Big thank you from

Robin needs some practice

by Paul Cormacain

LONG, long, time ago, there lived a witch in Yorkshire called Shipton. A right old hag she was, according to the lore of the time. Then one day, somebody noticed a moth with brown and grey and black and white wing patterns, and said to self, 'my, that moth looks like old witch Shipton'. The moth henceforth became Mother Shipton, scientific name Callistege mi, and has been so called ever since.

This moth is common in Ireland, Britain, Europe, Central and Western Asia. Which makes it quite widespread, and noticeable. And a Robin noticed it. I had been looking at the moth for some time, in a lazy, curious kind of fashion, when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a brownish flash nearby.

Suddenly I was more alert. I looked at where the brown flash had gone to, and saw a Robin. Now I was, watching a moth and a bird. By my reckoning, the moth was flying around aimlessly, the bird was watching the moth, and thinking easy food. Then the Robin swooped again, heading for the moth, and Mother Shipton did not even seem to take evasive action, but the Robin was way off target anyway.

After maybe 20 seconds the Robin swooped again, and again he missed the moth by a mile. As I watched, the robin made a number of successive and unsuccessful swoops on Mother Shipton, and each time the moth carried on as usual, and the bird missed. Eventually the moth went away and the bird gave up.

So the Robin was lazy or unskilled, or had just not evolved into a creature who could catch live food on the wing. Or the moth was more clever than we gave it credit for, and was being clever by evading enemies. The moral of this story is if you are a moth, don't get gobbled up by a bird, and if you are a robin, for goodness sake put in some practice at catching flying objects.

As mentioned last week, science is catching up on the mysteries of bird migration, and we can log on to our computers and find out more. The entire population of pale-bellied brent geese, also known as Irish brent geese, breed on Bathurst Island in Arctic Canada, and spend half of each year there. The other half of the year they all live in Ireland, dispersed around the coast, but are most commonly to be seen in Strangford Lough.

To get from one home to another the birds fly south-east from Canada to Greenland, then on to Iceland, then across the Atlantic to Ireland. The return route is Iceland, Greenland, Canada, a long and arduous flight by any standards. How do they do it? We- know not. What specific route do they take? We know not. Why do they undertake such a perilous journey? We know not. How do they keep going, and what and when do they eat?

With all the research going on, we hope to find out at least partial answers to all these questions. Experts from many countries gathered at Castle Espie to launch the Irish Brent Goose Satellite Tracking Project. Greenland, Iceland and Norway were represented, as well as experts from England, and folk from all over Ireland. There probably was never a greater collection of knowledge of Irish Brent than was gathered in that conference centre that day.

Frances the story teller had a yarn about the Children of Lir, slightly modified, so that the story was about Irish brent and not swans, and their home was Strangford Lough. Some school children had written and painted work about the brent, and these were all delightful diversions. The scientific knowledge shared with us that day was equally easy to listen to and absorb, and I met for the first time some of the big names in ornithology, people whose material I had read over the years.

Six of the geese have had transmitters placed on them. These transmitters send out signals which are picked up by satellite, amplified and re-transmitted to earth. The flight path of the geese is recorded on earth almost as it is taking place, with only a delay equal to the speed of electromagnetic radiation, 6 times 10 times a million per second.

The brent have been designated names, andis called after Oscar Merne, whose work I have read for years. I met Oscar there that day, Oscar the man, not Oscar the goose.

So now we all have the opportunity to view live and on line the epic flight of the Irish Brent. Using; the latest technology, we can now log on to and take part in an historic adventure.


Saturday 29th June: The National Trust and Craigavon Council join forces for a Victorian Picnic, phone them on 08 3832 2205.

Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th June: Animal Magic at Castle Espie, starting at 1000 on each day. Sounds fascinating, why not try it?

Every Saturday and Sunday in July Guided tours around Castle Espie, at 1430, phone them on 028 9187 4146.

Monday 1st July to Wednesday 31st July: Animal, Bird, Creepy crawlies, a good old A B C trail, for children of all ages, contact 028 91874146

Monday 1st July Week: Oxford Island has a natural environment picture trail, great fun for all the family. Call them on 028 383 2205.

Wednesday 3rd July: Oxford Island Bird Watching Trip, at 1430, phone 028 3832 2205 for more info.

Sunday 14th to Wednesday 24th July: Check the young ducks behind the scenes at Castle Espie, more from 028 9187 4146.

Saturday 20th July: Oxford Island has a guided walk around the Montiaghs Moss Nature Reserve, on the lookout for dragonflies and flesh-eating plants. Phone 028 3832 2205.

Saturday 27th July: Butterfly Conservation outing to Killard Point, at 1030, and ask Trevor Boyd for more details on 028 9185 2276.

Ulster Star