Friday, 17 February 2017

Of Marmite, Metaphors and Mathematics

Marmite. Aside being a yeasty condiment, it is also a frequently used and un-yeasty metaphor. It is claimed that one either loves Marmite, or one hates it. This is unfortunately an inaccurate claim, as some people, myself included, do not go in with such strong feelings for the spread. It's alright in small quantities.  Peanut butter is the only condiment worth getting emotional for.

The metaphor however is a useful one for expressing two opposites, and so will be used here, slightly adjusted from the classic and, perhaps overused, love-hate meaning. Here it will express a good-bad equation. With that still hopefully fresh in your mind, I will use this adjusted analogy to describe the birding (see, birds are involved, this isn't one of those food blogs. Yet) encompassed during my annual February excursion to the green ol' land of Ireland. Some years are good, perhaps even encroaching into peanut butter territory, and then some, some are like a tablespoon of Marmite forced down your throat - which hopefully you'll agree is not quite a favourable occurrence.  One year it may ooze with rarities, the next birds may be spread thin.

The first of these winter birding visits was in 2014. That was a good year, as should any year be when it contains both Ross's Gull and King Eider. After that things began to... well, undulate. 2015 was unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable - this being said, for context, through gritted teeth. If yet further enlightenment is required, let me add that this was not the happy kind of unbelievable. It was one unfortunate failure after another and I consider it quite surprising that the events of this trip did not make it into a novel by Lemony Snicket. I guess there's only so much bad luck that can be believable. This trip led me to expect failure when birding (an adaptation that oh so rarely leads to disappointment), dipping 2 megas and 3 rarities in one week has that kind of an effect.

Come 2016 the fates had once again reversed, and like an articulated lorry, it made its reversal known. It was a week of seemingly non-stop luck in which, if memory serves (which would be as rare an occurrence as some of the birds seen) dipping played no part. To the world once again, balance was restored.

The problem with balance is that the load has to be shared equally, you can't have too much on one side of the scale or the balance will tip. One was good, one was so bad that hyperbole would have to stretch to touch it with the tips of its fingers, and one was the American Dream. Mathematically speaking (and who would dare argue with maths?), the law dictated that this year's visit would not be warranting a double thumbs up and a cheesy grin. At least, not where birding was concerned. And.... voila, bang on the money, 2 ÷ 2 = 1st prize (see, I'm smart, me) awarded to Mathematics. As if I needed another reason to dislike maths.

Sure, there wasn't all too much birding done, but when we did go twitching we employed my method to top form and managed to dip rather successfully.  Multiple circuits of an industrial site and its surrounding area on Little Island, Cork, led to a great deal of excitement when we finally found a tree containing berries. We were looking for Waxwing and saw a total of 0 out of 36.

To follow up this expected  great start, we went on to sit by the side of a river for an hour or two. Not one of those small pleasant rivers, but one which resembled the Thames: if it had had its face washed and scrubbed by a doting - if rather un-thorough - parent. Here, we saw a large quantity of gulls, most of which I'm sure consisted of many a (often hollow) boney part, but none of which, unfortunately, consisted of the right anatomic build to be a Bonaparte's Gull. This desired build being almost identical to that of a Black-headed Gull, the difference being that someone once claimed that supposedly, there is a difference.

Although the birding of the trip was not altogether a huge success (I do hope this is the deduction that you came to too), it's good to know that I can still dip. Where photography was concerned however, which was in most places, it wasn't all too poor, with moderately in focus images being achieved of Rock Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Rooks and Robins.

If there's one thing you can say for maths, it is that it is, - like every rom-com ever made - predictable. Patterns will repeat. And so, it stands to logical reasoning that next years pilgrimage should contain enough traces of luck to bear an allergy warning. Or else it will end up like a rusty seesaw with a single occupant a spoon, and a jar of Marmite. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

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