by Paul Cormacain
SAW another pheasant last week, a beautiful male, walking across a road not a million miles from Lisburn.
I don't want to be more specific about the location for there are still some folk who would be tempted to go out and shoot this lovely bird.
The male is usually easier to see than the duller female because its bright colouring is very prominent.
About now, it is even more difficult to see the female. She and he got together and now she is very probably off sitting on eggs, and that is a full time job.
She has to keep them warm all the time, and can hardly even get off the nest to feed or go to the toilet.
Meanwhile the male struts around, looking splendid, boasting to anyone who will listen to him that he is to be a daddy. He also tells his audience what a fine-looking fellow he is, and how he has a very good organised system. He gets herself to do all the work!
We went to a spot where year after year we would see, and hear, lapwings.
Many people would accept the lapwing as the real harbinger of spring. From March onwards the birds would go to the breeding sites, having wintered in fresh water margins, on sands and mud flats along the coast.
They would have joined up in large flocks, and fraternised with other waders.
Now each pair would have its own bit of field.
The male would have made a few scrapes on the ground, the female would have examined the scrapes, and by some strange logic would have decided which scrape was the best. She would then have lined the scrape with dried grass, and that would be home, sweet home.
Then she lays the eggs, she sits on the eggs until they hatch, she feeds
the chicks. The chicks can walk about after a few hours, like most
ground-nesting birds. It is far too dangerous to stay in one place on the
If you have ever gone close to young lapwings, the parents will screech a warning to them, they will lie low and not move. The parents will screech at you for endangering their young and will probably dive-bomb you.
The chicks will fly after about five weeks.
We came across lapwings in another site last week. It was on a small island in a lake in the north, and there were about four lapwings there.
We could not quite decide just what was going on.
The area was small, but secure. Could it be that the birds were courting? Could they be males, and the females sitting on nests nearby? Would they live in such cramped conditions, even if it was very safe? What price safety if a fox swam over to the island?
I dare say we will never know
Near the island were shelduck. Male and female shelduck are nearly similar, except that the male has a knob at the base of the bill, so these birds were probably a happily married couple. Their plumage is black and white and chesnut, and their bills are orange. Very colourful birds!
Remember the pheasant? He is bright and gaily coloured, she is dull, and this tends to be the rule with birds. But the rules are twisted when we consider the shelduck, for male and female are both brightly coloured.
To make it safer for shelduck to nest, the female usually sites the nest in a burrow, or under a rock. This keeps her well hidden so her bright colouring is not so important.
The female lays the eggs, the female broods the eggs, the female feeds the young. Sounds familiar?
Also on the lake that day were tufted duck, mallard, and coots. But what were the lapwings up to?
To 31 May - Fancily fun searching for safe places for birds to lay their eggs, at Castle Espie, telephone 91874146
Wednesday 16 April - At 6.30 in the Ulster Museum, Ian Rippey will run a butterfly workshop, part of Butterfly Conservation's annual programme.
Friday 18, Saturday 19 April - Castle Espie invites young and old children to help make an Easter Egg one day, paint it the next, phone 9187 4146
Sunday 20 April - Castle Espie Cuddly Ducks Easter Picnic. Phone them for details on 9187 4146.
Monday 28 April - Lisburn RSPB is holding its AGM, and Ian Forsythe will talk about Leisler bats in Europe, with particular reference to Lisburn. Time 7.30, details 4062 6125
9 May - Preliminary notice of Bat Night at Bog Meadows.