by Paul Cormacain
THEN there were the knots.
What a strange name for a bird. What a strange amount of amazement and bafflement engendered by this small bird, which has caused many a head to be scratched over the years.
And if the public was baffled, so also were the experts, as they tried to account for the sudden appearance of thousands of birds each year.
Likewise their equally sudden disappearance.
Now that we know more about knots, we are less able to explain how they perform such flying feats and such navigational feats.
We may even marvel more about their skills now than when we were more ignorant.
This 30 cms bird breeds far north of the Arctic Circle, in a land which is bare and inhospitable. Not a very sensible to do, you may think, but it must get a living there.
Come the autumn, it exhibits great sense. It gets out.
The knot moves south.
It comes to Europe, hangs around in large numbers in this island and on our neighbouring island. But it also travels further afield, to South Africa, for a start.
Knot a bad journey for a small bird. It also goes to Patagonia, New Zealand and Australia. On the northern and eastern coasts of Ireland, but usually not inland, the knot arrives in late summer and early autumn. The journey northwards would take place in the following April and May.
Strangford Lough would be one of the near-by spots
The south flying knot prepares to return home to see knots.
You could see them anywhere along the coast, but in smaller numbers. On the Lough you may be lucky and see a really large flock. Does ten thousand birds sound like a large flock?
Oystercatchers and lapwings were out and about that day. Oystercatchers, wonderful, attractive, colourful, noisy, seem to be everywhere, so this must be the peak time for watching them.
The local birds are thinking it must be getting near time to go a-courting, and our winter visitors are thinking it must be getting near time to get off back to their breeding country.
The lapwing is one of our common waders. It also gets, green plover, pilibin, and peewees. It is a common breeder, but you have to get to the right place to see it in its breeding habitat, and even then you might have difficulty seeing it.
The green plover, because it nests on a most vulnerable spot, the ground, does not like to advertise its presence too much.
Mostly the lapwing is to be seen at the coast now. It likes low lying ground near water, and would head for callous, marshes, agricultural land, golf courses and mudflats.
We could also add parks to the list, or indeed any large area of land especially after rain.
Later on in the year, indeed sooner rather than later, lapwings tend to move inland, and mostly higher altitudes.
The old Bog Meadows of Belfast used to be even more attractive to them than it is now, well the bogs are now roads, playing fields, shops and factories. But some lapwings will still go there, perhaps fed by memories from past generations of birds.
More birds will head for the Antrim Plateau, the hills around Belfast, the Mournes and Sperrins. Many lesser hills in between will also do nicely, thank you, and safe, boggy terrain will also have its share of lapwings.
Humans may go on holidays, but birds have in-built signals to move, usually twice annually.
I find their movements fascinating and never cease to wonder at them. Perhaps you should keep an eye open for the internal and external migration of birds in the coming months, but beware, it can become addictive.
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 91874146.
Saturday 16 February - Willow Weaving for your Garden, a workshop at Oxford Island, 1.30 details 028 3832 2205.
Broadwater Bird Watch, at 11.30, further information from
Lagan Valley 028 9049 1922
Stargazing with Irish Astronomical Association, at Castle Espie, 7. 30, details from 028 9187 4146
Monday 25 February - Lisburn RSPB will hear about Hippos, Hoopoes, Hornbills, from Jim Kitchen, at 7.30, details from 9260 1864
Thursday 28 February - Birdwatch Morning, at 11.30, at Castle Espie, who are on 9187 4146
Saturday 2 March - Lisburn RSPB outing to St John's Point, Killough and Ardglass, details 9260 1864
Sunday 3 March - Would you like to see some snowy owls, eagle
owls, and great grey owls? Head for CastleEspie, at 1.30, details
A Spring Nature Ramble will start at Castle Espie at2.30, suitable for families, try phoning 9187 4146
March 2002 - RSPB/Birdwatch Ireland, joint conference.