Big thank you from

Is it any wonder folk rarely leave Hillsborough?

by Paul Cormacain

HILLSBOROUGH - a fair town with a fair lake and a fair forest on the doorstep. Is it any wonder that folk who live there rarely leave?

Hillsborough, a small but charming Plantation town, traditionally has been inhabited by descendents of the original English planters.

Like everywhere else Hillsborough is growing and changing, but remains charming. We took ourselves back to the village once again, walked its main street and went for a walk around the lake, partly under a canopy of trees.

We approached the lake at the traditional bird feeding spot, and sure enough, there were a few folk feeding the ducks and swans, and gulls and coots. Not all the folk were children.

The graceful swans were the largest birds, but the most cumbersome. If pieces of bread came straight at them, they would usually manage to get it, but if food was even a few centimetres out of reach, some other bird acquired it.

The mallard were dead greedy for if a large lump of bread came near them they would stick it all in the gob, then swim off.

Then out would come the bread, they would break it up slightly, and swallow a smaller piece. Then the whole piece would go back into the mouth again.

If another bird approached, the mallard would again take all the food into the mouth.

Another small swim or flight, then the bread would come out again. Mallard would break it up a bit more, swallow a smaller piece, then stick the remainder back into the gob again.

Then another small journey, and by this time the food would all be consumed. Back the mallard would come to the main feeding area, emboldened by a fuller belly, and scrap some more for scraps.

Some dozens of gulls were in attendance, and I suspect that they live there all the time out of the breeding season.

A continuous supply of food is a huge incentive to remain. All of the gulls were of the black-headed variety. They were all in the winter plumage, where the pronounced black of the head disappears, and is replaced by a black spot or black mark.

The gulls were fast movers and they scavenged on the wing. So if they saw a piece of bread coming down they launched themselves in the right direction, frequently with success.

They yapped at the opposition, and if flying towards food for which a mallard was swimming, their loud screeches could put off the duck. The gull would grab the food first.

The coots were fast movers. They did their feeding on the water, swimming rapidly and purposely, frequently getting to food before all others.

So there we had a selection of sizes, shapes, colours, in birds from swans to gulls, ducks to coots, all feeding from the public paper bags.

We walked on round the lake. There were more birds on the water, again, gulls, coots, ducks and swans.

Some waterhens were visible, as were some great crested grebes. They were all thriving without the human-donated food, and then the thought arose that they had already being eating the human food. They were all taking a break from it.

There were other ducks as well, goldeneye. Saw some goldeneye last week, but had managed to not see any for ages before that. So goldeneye were turning up on consecutive weeks, must be a good sign. They do land here every winter, and can be reasonably common if you know the right place to go to. They tend to form small flocks, both male and female together.

The most obvious feature on the male is the large white cheek patch, and it is frequently this that draws the attention to this striking bird.

We circumnavigated the lake at Hillsborough, enjoying the fresh air, the trees, the birds, and the friendly greeting from the not too common walkers on the trail.

So then we came back to where we started, where the humans of all ages, were feeding the ducks, and coots, and swans and gulls.

The humans had all changed, for here was a new batch of them. The birds all looked the same birds as we had seen at the beginning of our walk, but you never can tell.

Coming Events

Saturday 16, Sunday 17 February - Did you ever hear the likes of it? Celebrate St Valentine's Day by making a love nest box for woodland birds. Call Espie on 9187 4146 if you are feeling romantic.

Saturday 16 February - Willow Weaving for your Garden, a workshop at Oxford Island, 1.30 details 3832 2205

Broadwater Bird Watch, at 11.30, further information from Logan Valley 90491922

Ulster Star