by Paul Cormacain
A brief mention of the initiation of the Brent Goose Satellite Tracking Project. I'll talk about it in more detail later, but sufficient to say I was at the launch at Castle Espie and it's very exciting stuff!
The Irish Brent Goose spends half the year in Arctic Canada, for the other half the entire world population of these birds comes to Ireland.
They may be observed at most coastal spots but are most numerous at Strangford Lough, hence the very large interest by Castle Espie.
Now they are being tracked in their movements, and this may be witnessed by logging on to www.wwt.org.uk/brent More later, but now we must fly off to south-east England.
So we arrived at Standstead, and were told the flight was delayed for one hour. Shortly afterwards the flight was delayed for two hours, and shortly after that the flight was delayed for four hours.
Hanging around airports can be energy-sapping, so I am not quite sure at what stage we were told to leave the departure lounge and collect our baggage.
We tried to observe the local wildlife, caught -sight of blackbirds, swallows and a solitary kestrel. But when you are waiting for an airplane and have no notion of when it is coming, even bird-spotting can become boring.
Then you meet up with a man who used to work in Belfast Airport, and he tells you that the sort of announcements we had been listening to was usually a forerunner to cancellation.
The flight was cancelled, the next one was in three days time, so we headed into London for a three day spell. Anyone ever had a flight delayed for three days? Is this a world record?
As a teenager I lived in London, and one of the things that amazed me was the abundance of grey squirrels and their tameness. Although everything else in London seemed to have changed, there still seem to be as many squirrels about, and they still appear to be as tame.
Squirrels are rodents, like rats, but much higher up the popularity stakes.
There are 273 species of squirrel world-wide, quite an impressive range. There are flying squirrels, some squirrels hibernate, there are ground squirrels, and some squirrels live in burrows.
In London, as over here, there are two types of squirrel, the red and the grey.
The red squirrel is the original squirrel in both Britain and Ireland, a delightful if retiring animal, not seen as often as the grey.
Then, about 100 years ago, grey squirrels were introduced from north America, and have thrived ever since.
I cannot find the exact date for England. but in Ireland the first grey squirrel was introduced in 1811 in County Longford.
The greys seem to have taken large towns to their heart across the water, but not so here. I can think of Edinburgh, where greys climb around at will, and I have even seen them on hotel window sills. In Bournemouth, greys around the town, never getting too far away from a handy tree, in case danger lurks. But it seems to me that the largest population of grey. squirrels live in London.
Incidentally, the Oxford University 's Encyclopaedia of Mammals gives the spelling for this squirrel as `gray', so I cannot really say which spelling is correct. Perhaps both are.
Head and body of the greys are about 250 cms long, and the tail is about 220cms. Corresponding figures for the red are 220 and 175, which shows a considerable difference in length. The grey weighs some 600 grams, while the wee red only checks in at about 300. The figures are all average, with many variations.
Every park in London has grey squirrels, and they thrive so well that culls may be carried out.
In Finchley, where I lived, the greys would sit and eat on the ground. If you were going for a walk in the park, the creatures would sit tight till you were within a few metres, then scamper up the nearest tree about a metre, always on the other side of the tree from you. Only if you approached would they climb higher.
When the number of squirrels rose above what the park could comfortably support, an expansion would begin. The animals would move into local gardens, building their dreys in the trees. Even more dangerous for them was building their homes inside roof spaces, because this was what sometimes initiated a cull.
So there are many greys squirrels in London. I never did see a red though I am sure they must be there somewhere.
We were staying in - Vestry Road, in the south of the city, and what do we see but a grey picking up food from the road, perhaps a piece of bread dropped by a child. This squirrel was clever, it got onto the footpath and started to eat, rather than risk playing chicken with a car.
It waited till we were very close before it climbed up a nearby tree, and continued eating.
Vestry Road may he a pleasant spot, but the thought occurred that if the squirrels have moved in, however delightful it looks, this could signal a squirrel cull.
Saturday 22nd June - Lisburn RSPB field trip to Killard, details from 92621866
Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd June - Pond dipping at Castle Espie from 24pm, more from 9187 4146
Thursday 27th June - Birdwatch Morning at 10.30, at Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146 for more information,
Saturday 29th June - The National Trust and Craigavon Council join forces for a Victorian Picnic, phone them on 3832 2205
Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th June - Animal Magic at Castle Espie, starting at barn on each day. Sounds fascinating, why not try it?