To The Marsh

I smile as I make my way towards the marsh, binoculars dangling from my neck. A logbook and pencil are nestled in my pocket. Under my arm, I’m carrying a rather heavy book  about Irish birds. You never know when you might need it! I have grown accustomed to this walk through suburban landscapes: the tarmac’s twists and turns, the local corner shop, and, roughly twenty minutes in, the first glimpse of the sea, its glistening waves always propelling me to my final destination. What secrets will the marsh reveal today? Quiet  curiosity fills my lungs.

As I walk my mood becomes more meditative. My thoughts drift back to a time when Dublin was a lonely place for me: the quiet apartment, weekends stretching out endlessly; the weekly trip to Tesco; the heartbreak of failed relationships echoing through the grey pavements. On a Saturday in September, I dragged myself to a meeting of a local wildlife group. The smiles and introductions raised my spirits. Friendly faces invited me to peer through large telescopes. Curlew, whimbrel and sandpiper. Suddenly, a whole new world came into vision. From that moment on, nature had hooked me in. I began to learn about wetlands and their unique ecology. Species by species, I started to recognise the birds of my local marsh, one at a time, slowly. The marsh has a way of drawing you in.

The sea breeze brings a rush of colour to my face as I turn the corner and finally reach the edge of the marsh. Pools of brilliant blue water sit inside dark muddy banks partly covered by bright green algae. In the distance, Howth’s rugged headland stretches out above the glistening waves of Dublin Bay. The DART passing by is periodically reflected in the brackish waters, where salt and freshwaters meet. The marsh whispers its secrets to those who will listen. Grey Herons and Little Egrets are the custodians in this place, where passing seasons give way to different residents. Brent Geese and teal are common winter visitors, while warmer months draw in dunlin, knot and black-tailed godwits.

The marsh holds a particular appeal for wading birds, who, unfettered by the nearby traffic, choose to shelter here to escape the high tides of Dublin Bay. I scan the waters for bird life. Immediately, redshank and greenshank come into view. I reach for my binoculars. Moorhen, shelduck and curlew. I make a note in my logbook. Every species I record confirms it: the excitement is still there. I start to look for snipe camouflaged among the reeds. None today. That’s okay. The marsh does not reveal everything at once. Its mystery is what keeps you
coming back for more.

Two hooded crows are hopping up and down ahead of me, clumsy in their dance routine. A pied wagtail greets me from a nearby branch, before disappearing inside a maze of reeds. I follow the path along the northern edge of the marsh. Muds are decorated by trails of creatures I have yet to see. Razor shells are strewn across beach deposits, the remnants of someone’s dinner. A chaffinch sings its repetitive tune from deep inside a patch of brambles. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that there are a handful of places where I will
never feel alone. One of these places is Booterstown Marsh.