Swans are not the only interesting birds sailing close to shore in November. It is an especially good time to see the Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata), quite a rare species, patrolling the Wicklow coastline. In America these birds are known as “loons” and are famous for the haunting cry of the male on lonely lakes at evening time.
According to Glynn Anderson, author of Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, the name “loon” actually derives from the Shetland Island word “loom” meaning “lame”, a work originating in Old Norse. This seems a very apt term as Red-throated Divers, along with their relatives, are extremely ungainly on land. However, in water they have few equals and can diver for over two minutes (making them difficult to photograph). It has to be said that the species of diver (or loon, if you prefer) , can be very difficult to tell apart in Winter when they have plumage that is drab compared with their spring and summer breeding plumage which gives them their specific names. Fortunately, at a recent public meeting, the famous birdwatcher Eric Dempsey verified that the divers patrolling the Wicklow coastline at this moment are Red-throated Divers.