Big thank you from

The modest jay likes to keep his head well down

by Paul Cormacain

A jay was trying to make himself scarce along the river Lagan. He should be such a prominent bird, large, and with a large white rear, but he always feels that he should not be seen by humans or raptors. Humans certainly do not manage a glimpse of him too often.

Yet he is a common bird, in summer and in winter, without too much movement in the different seasons. The exception would be the post-breeding dispersal when the current year's birds feel the need to get away from mum and dad. Guess what? The parents feel the need to get rid of the youngsters!

It is during this dispersal that young birds move into unknown territory. These birds are usually easier to see than the older, smarter birds. They go to a new place, recognise its shortcomings, then move on. Most years we would see the odd jay in our garden, and they would be new birds looking for a home. They always move on to a better spot!

Rathlin Island reports more convolvulus hawkmoths, the first migrating geese moving south, and a basking shark on a three day vacation. Now reports are coming in of other visitors. A group of people from the North American and UK 'Countryside Exchange' has landed, and it means business.

In the group are seven internationally known consultants, and they specialise in helping rural localities have a look at themselves. They would address current countryside problems. They would also figure out how to go for sustainable economic development. It may sound easy, but these folk have to marry the old and the new, locals and outsiders, theory with practicalities.

The consultants are the outsiders, from across the Irish Sea, and from the other side of the Atlantic. They have to produce a plan that the locals, the folk of Rathlin, can agree with, and live with. They have to produce a plan which will enable them to come back in years to come, and hold their heads up high. In a word, they must be successful! Good luck to all involved.

I seem to remember only ever seeing one jay on Rathlin, and am not sure of the current state of the bird on the island. The folk there would not be instrumental in forcing any bird away, so I suspect that the bird is in a healthy state there.

One of the highlights of any visit to the island is the huge sea bird colony on the west coast.

The RSPB hosts this attraction, and are very excited by the consultants' visit. No doubt the colony will feature in the final report, for has it not the huge amount of a quarter of a million birds?

On a recent count, there were about three hundred pairs of Manx shear-water, a hundred pairs of shags and over six thousand pairs of kittiwakes. Then there were forty thousand pairs of guillemots and fifty pairs of black guillemots. There certainly are peregrines breeding there, and there may or may not be choughs, but if the choughs are missing one year they may well be back the next year.

Alison McFaul, RSPB Information Warden on Rathlin, tells us of how the island is culturally, biologically and ecologically unique. The challenge now is to devise a strategy that contributes to the quality of life and maintains ecological integrity. She believes all these things are totally linked. In fact the life quality and ecological integrity is a unity!

So the next time you go to Rathlin keep an eye open for jays. Or if you walk along the Lagan keep an eye open for this sometimes elusive bird. You may also see a few sea birds. Or a few thousand sea birds, including some not so common ones! And you might see the beginnings of the implementation of the consultants' mighty report for the future.

Coming Events

Saturday 1 November - Many different birds will have returned to Lough Neagh from the north. Why not go see them, 10am to 12? Contact Oxford Island on 3832 2205

Saturday 1, Sunday 2 November - Make a bird feeder, or a bird cake, to hang in your garden, at Castle Espie, 1-4pm. More by phoning 9187 4146

Sunday 2 November - Gorse Grappling, the Wildlife Trust calls it, and the Trust is looking for help in clearing Inishargy Bog, why not call Malachy Martin on 4483 0282

Saturday 8 November - RSPB Open Day at Belfast Harbour Estate viewing hide, commencing 11 am. More from RSPB at Belvoir, 9049 1547

Sunday 16 November - At 2pm there will be a Willow Walk, beginning at Gawley's Gate Inn, where you will have a chance to hear of wildlife associated with willows and meet up with local craftspeople who work with willows. Details from Oxford Island, 3832 205

Ulster Star