Big thank you from

The early ladybird brings hopes of good weather

by Paul Cormacain

A small colourful insect came out of hibernation to have a look around. She liked what she saw and stayed.

I have to say 1 was very pleased to see her, for it augured well for the weather in days ahead. The insect was a 7 spot ladybird, and the date was 27 March.

This is good, says I, and me down on my knees weeding flower beds in the front garden. We have had our early, good, spring and the weather is going to remain fine, says I.

The ladybird concurs, but the forecasts starting to come in are putting a different slant on things. Rain, snow, strong winds, ah well, 1 hope the weather forecasters got it all wrong, and the ladybird got it all right.

When a neighbour found out that we had a ladybird she wanted to kidnap it.

She was complaining about a surplus of aphids in her garden and knew ladybirds are extremely good at keeping aphids in check. Ladybirds are voracious predators of aphids, but did you know that the larvae of ladybirds also love aphids? So never mind the expensive poisonous sprays, get a few ladybirds in.

The female ladybird lays about two hundred eggs, and where does she lay them but underneath a leaf, close to an aphid colony. Now that is what I call advance planning.

From the egg issues the larva, and by a strange trick of nature the larva is about 13 ruins long. The adult is only about 6 mms long.

So we have large larvae adjacent to a aphid colony, the aphids are easy game and fair game so the larvae get stuck in, keep the gardeners happy, and thrive.

After three glorious weeks the larva turns into a pupa and lashes itself to a leaf.

And when the adults appear, what do they do but devour more aphids? More happy gardeners.

The ladybird appeared on a lavender bush, among other lavender bushes. The bark is quite rough on these shrubs, so I looked for a possible wintering site.

Usually a number of these insects find a gap in a building, or a bush or tree bark, crowd together in the gap or hole, and spend the winter.

No sign of a space sufficiently large to accommodate a number of ladybirds, so although I do not know where she came from I was delighted to see her.

Later that day I took a break from gardening and went for a walk in the country.

There were no butterflies to be seen but many bees and wasps were out and about, trying to feed, trying to set up home. At this time, all those insects were last year's queens, and no young ones would have appeared yet.

Suddenly we had the pleasure of listening to the larks. This was our first time this year we had the pleasure of listening to this wonderful bird. And yet, this bird usually starts singing in late January.

From my youth I have always associated the lark's singing with warm balmy days in the country, and I seem to have an annual problem when the lark sings before we get nice weather.

The male and female lark will have become married by now and some will have started to build their nests.

Although the hen builds a nest on the ground, a cup-shaped grass nest sometimes lined with hair, it can be very, very difficult to find such a nest.

An essential safety factor for the survival of the species is the ability to build an invisible nest.

From now till August the hen could be laying, and she only will sit on the three or four eggs for 11 days. The young will hatch and the cock will help to feed the young who will remain in the nest for about eight days.

After about 16 days the young will fly, the male will be exhausted, and he will ask the female to start off all over again.

After all, he will only have to start work when the young need to be fed.

But he makes a beautiful sound!

The Ulster Wildlife Trust would like us to volunteer to turn to on Sunday 6th April, and do some voluntary work on the wildlife pathways on the Bog Meadows.

Access is via Milltown Road, which is opposite the Falls Park on the Falls Road, and there is parking off Milltown.

The Bog Meadows nature reserve provides a serene environment for wildlife, and this in the middle of a large city, Belfast. There is open water, grassland, marsh and a small amount of woodland.

As a child, I used to go to a much more extensive Bog Meadows and was fascinated by the wildlife then. But even in its constricted form the Bog is still home to many birds, flowers, insects.

As you are driving past, along the M1 you may see swan, teal, tufted duck, mallard, greylag goose, little grebe, pochard, coot and waterhen. Further away from the open water are wagtails, snipe, reed buntings, water rail and stonechats.

Anyone who goes along should be wearing outdoor clothing, and should bring a packed lunch. The time is 10.30, the rendezvous is the car park down Milltown, and your contact is Annie O'Kane who may be contacted on 9062 8647.

Coming Events

Until 31 May - Family fun searching for safe places for birds to lay their eggs, at Castle Espie, telephone 9187 4146

Saturday 5 April - Visit from the Happy Hedgehog Rescue Centre, at Castle Espie, 9187 4146.
Also at Espie is the Irish Astronomical Association, with spectacular sights and a portable planetarium.

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 Faster Egg one day, paint it the next, phone 9187 4146

Monday 28 April - Lisburn RSPB is holding its AGM, and fan Forsythe will talk about Leisler bats in Europe, with particular reference to Lisburn. Time 7.30, details 4062 6125

Ulster Star