by Paul Cormacain
TWO mistle thrushes sat on a high branch in an evergreen, at peace with the world, and with nary a predator in sight.
They were happy, contented birds with full bellies and feeling safe enough to sit there for about an hour.
What really stood out was the fact that the sun shone on them all the time, all the more reason for sitting there, and their appearance was transformed by the light.
The blackbird and song thrush are two resident thrushes that live here all year round. The ring ouzel is a summer-visiting thrush from the Mediterranean area. The redwing and fieldfare are winter-visiting thrushes from the Scandinavian area. The mistle thrush is larger than any of them.
All the thrushes are multi-coloured, all quite distinctive, from the ouzel being black and white to the redwing having a dark reddish patch on the side. The mistle thrush is not unlike the song thrush, but is larger and more pale on the upperparts.
It can be a very aggressive bird, but this pair could not have been more peaceful. Well, I did say that they were a contented pair! Their brownish above, spotted below, colouring, turned golden in the rays of the sun.
Indeed, at first I thought that were two exotic birds who had come by mistake, and I had to get the binoculars out to confirm their identity.
So there was a pair of mistle thrushes, looking beautiful, looking golden, and looking very difficult to identify. This must have been the first such sighting in my lifetime, and I look forward to the next golden sighting.
This bird is an early breeder, one of our earliest, and it may well start building a nest in January/ February.
Eggs could be laid by the end of February, although generally there are no leaves around at that time.
The female bird has to make a sacrifice, sitting on an unprotected nest for a few weeks to incubate eggs. Of course, with this year's weather as an example perhaps we will have leaves in late February next year. The mistle thrush is a wary bird, and three of them I watched on the cotoneaster yesterday were very scared of my presence.
I had to remain motionless for perhaps a minute before they would return to gorge themselves on the berries on the bush. Then I had to move, and the three flew off, but when I remained motionless for a minute they returned to regorge.
This wariness turns to aggression when the birds are breeding. They will dive-bomb cats who come too close to the nest, and that is a very dangerous thing to do.
If birds come too close they will be divebombed as well. A very good deterrent that. Animals will be divebombed as well, although there would be not much danger from fox or badger.
I was playing golf early one year, got too close to a mistle thrush nest, and I and my companion were dive-bombed. I could not believe it but there we were, in the middle of the fairway, and the bird thought we constituted a threat. We moved
I have had the dubious distinction of being divebombed by a sandwitch tern when we inadvertently got too close to its nest, and was much impressed by the ferocity of the attack.
But the mistle thrush was much more malevolent, more noisy, more threatening, and more scary. I determined not to get close to a mistle thrush nest again.
Yet the golden thrushes basking in the winter sun were so striking I would like to see that sight again. So I shall be on the lookout again when the sun shines.
If that happens to be in the breeding season I shall remain still so as not to antagonise and shall revel in the beauty of the mistle thrush sitting quietly in full sunshine. A golden bird!
Wednesday 13 November - Butterfly Conservation is holding its Annual General Meeting in the Ulster Museum at 7.15. New members are always welcome and you could be opening up new interests for yourself. Why not bring the children?
Saturday 16 November - Tree Planting in Colin Glen Forest Park, a part of the scheme to make our country one of the more afforested, rather than one of the least afforested, lands. Phone 9061 4115, turn up at 11 am.
Saturday 23 November - The Reedy Flats Ramble is at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at l pm, with Walter Culbert showing the local wild fowl. Details from 3832 2205
Monday 25 November - Lisburn RSPB is holding its monthly meeting at The Friends' Meeting House, where Don Scott will intrigue with tales of raptors who fly by day and night. Time is 7.30, details from 4062 6125