Big thank you from

In the countryside, a day for feeling grateful

by Paul Cormacain

SOMEWHERE near the middle of County Down, not many miles from Ballynahinch, is McAuley's Lake.

It is situated not too far from a reasonably quiet road, has good parking, and is just one of many similar oases dotted about the country.

Here one may stop and commune with Nature. Here one may have a picnic, let the cares of the world sail on past, one may let one's children loose to play as long as one keeps a sharp eye on them.

We stopped to admire, to soak in the beauty, to listen to the quietness, to watch the birds. Good farming country this, with plenty of beasts about, looking the picture of contentment.

It was not prairie land so the fields were reasonably small and manageable. Individual, that was a word that sprang to mind.

Individual fields are a haven for wildlife. Shapes are not symmetrical, hedges are not identical, conditions for wildlife vary from field to field. Different types of bushes grow in different hedges, some would have trees, others would have no trees.

Plant life could easily vary from field to field which could mean a different variety of insects in different fields.

Different insects mean different birds, and even different animals, although I have to say we did not see a single wild animal that day.

Well, they would not usually want to be seen, except on occasion by a member of the opposite sex.

In the vicinity of the lake were the usual variety of birds to be seen. Some blackbirds were out and about, and fewer thrushes.

I thought all the blackbirds would have been local ones, but I just see from one of the books that 'there is a heavy immigration into Ireland from Britain and Northern Europe'. Does that mean that all the blackbirds that I talk to in our garden, and feed, may not be local birds?

I also see in the book that thrushes come here in the autumn and winter from Northern Britain.

The noisy, larger mistle thrush was well represented, and we saw a few of these birds. Like the song thrush, there is a heavy immigration of mistle thrushes from Northern Britain.

It was nearby that we saw a kingfisher. It was sitting on a branch over water, looking into the water for inspiration. Or perhaps it was just looking for its next meal. This is sedentary bird, nor moving about too much.

In colder winters, however, it will decrease its altitude, or even head for the coast.

There were many swans on McAuley's Lake that day. I just glanced at the nearer ones and observed adult mute swans, with some juveniles, in more-or-less family groups.

It was a man with his son coming from an unsuccessful fishing expedition who pointed out whoopers in the distance. Since I have mentioned the migratory habits of all birds today, here is what the book says about the mutes.

'Hard weather on the continent is believed to cause immigration into Ireland.'

The whoopers were remote from the road and difficult to see in any great detail. It was possible to identify them by their more or less straight necks.

These necks look graceful to me, but there are those who reckon that the curved neck of the mute swan is one of our more glorious sights.

Their yellow, black-tipped bill is another feature which can be seen at a considerable distance. They would be more wary of man which would account for their long distance from the road.

Our whooper swans come from Iceland, where it gets a trifle cold in winter. They would spend about half the year here, the other half in Iceland where they breed. There are quite a few of them, and a flock of over 1,000 has been sighted near Lough Foyle.

Mallard were on the lake. Moorhens swam close to shore in one bay. Coots could be seen, likewise little grebes. I thought some great crested grebes were in an amorous mood, perhaps some one should tell them it is only autumn, not spring.

The countryside was in sparkling condition, the water in the lake nearly looked inviting, the air was clean, the wildlife was plentiful, it was a day for feeling grateful.

Coming Events

Saturday 24 November - Woodland Wander around Necarne, at 10.30, Fermangh RSPB, who may be called on 028 6632 6654

Monday 26 November - Lisburn RSPB have the Spirit of the Raven, a talk by Robert McDowell, at Friends Meeting House, at 7.30, more from 028 92601864

Wednesday 28November - Secret Gardens from the Wild - the art and travel of a botanical sculptor, at 7.30, in Ulster Museum, phone 028 9038 3000

Thursday 29 November - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, 11.30, phone WWT 028 9187 4146.

1 December - Lisburn RSPB outing to Newcastle and Dundrum Bay, enquire further at 028 92621866

Sunday 2 December - Winter Nature Ramble,

Castle Espie, at 12.00, more from 028 9187 4146

Wednesday 5 December - Greenmount College, Antrim, at 2pm, learn about striking Christmas displays using simple materials from your garden, phone 028 9442 6661.

Malone House, at 7.30, Andrena Duffin will tell about her plant trip to south-west China, a fascinating part of the world

Monday 10 December - Lisburn RSPB is holding its annual members' night and AGM, at 7.30 at Friends Meeting House, details 028 992601864.

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