by Paul Cormacain
OUR friends from East Belfast wanted to walk the Colin Valley, they had heard so much about it. So in spite of it being a bad day, with the rain never ceasing, we went on the walk, and met lots of other folk walking in the rain. Cue for a song, or cue for a dipper.
For the most interesting bird on that rain-swept day was the dipper. Like the humans out that day, the dipper is completely unafraid of water. In fact he spends all of his life near it, or above it, or under it.
When the bird is born, it is usually in a nest that overhangs the water, a nest under a waterfall, under a bank or halfway up a bank. If the bird falls out of the nest chances are she will fall into water.
When the dipper takes her first flight there is a good chance she will end up in water, from where she will clamber on top of the nearest rock or boulder. Mama and papa dipper will then feed the young for a titre, and where will they get the food? Why from under the water of course.
The single dipper we saw was just flying about in the rain, and diving under water for food. Their technique is simple but devastatingly effective. They `walk' underwater, against the current, and pick up food.
Other birds swim on the surface, some swim under-water, yet again other birds dive, but the dipper walks.
We walked too but still managed to get wet, very wet.
The rain didn't spare the sparrow hawk either. It rained on him as it did on the rest of us.
Neither did small birds spare the sparrow hawk, but then most birds are triggered by the sight of a raptor. Eagles and buzzards may be too high in the sky, but the sparrow hawk hunts at a low level and when flying close to the ground may be unseen.
When he flies over a hedge for an easy meal he is sighted immediately and invariably a chorus of protest arises.
If he has made a kill when he flies over the hedge, and that is his technique, he cares not for the chattering masses.
If he has caught nothing the screaming and harassment by many small birds will force him to slink off. But you will notice the birds will not get too close to him.
Our walk took us past a very large mushroom. I measured it, and it was 20 cms in diameter, which must rank as one of the largest I have ever seen.
The question then was, what type of mushroom was it? Not the fawn mushroom, wrong size and colour. Likewise, I was able to eliminate yellowstaining, sweating, lawn mowers and parasol mushrooms.
This left me with the choice of a very large edible, or a very large horse mushroom. And I still do not know which type it was.
Another type of fungus at hand was the puffball. There are not as many types of puffballs as mushrooms. In this country we have the pearl-studded, the pear-shaped and the giant puffball, the ones in the Colin Valley were the pearl-studded variety. This puffball is club-shaped and thin-walled, white in colour. At first it is firm, then soft and if you press it a cloud of powdery spores is released.
The ageing process turns the spores olive-green and the fruit body becomes a dirty yellowish brown. Not too attractive looking at that stage, but if you get one in the early stages it is edible.
The usual warnings apply. As we are too timid in our fungus-eating habits, unlike the Europeans, it is wise not to eat fungus unless you are absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, if you would like to see a dipper, or Autumn colours, or wild fungus why not try a wee walk in the Colin Valley
All Events Are Subject To Review.
Saturday 15, Sunday 16 September - Billed as Northern Ireland's biggest animal event, Castle Espie is hosting, commencing at 10am each day. Phone 028 9187 4146.
Saturday 15 September - Cave Hill Walk at 9am, looking through geologist's eyes. Sounds fascinating. Call Bryson House for more on 028 9040 1684
Sunday 16 September - Fancy a mild cycle along the Newry Canal at 3pm? No traffic, fresh air, exercise, good company, what more do you want?
Saturday 22 September - Moth Outing at Belfast Harbour Estate, from RSPB hide at 7.30pm. Details from Ian Rippey, 028 3833 3927
Marie Curie Cancer Care Cycle , Strangford or Downpatrick start, details from 028 9076 1358.
Harvest Fair at Lough Neagh's Oxford Island, at 1.30pm, with food, crafts and story-telling. Contact 028 3832 2205
Thursday 27 September - Birdwatch Morning at 10.30 at Castle Espie, more from 028 9187 4146
Saturday 29 September - A 1pm hunt for fungus at Drumbanagher Estate, Poyntzpass. If you want to find out more phone 028 2766 2953