by Paul Cormacain
OUR ancestors used to live on Cavehill, and on top of the other mountains around Belfast, and they chose these spots so that they could look out and admire. If you ever walked the famous Belfast Hills Walk you will have seen different countries and different counties, and you will have been impressed. Our ancestors saw the sights, and wondered, and were pleased, and we saw the sights, and are impressed.
We went up Cave Hill last week for a walk.
In Belfast Castle Grounds we saw a grand total of two cows and one rabbit, for it was a bad day for rabbits and cows.
A grey squirrel sat close to us for a time, and than a youth with dog came by and the the squirrel left, quickly.
The cows were grazing in what seemed like inaccessible spots in thick growth, certainly I would not have liked to have gone to the same place as they. Otherwise I might be there still.
The rabbit was feeding on the path in front of us and moved slowly along as we moved slowly towards it. Eventually it slipped into the undergrowth, and was seen no more.
It was warm, sunny, bright and quiet as we walked a couple of miles.
As we were leaving the mountain young school-age joggers and other visitors were arriving, but we had the place almost to ourselves most of the walk.
One reference book said that during the quiet times we had a chance of seeing a fox or a badger so we kept hoping and looking.
We found a badger sett, but that was the nearest we got to fox or badger. Where were all the animals we wondered?
Why was there only one rabbit, we wondered. Why did we only see one squirrel, we wondered. Why did we see no raptors when in the past we noted buzzards, sparrowhawks, peregrines, kestrels? There have been reports of long-eared owls in the vicinity, but we had never seen any in the past.
Then we came across a magpie in a nest. It was sitting there, and poking round with its bill into the sticks that made up the nest.
Its inbuilt clock was wrong by nearly half a year, but the weather was so nice it might have been spring.
Come the spring, it will look natural for a magpie to poke around a nest, at this time of year it looks out of character and out of season.
The rough winds had not yet managed to dislodge the loads of leaves on the trees. The Scots pines were unconcerned, as they do not shed their leaves anyway, being evergreen and having a policy of continuous replacement.
Blackberry bushes still had some flowers on them. Strange to see that, and us nearly into December. The blackberries had some small, stunted, and I suspect inedible fruit on them, but for once I passed on blackberries.
On a patch of open ground we saw a magnificent magpie strutting his stuff. Did you ever remark how grand the magpie can look in the sunlight, how he can have a majestic walk, and how the sun shining on his plumage just highlights him?
A pair of mistle thrushes in the vicinity became jealous at his appearance, and started to mob him.
The mistle thrushes had nothing to be ashamed of, because they too looked great in the sun. Perhaps a long memory of a dastardly deed long done triggered this response, for every time the magpie landed one or other of the thrushes would attack him.
Eventually, in desperation, he took himself off.
We did not get as far as McArt's Fort, but looked up from below and thought about the historical significance of the site.
Apart from being a spot where our ancestors, and ourselves, could look at the magical view, it was also the spot that some Protestants Republicans set up the Society of United Irishmen. That was in 1791!
Saturday 23 November - The Reedy Flats Ramble is at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at 1 pm, with Walter Culbert showing the local wildfowl. Details from 3832 2205
Monday 25 November - Lisburn RSPB is holding its monthly meeting at The Friends' Meeting House, where Don Scott will intrigue with tales of raptors who fly by day and night. Time is 7.30, details from 4062 6125
Wednesday 27 November - Butterfly Conservation will hear about Conserving Rare Butterflies from Nigel Bourn, and all are welcome. Details from 9258 4019.
Thursday 28 November - Birdwatch morning at Castle Espie, 11.30, more by phoning 91874146
Sunday 1 December - Winter Nature Ramble at Castle Espie, 2.30, talk to 91874146
Monday 9 December - Lisburn RSPB is having a Members' Night at 7.30 in The Friends' Meeting House.