by Paul Cormacain
WHEN did you last go for a walk along the sea front at Carrickfergus? Depending on the weather, you can experience rain or gales when walking with your head down, or nice, mild, watery sunshine, and the local population in good form. We chose the latter.
Well, if the people were out walking, the birds were out and about as well, walking, swimming, diving digging in the sand for food. With the added advantage that you can see them quite close-up.
Out at sea were the cormorants. Frequently described as "reptilian in appearance", these voracious, large-beaked birds were looking after the interests of the inner bird. They were after food.
There were quite a few birds scattered over that part of Belfast Lough that we could see clearly. At any given time a number would be swimming or resting on the surface, while others would be underwater. I have a feeling that it would be impossible to quantify the exact number of birds!
Under water the birds are very strong swimmers, with their wings pressed against their bodies, and their large webbed feet thrusting powerfully. They swim after fish. They tend to eat lot of flatfish, but also hunt for wrasse, sand , eels and even some crabs. When fishing in fresh water they even go for spricks.
There was a flock of about 40 ringed plovers, moving frequently, to get away from humans, but also remaining quite close to humans. If the humans remained motionless! Apart from the likes of the sea front at Carrick, it would be impossible to see these birds so close-up.
These plovers were probably northern visitors, but they can be seen here all year round. They do breed here, although the thinking is that their habitat is being more and more disturbed. Mostly breeding near or on the coast, the growth of holiday homes, caravan parks, tourist facilities near the coast, are all hindering this type of bird from breeding.
In the past I have seen them breeding on the shores of inland lakes, and along the banks of rivers, and on the ' fringes of a golf course near the coast.
On the beach one day, when the children were younger, we found ourselves sitting beside a ringed plover's nest with four eggs in it.
The beach was reasonably popular, if remote, so something had to be done to make sure the eggs hatched successfully. We placed some flotsam and jetsam in the vicinity of the nest, hoping to make it look unattractive, and our little scheme worked.
A week or two later, we were checking up on the nest. It was empty, except for broken, empty shells. Nearby we saw a parent and four young getting away from us as fast as they could. When we left the parent went about teaching the young how to hunt for molluscs, crustacea and insects of many types. They would also be taught about worms and some vegetable material.
Among the ringed plovers were a few grey plovers, also on their winter holidays.
The oyster catchers stood out, as usual. Bright birds, noisy birds, they can not be ignored. If you ever look for their nests in the summer, you will find that all the oyster catchers disappear. If you are not after their nests, they will
In Carrickfergus, the birds were only interested in 1) feeding, and 2) shouting at each other. Have you noticed that oyster catchers only shout, never talk? The shouters could be local birds, or they may have arrived from the north, or they may be a mixture of both.
Gulls flew, and swam, and squacked, both nearby and in the distance. Plenty of black-headed gulls were there in their winter plumage, and in the distance was a range of gulls, not easily identifiable.
The humans were of local stock, but some visitors had turned up as well.
They all seemed to be enjoying themselves, and if you pick the good weather you will enjoy yourself as well. The Lisburn RSPB crowd had an enjoyable time lately. After a talk about the introduction of golden eagles into Donegal, they went along to see for themselves. And they did see. And in passing they stopped off at Dunfanaghy, and saw a little egret. It should not have been there, but perhaps it had heard about the Lisburn crowd, and decided to give them a thrill.
Friday 26 December- Christmas Trail at Castle Espie, call 9187 4146 for details.