An Irish insight on St. Pat’s Day

On a March 17 around 12 years ago, we put a semi-serious piece in Viewpoints: “A Bird Watcher in Ireland.” It was about Ireland being interesting, but disappointing in bird diversity.

We’ve been rethinking the “disappointing” aspect of avian Ireland since then, because of a little field guide rediscovered in the clutter of a dusty bookshelf. “The Birds of Killarney National Park,” a souvenir from an Irish trip fondly remembered.

The book is profoundly skinny, fitting with the profound reality of Ireland’s lack of birdlife. Unlike other field guides, which can be fat and heavy–or simply digital storehouses that scroll endlessly–this peewee volume can be flipped through in minutes.

But we gotta say–it gives you the feeling that each bird in the little book is a bigger deal than any one bird in the bigger books. Because there aren’t that many.

“Irish Stonechat. That’s big.”

In America, you’ve got more than 900 species to spot. We’ve seen a respectable number, and when something new gets added to the list, we’re pleased but pretty cool about it.

By contrast, in Ireland’s national park field guide there are 140. If you see even a Stonechat, hell, that’s big.

Point is: Too much choice can de-sensitize you. Less choice can make what you find…more of a find.

So, on reflection, as we celebrate another St. Pat’s Day, we must say that Ireland’s a fine place for bird watchers. It’s not just about pubs, music, friendly folk and awesome green landscapes. It’s also about rare birds. Because there, most of them are.


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