by Paul Cormacain
THERE were four pied wagtails in the field.
In the winter we have communal roosts of the wagtail, and in a few well-known parts of England and Ireland there may be found hundreds, perhaps thousands, living together at night.
Companionship, comfort, heat and safety seem to be the factors that bring all these birds together.
But with the advent of spring, and the lengthening of the days, the pied wagtail feels the urge to seek out a member of the opposite sex and talk about nests and eggs.
When this stage is reached these birds become highly territorial and have time only, and eyes only, for their chosen one. So if a male wagtail goes near a couple, it will be unceremoniously chased off. If a male sees its own reflection in a car mirror it will attack. Rather difficult
If a wagtail sees its reflection in a car hub-cap, it will attack. Rather more difficult!
So there were four pied wagtails feeding together, hunting together and generally behaving as if they were life-long companions.
The grass was short, good for finding insects. This would be their preferred habitat-, difficult for predators to approach and a plentiful supply of food is usually available.
The bird has had to adapt over the years. In the 'old days' it loved to hang around farmyards catching a huge quantity of winged insects with little effort. But the times changed.
Cowsheds became more hygienic and sanatised. Water was carried in pipes instead of being exposed where it was attractive to insects. Modem agricultural techniques partly dried up the food source for the pied wagtail, and that bird had to adapt and change.
So it took more to short-grassed fields, and less to farmyards.
The pied wagtail is very easy to identify. It is black and white, and with a long tail. The tail is forever being wagged up and down.
In the second half of March four of these birds can still go around in a friendly fashion. But not for much longer. Next month the birds start laying, and the courtship that precedes that will drive a wedge between the birds.
There will be only one male and one female together and a third bird, never mind a fourth, will not be tolerated.
So from four wagtails fraternising this week, by next week perhaps it will be unheard of.
One of the insects the pied wagtail is definitely not interested in is the common wasp.
This insect has an unbarbed sting which is capable of use a number of times. The wagtail does not like wasp stings, so the wagtail leaves the wasp alone. Sensible bird.
A lady wasp turned up in the house the other day. She was a big fat queen, which is what you would expect to turn up, though not necessarily in a house. She could not fly, could hardly walk, so I took her outside, trying to place her on a flower which had opened.
Comforting reassurance and food, I thought, but she would have none of it. She thanks me for taking her away from all those dishes, huffed and puffed a few times, then miraculously, she flew off.
A wee drop of fresh air is good for all of us, including queen wasps.
Until Monday 31 March - St Patrick's Day Trail at Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146 for more details
Saturday 29 March - Trip to Coney Island to watch the herons, at 10.30, details from Lough Neagh Discovey Centre, 3832 2205
Sunday 30 March - Treat your mother to a gentle walk at Oxford Island, admire flowers and other wildlife, then treat her to Mothering Sunday lunch, details 3832 2205
Tuesday 1 April to 31 May - Family fun searching for safe places for birds to lay their eggs, at Castle Espie, number 9187 4146