Fair City. We will round up the usual suspects. There was a time when the cormorant was a beloved part of the inner city. He used to work between O'Connell Bridge and Liberty Hall. He lived mostly on small fish and eels. People used to come and watch him at lunch hour and in the evenings. Occasionally, little groups of seagulls used to try to divebomb him but he merely went down a few feet in the water and emerged about 10 yards downstream or upstream. The people looking on always cheered for him and eventually the seagulls gave up.

Then a new curate in the local church wasn't happy with the cormorant's nest high up in the spire. And so he got a friend to shoot him. It was a shocking crime. They took away our bird. It would have been much easier to get a hose and pump water from the river to clean out the nest now and then.

At the time I was living in the middle of Dublin but when I moved to the south side I lost touch with the river and I do not know whether a cormorant works there now. They are very proud birds and it is good to see them repelling the dive-bombers.

The heron is a familiar sight in many parts of Dublin. Usually by bridges or lockgates. If you are out in the morning reasonably early you could admire him as he fishes. He is a big bird. And when he gets up to fly away, he is the most ungainly creature you ever saw but when he rises up to about 50ft and pulls up his undercarriage, he is a thing of grace and beauty. And as he flies away to his heronry, he moves with such easy flight that he soon disappears high up in the sky.

There was a time when waterhens were few and far between except on the canal above Croke Park and by Portobello Bridge. They are fairly big birds but when they are up on the banks, you will be amazed at the length of their legs. It is like seeing a model get up from a seat. It is wonderful to see their tiny nestlings swimming against the current on the canal.

The sparrow is, of course, known all over Dublin. He is a great survivor. Then there is the robin who is a surprising creature. He seems to have a great power of smell. If you ever started digging your garden, you can be certain that a robin will perch near you within half an hour.

What is even more surprising is that he is a beautiful singer. For a small bird he has amazing volume. He also has a very sweet voice. Of all the birds known to me, his is the sweetest. And he has his own tunes. He sings usually in the last two hours before dusk. And because he sings out of a cypress tree, or some other tree where he cannot be seen, people are unaware that he is such a good singer.

There was a time when the starlings used to gather about an hour before dusk on the television masts over Clery's and other high buildings nearby. They came in thousands. Now seemingly they have changed their habits. They live in small communities. If you are lucky enough to have one near you, you would take great pleasure in watching them as they learned to fly.

They begin by dropping from a high branch to the next branch and so on until they are very far down. Their trouble then is to get back up. They do so after many failed efforts but encouraged by their parents they eventually get back up. Then you could say that they had their wings and are ready to fly. What few people know is that the starling is also a lovely singer but he has no songs of his own. He borrows from other birds, mainly the thrush and the blackbird.

The pigeons are the most familiar of all Dublin birds. Once upon a time when Jimmy Magee was covering an Olympic Games, he said at the opening "they are now releasing 10,000 pigeons". People laughed at him and said that they were releasing 10,000 doves but Jimmy wasn't far wong: he knew that they couldn't get enough doves and so they substituted white pigeons. It was hard to know the difference between the doves and the pigeons.



Invisible

There are a great many small birds in Dublin that people hardly ever see because they are so small that they are nearly invisible.

Many of those are finches but there is one bird that people see now and then. He is the kingfisher. He loves to make his nest in cliffs where the water has eroded all the other side. When he flies out to fish you can see him fairly well and wonder at his amazing powers. He is a small bird. The biggest parts of him are his head and beak.

As he flies to his nest, he is little more than a flash of lightning and you have to look very intently to be aware of his colours. People assemble at various vantage points, especially from The Dodder Bridge at Orwell to the Bridge at The Dropping Well pub. He always works by day and if you are lucky to see him as he leaves his nest, you will be aware that he is the most colourful bird in creation.

All in all, the people of Dublin are lucky in their birdlife.

Fogra: My old friend Richard Kelly is due Happiest Birthday wishes on October 13. Fogra eile: The latest issue of Irish Runner has hit the presses. You will get some valuable last-minute tips for the Dublin Marathon