Big thank you from

Birds can brighten up the long, dark winters

by Paul Cormacain

BIRDS were quiet around Antrim and Down last week. Well, could you blame them what with all the ice and frost about, not to mention some constrictive fog?

Different members of the crow family kept active, well, they have to eat and they do stand out in a crowd.

Blackbirds and dunnocks, starlings and robins, and many more, were also out and about, but you got the feeling they were lying low and not flaunting themselves.

More feeding and foraging was being done under cover one would think, where the birds would feel more sheltered.

So the birds were, in general, lying low, but there must must have been the odd hedgehog putting in an appearance for we came across two dead ones on the roads.

Flies were to be seen now and again, presumably hibernating beasties who had emerged for one reason or another, did not like what they saw, and promptly re-hibernated.

Now, on the subject of butterflies, here are some amazing facts gleaned from Ian Rippey, collator of butterfly sightings for the Butterfly Conservation movement.

A few butterflies turned up in England in December. What about that?

There were also reports a small tortoiseshell was sighted in Cork, in the south-west. in mid December. The south-west would be milder than the north-east, and at the time of sighting the weather was mild.

The small tortoiseshell is resident in the imago form most of the year. In the winter, however, it hibernates, and it is a safe bet that most folk have never seen a tortoiseshell in winter.


Once or twice over the years I saw a tortoiseshell in winter. It was at home, and the sighting was likely down to the weather being being over-warm, the house being over-warm, or a hibernating creature having been disturbed.

Sightings of tortoiseshells outdoors in winter are very rare indeed. Having said that, another sighting of a tortoiseshell came in. This happened in another part of Cork, and it happened on November 17, confounding critics.

Then what happened next but that there was another sighting of a small tortoiseshell on January 5, this time in south England.

About this time a red admiral was seen, again in County Cork. I think I will migrate to the southwest.

But back to the birds.

We saw a pair of blackcaps in County Antrim. It is always interesting looking up older books about birds, then comparing them with up-to-date reports.

So I checked blackcaps in the famous Readers' Digest bird book and found to my shock, horror, that this book is more than 30 years old. Which makes me over 30 years of age!

The Digest book gives the bird as mostly 'summer visitors' over most of Wales and England with a sparse population in Scotland and Ireland. How times have changed!

Here are some more up-to-date figures.

It is now reckoned that 400,000 pairs of breeding blackcaps occupy Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England in the summer.

Scotland and Ireland would hold fewer pro rata than England and Wales, but the figure of 1,500 pairs in Ireland is available

No breakdown is available for winter, but we know there are some 3,000 pairs in the four countries combined. From our own experience there are more and more blackcaps overwintering here each year.

Then there was a pair of tiny goldcrests that we saw feeding more openly than usual. This is quite a common bird, but it tends to remain high in dense foliage, and is not seen that often. Except in winter.
So when other birds are hiding away we are lucky enough to see more of the elusive goldcrest.

Coming Events

Saturdav, Januarv 18 - Sample the beauties of Upper Lough Erne, liam, where the Fermanagh RSPB is sharing with the Fermanagh Ramblers. Contact 6632 6654 for details.

Monday, January 27 - Lisburn RSPB is going to hear about Arctic Wildlife from Noel Mitchell in Friends' Meeting House at 7.30, contact 4062 6125.

Sunday, February 2 - Celebrate World Wetlands Day by getting your feet wet or alternately go bird watching at Oxford Island. Or enjoy a wetlands day meal. Details from 3832 2205.

Ulster Star