Big thank you from

Birds and blackberries seem to have confused the seasons

by Paul Cormacain

THE birds are getting it wrong, the bees likewise, I saw blackberries the other day, and now Isobel from Dundrod tells me about starlings. She saw a huge flock near home recently, never seen such a large flock before.

We did not see how the mild weather could have affected the numbers of starlings, so we looked further afield for an explanation.

If w a get un-seasonal mild weather here, chances are that somewhere else is getting very cold weather. If you study news reports you will see how the south of Europe is getting. weather the likes of which they have never seen before.

Starlings do not usually migrate here from south Europe in the winter: Let's say they got signals that a very cold snap was coming, however, as wildlife seems to do with weather predictions. That might cause them to head north, especially if they anticipated warmer weather here.

On the other hand, if you were living in south Europe, knew that a very cold spell was coming, would you not be tempted to head across the Mediterranean for north Africa?

Heck, it's not too far to the warm desert. It is probably no more dangerous to cross the sea than cross the Alps.

Our starling numbers are augmented by flying visitors from northern and eastern Europe in the winter. So maybe the weather is very cold to the north and to the east, as well as to the south of us. In any case, I had noticed what I took to be more starlings than usual about the place, and when I spoke to local expert Clive at the RSPB and he was of a similar opinion.

Clive tells me they did a survey last year, found a large influx of winter starlings from eastern Europe, but in the absence of a survey this year it is impossible to say whether there are more birds, and if so, how many.

Incidentally, Clive told me about concern for starlings roosting under Belfast bridges and the impact of fireworks displays on them.

After discussions with the powers-that-be, it was decided to re-position these displays in the future. What a victory for sound common sense.

Then there were the blackberries. We had collected the last of them some months ago, made all our jam and are quite happily eating this gastronomic delight. We have enough supplies to last us to the next season. All very well and good.

So how come we see new fruit looking as good as it did months ago? The fruit was in the red stage, and also in the black stage and both stages looked superb.

We decided to check out Paul Hackney's Flora of the North-East of Ireland, and got another shock, about the diversity of blackberries, this time.

Hackney lists 46 different types of blackberry in this small corner of the world.

I always thought that blackberries were blackberries but no, that is too simple.

Decided to look into this matter further and found there are more than 2,000 varieties of blackberry bushes, but cannot find if this refers to an all-Europe or all-world basis.

Old folklore suggests that blackberries should not be eaten late in the season. This is because the Devil spits on them, the fruit becomes mushy and not nice. But in fact the flesh-fly does more damage than the Devil.

Well, the fruit I came across the other day was firm, both the red and black fruit, no sign of insects or Devils, so I really must think about making another batch of jam.


Saturday 22 December - Feeling energetic? Fancy a Walk in Mournes at loam? Call Mourne Heritage, 4372 4059

Wednesday 26 December - Lisburn RSPB St Stephen's Day Amble, details from 92601864

Wednesday 26 December to Tuesday 2 January - Treasure Hunt every day at Castle Espie, further details from 91874146.

Thursday 27 December - Birdwatch Morning, 11.30, Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146.

Sunday 30 December - Oxford Island, 11 am, you are invited to follow a simple trail around the Nature Reserve, losing a few calories in the process. The Island is on 3832 2205.

Saturday 5 January - Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, at 2.30, find out how to help the birds in winter, more from 3832 2205

March 2002 - RSPB/Birdwatch Ireland, joint conference.

Ulster Star