by Paul Cormacain
SITUATED north of Lisburn is Stoneyford Dam, part of the water system of the greater Belfast area. The name dam suggests a small area of water, but in fact this dam is quite large, and to walk around it would exercise your legs.
It is quiet and peaceful there, and is visited mostly by fishermen in pursuit of fish, and ornithologists in pursuit of birds.
Bounded on two sides by quiet country roads, and on the other part of the perimeter by hedges, open fields and a small wood, it has been a favourite spot of mine for decades.
The wildlife is good around Stoneyford. Many different types of bird breed here in the spring and early summer, and some of these birds quit our shores in the autumn.
In turn, their place is taken by other visitors who turn up from further north.
Fieldfares and redwings have flown down from Scandinavia to visit us.
They can be trusted to arrive every autumn, and they clean up worms, fruit and berries that our local thrushes leave behind.
Numbers of flowers were still thriving, in spite of the time of the year. In our own garden we were picking wild strawberries last week, and the courgettes are still flowering, so it all must be to do with the mild weather we are having.
Dandelions, buttercups and marsh marigolds were in evidence, and the marigolds were as green as I had ever seen. They looked ready to burst into flower. And some hay had been cut recently.
Someone had lost their calendar.
Close by one of the roads, coots and little grebes could be seen quite close. Further away, many ducks could be seen, but were just too far away for identification.
The closest coots were to be seen very clearly - fine, handsome fellows they were, sooty in colour all over except for a contrasting white bill and forehead.
The coots breed on the dam, and remain here all year round. They congregate in flocks now, at times joined by other birds who happen to be passing, and like what they see. There were three or four pairs of little grebes. These small diving birds lose most of their bright colouring in the winter, so they only look like dull replicas of themselves.
They spent the whole time diving for food, which seems to suggest that they are very greedy, very inefficient food gatherers, or else there was little to eat.
Some pairs of great crested grebes breed here and they were highly visible.
In spring they have a most lavish courtship display, displaying themselves to great advantage, nodding their heads, and rising high in the water. So why were they indulging in this courtship display at this time of the year?
Again, I think we must put it down to the mild weather.
The weather confusion was reflected in the trees. Some were in different seasons, with a green tree beside an autumnal brown one. Some trees had already shed their leaves. An intriguing time, and an intriguing spot. Well worth a visit.
Until Sunday 4 November - The pumpkins at Castle Espie have gone missing, and they are looking for volunteers to go find them. Phone Espie at 028 9187 4146
Saturday 3, Sunday 4 November - Wild Bird Feeding in the garden, a practical two hours at 2pm, at Castle Espie, details from 028 9187 4146.
Sunday 4 November - Would you like an 8 km dander at Donaghcloney at 2pm? If so, call Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on 028 3832 2205
Friday 9 November - Film of migrating geese, organised by Castle Espie, in Spence's Cinema, Comber at 7.30pm.
Tuesday 13 November - Waders and Grazers, RSPB Roadshow at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, 6.30pm, details from 028 3822 2205.
Saturday 24 November - Woodland Wander around Necarne, at 10.30am, Fermanagh 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 7.30pm, more from 028 9260 1864