by Paul Cormacain 26/10/01
A robin was scolding as we went down the steep path from the road to the Gobbins.
It had nothing to scold about, as the young were well-reared and out on their own. It did not have to be protective, it did not have to guard territory, it had absolutely no reason to scold, so it just did it out of habit.
We had an English friend over and were showing her some of the delights of the countryside. It was noticeable that she was not as sprightly on her feet as she used to be, her dog was not as sprightly on its feet as it used to be, and worse, much worse, I was not as sprightly on my feet as I used to be.
But not to complain, leave that to the robin!
We left the irritated bird behind, moved on, leaving the robin to have a good complaint without an audience. There were still some blackberry flowers, and some fruit, but not in the best of shape. Glad we have all the jam made, he said smugly.
The weather has been mild, we thought, and maybe the blackberries do not know when to fruit.
A close relative to the blackberry is the raspberry, and while it is always nice to have a few free samples, there was not one to be seen. Since that day I have actually eaten a few wild strawberries, so perhaps the fruit is all put off by the damp weather earlier in the year, and the recent mild weather.
If we did not see raspberries we did see Scotland. Visibility was good, and the country looked close to hand.
In Scotland they have a flower they call the bluebell. We have a bluebell too in this country, but the two flowers are different. Scotland's bluebell is our harebell, and what did we come across but harebells.
Checking out Hackney's Flora of the North-East of Ireland, I find that the harebell is abundant in the Mournes, around north of Lough Neagh, and on sand dunes on the north coast. Add Island Magee.
The harebells are light blue in colour, and they were positively dancing in the autumn sunshine which showed off their colour to best advantage.
The fruit was developing, the stalks were becoming more upright, and pores are forming at the base of the fruit capsule.
These will be just large enough to allow a few seeds to pass through at a time. When the wind sways the capsules on their wiry stem a few seeds are shaken out.
The same obliging wind carries off these seeds and disperses them widely, and hence a new generation of harebells comes into being.
Rock pipits were to be seen at sea level. This is a bird which spends all its life about the rocky shoreline and mostly feeds on the insects who inhabit the same locality.
In the spring/summer, when the rock pipits have their young and need much more food, the insects oblige, breed and multiply. More food for more mouths.
Out to sea the cormorants fished. They had also raised their broods, got them off to a good start in life, and were now taking a break. But feeding was a serious business, for they had to build up their strength for the long coming winter. So they ate all they could catch.
A few months ago the cliffs at the Gobbins were teeming with wildlife. All shapes and sizes and colours of birds were to be seen. Now they are nearly all gone, some to Africa, some out to sea, some to Europe and some inland. There were very few birds about.
The walk back up the hill to the main road was slower than the walk down. This enabled us to stop frequently end admire the view, which just goes to show that not being as sprightly on your feet has its advantages