by Paul Cormacain
THE young swallows, and not so young swallows, had found a new place to feed. The jetty had stood there for decades, and 20 years ago some small improvements were made. Now major re-organisation was going on. The jetty was being lengthened, was being made more broad, and a new right-angled piece was being added.
The work was somehow or other exposing insects, insects who should have been hiding and growing and hoping to live privately to maturity. The swallows had discovered their displacement, and seemed to spend the day gobbling up the wee insects.
At the side of the jetty nearest the sea, the swallows swooped far below the humans standing on the jetty, at times diving in between the uprights which supported the jetty. On the other side, large amounts of sand, gravel, rock had been removed, leaving a surface that had not been exposed for years. The small nooks and crannies had all been removed, while other new nooks and crannies had been manufactured, and the insects were all at sixes and sevens.
There were many of this year's swallows, as evidenced by their slightly smaller tails and colouring. They have nothing to do now but feed and feed and feed, and then in a few months mama and papa will say to them that it is time to fly off to Africa. Holidays over.
The parents have now progressed to their second brood. No holiday for them. They arrived from Africa, started into nest-building almost immediately, and have reared the first brood, which entailed endless feeding of empty mouths. Now they are on their second brood, and could well be stuffing an endless succession of empty mouths and bellies.
Up the hill a short distance from the jetty was a lane and ditch. We used to stop here and listen to the corncrakes, but this year there was silence. We did however meet a man who used to live on Innis Bo Finne, an island off Donegall, and he still visits the island. He told us that the island was 'full of corncrakes'. That must be something to behold. That must be something to listen to.
At the ditch we were destined not to hear corncrakes, but by way of compensation we were able to admire the yellow flag. This is a large yellow iris, which is common in wet fields and marshes, and at the edges of ponds, lakes, rivers and canals. It is so large and common it can be overlooked.
The yellow flag iris, Iris pseudocorus, also gets another name, the sword flag. The leaves are large and green and strap shaped, and if handled carelessly can cause a cut in the skin. Hence the 'sword' name.
The word 'iris derives from the Greek, meaning rainbow. I have seen the yellow flag in gardens, but other coloured iris can also grow there, rainbows of yellow, violet, white and blue.
Flowers are divided into nine parts, three styles, three petals, and three sepals. The three styles are also petal-like, and they form the crested, uppermost petals. The seeds are large, and brown in colour.
These large flowers are pollinated by bees mainly, which makes you wonder whether there will be much pollination this year on account of the weather. The bees are mostly remaining indoors. Bees crawl inside the flowers to reach the nectar at the base of the petals. After pollination, the petal falls off to reveal a large capsule. The capsule stalk begins to bend and the capsule eventually splits tp reveal a mass yellowish-brown seeds.
The swallows were thriving, the iris were thriving. If the report was true the corncrake was thriving on the offshore island. It is just too bad that it is not thriving on the mainland.
Every Saturday and Sunday in July: Guided tours around Castle Espie, at 1430, phone them on 028 9187 4146.
Until Wednesday 31st July: Animal, Bird, Creepy crawlies, a good old A B C trail, for children of all ages, contact 028 9187 4146.
Until Wednesday 24th July: Check the young ducks behind the scenes at Castle Espie.
Saturday 20th July: Oxford Island has a guided walk around the Montiaghs Moss Nature Reserve, on the lookout for dragonflies and flesheating plants. Phone 028 3832 2205.
Thursday 25th July: Castle Espie birdwatch morning at 1030, with more information from 028 9187 4146.
Friday 26th July: Go to Castle Espie for a barbeque, then check out the moths with expert Kenny Murphy . Phone 028 9187 4146 for more info.
Saturday 27th July: Butterfly Conservation outing to Killard Point, at 1030-; and ask Trevor Boyd for more details on 028 9185 2276.
Saturday27th, Sunday 28th July: Pond dipping from 1300 to 1600 at Castle Espie, phone 028 9187 4146.
Saturday 3rd August: Butterfly Outing to Ness and Ervey Wood Country Park, contact Butterfly Conservation on 028 92584019.
Saturday 3rd, Sunday 4th August: Wildlife 2002 at Oxford Island, a major wildlife event, and find out more by calling 028 3832 205.
Sunday 18th August: Have a look for grayling, silver-washed and dark green fritillaries, at 1030, Belfast Hills, starting Belfast Castle car park. Contact Butterfly Conservation on 028 90775317.