Snipe (Hrossagaukur)

It is my first night on a tiny island in North Iceland. The air is full to the brim of birdsong. I wander along the paths and off the paths.

I disturb a snipe, nearly step on it. It lets me know. I feel bad.

Later I listen as it falls, falls, making a sound like that which would come out of the little lollipop whistles we’d get as children in the shop in Killough or in Angus Cochrane’s in Ardglass during our summer holidays. They never made much of a substantial sound, those lollipops. Did they have an inner dial that you could pull to change the pitch, like a miniature trombone full of e-numbers?

I remember Liam on Rathlin pointing out the sound of the snipe as we waited for the corncrake to make itself heard in the island dusk. He explained how the sound is made: the ‘drumming’ of the snipe is produced mechanically (rather than vocally) by the vibration of the bird’s tail feathers held out at a wide angle to the body, in the slipstream of a power dive.  The corncrake did call that night and everyone was excited, but I was still turning over in my mind the snipe and its tail feathers and that strange, rising, lollipop-breathy sound, something hardly of this world. I was enchanted.

Snapshot of life during an artist residency in Gamli Skoli, Hrísey Island, North Iceland during the month of June 2018.

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