by Paul Cormacain
STONECHATS are common birds, but you do not see them too frequently, so the books say.
When you look into the matter you find they live mostly on the coast, less frequently inland. The nearest one I would have seen on the coast was near Carrickfergus, otherwise one would see them on the hills.
In England and Wales they would be even less frequent, and in Scotland they would be as infrequent as here. Or as frequent, if your eyesight was better than mine.
So it was pleasant to come across a stonechat building a nest.
It was about a kilometre from the coast and the preferred habitat was a whir bush in the vicinity of other whin bushes, in a quiet location, with little interference from animals and man.
Whins are a good location for nests. They tend to be dense and prickly, deterring most creatures, so the bird who builds a nest in them tends to be left alone.
As well a safe retreat for birds, whins are a delight to the eye.
Just now they are in flower, adding a splash of yellow to a sometimes colourless landscape. They bloom in spring and summer and look their best then, but often bloom moderately all year round.
So the next time you are admiring whins you may be lucky and see a stonechat in the vicinity.
On the same day we came across the stonechat a very small insect turned up in our car. At the first opportunity we stopped the car and examined the creature. It was a ladybird, but of a type I had not seen before.
It was small, very small, and so the glasses went on, all the better to see it. It was a 14 spot ladybird which is described as small but brightly coloured, with black and yellow marks.
It can often be seen resting on vegetation, so perhaps it thought my hair was some sparse vegetation.
It normally resides in the southern half of Britain, so what was it doing in the northern half of Ireland? Was it perhaps telling us that better weather lies ahead?Gardeners and holidaymakers would be pleased if this were so.
Gardeners would also be pleased at the sight of the more common seven spot ladybird, of which I have only seen one this year. Did you know that the seven spot is a ferocious hunter?
If you want to see the proof of this statement, start growing roses. If you love aphids, start growing roses also.
As roses attract aphids, aphids attract ladybirds. So when you find the aphids on your roses, you will soon see the ladybirds.
The ladybird lays her eggs on the aphid infested roses, and the larvae exist for about three weeks. They eat the aphids voraciously, and after the three weeks turn into beautiful ladybirds. These lovely creatures also eat the aphids voraciously.
The adult ladybird is fast, and can fly, and woe betide any adjacent aphids. But even the larvae has the abilitv to catch many pests which are slow to static. No wonder the gardener loves to see the ladybirds.
27 April - Lisburn RSPB is going on a field trip to Killard,
details 9262 1866
Would you like a Early start for the Dawn Chorus at Oxford Island? Details from 3832 2205
Sunday 28 April - Bluebell Boat Trip to Coney Island, 2pm, from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, Oxford Island, who may be contacted on 3832 2205
Sunday 5 Monday 6 May - Snowy owls, eagle owls, great grey owls, will be visiting Castle Espie at 1.30, more from 9187 4146
Saturday 11 May - A stroll at 2pm through Throne Wood, a Belfast Hills Event, find out more from 9040 1684
Sunday 12 May - Enjoy the wildlife and some history on the Lagan Canal Walk, 3pm, meeting at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, more from 3832 2205.
17 to 19 May - Plenty of advance notice, at Rathlin Island, sounds like a fascinating weekend, why not have a moral with RSPB about it. Contact number is 2076 3948
Saturday 18 May - Annual early morning walk with Anthony
McGeehan, RSPB warden, followed by breakfast. Hungry? Phone Castle Espie
art 9187 4146.
Birds of Colin Glen, a Belfast Hills Event, commences at I0am from Colin Glen Forest Park Centre, details from 90401684