by Paul Cormacain
VISITED Aldergrove last week, checking out some of the birds in the area. It was lovely, quiet, untroubled, and at times even sunny.
At the perimeter of a new orchard, full of small healthy apple trees, a male pheasant strutted his stuff. No bird in this country can strut his stuff like a male pheasant!
The pheasant originates in the East, stretching from the Caucasus to China. There was a unsubstantiated theory that the Romans spread the pheasant around Europe and were possibly the first to bring them to England. The first accurate record paints a totally different story, for that only occurred in 1059.
No definite records exist for this side of the Irish Sea, but the general belief is that the first pheasant was here about the end of the 16th century. And no, it does not fly very well, so chances are that the bird was introduced and had to get a lift across the Irish Sea.
The male bird, for such it was I saw, had a white neck-ring. It is believed that the original pheasants here had no white ring on the neck, but with more introductions over the years from China, the number of white rings grew. Possibly now, half of the males have white ring on the neck, the other half have a plain neck.
The bird is a favourite target of men with guns, and is very useful in the pot.
I have to say that I have had the odd bird from hunters, and can safely state that the bird makes good eating. When pheasant numbers fall in a district, the hunters usually breed more birds, protect them better than in the wild, then release them into the wild to be shot.
Close by where the male pheasant was, there was a mature orchard with odd bits of missed fruit hanging from the branches. And who was taking advantage of this fruit but hundreds of fieldfares, those great travellers from the north who visit us in cold weather?
About the same size as the mistle thrush, and with an identical shape, the two birds could easily be mistaken for each other. But the fieldfare only visits in winter, and it has this habit of congregating in flocks , sometimes in flocks as large as a thousand birds. These hundreds of birds covered a large area, and would not co-operate with me.
I wanted them to sit still so that I could count them, but they persisted in moving hither and thither. Maybe fifty or so birds would fly from the tops of a few trees to another few trees. And a few dozen sitting there would then feel the urge to fly down to the ground.
All very confusing, and I found it impossible to count them.
Fieldfares frequently congregate with redwings, so I was looking out for redwings as soon as the large flock came into view. Try as I might, there was not one to be seen among those hundreds of birds. Both types of birds come from the same place and at the same time, both are thrushes and feel happy with each other, both are usually seen together.
The book says that in some years there may be a distinct scarcity of redwings, and this was going through my mind as the fieldfares flew hither and thither. So we decided to look further afield, and sure enough we discovered some about a kilometre away.
Not too many of them, only a few dozen, but it was nice to see them. They are about the size of a song thrush, so slightly smaller than fieldfares, and usually you would see as many as one as of the other. But so far, not this year, for the fieldfares have been in the majority.
Is this one of those years that the book mentions as being a scarce redwing year?
Saturday 5 January - Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, at 2.30, find out how to help the birds in winter, more from 028 3832 2205
Saturday 12 January - Winter in the Lagan Valley, at l lam, a 5 mile walk, call Lagan Valley Regional Park, on 08 9066 2259
Monday 28 January - Lisburn RSPB has an interesting topic at its meting
at 7.30 in Friend's School.
Dave Allen will be knowledgeable about the Search for Roborovski's Rosefinch, more from 028 92601864
March 2002 - RSPB/Birdwatch Ireland, joint conference.