Big thank you from

A flock of thrushes enjoying their winter holiday

by Paul Cormacain

IT was in a large field running down to a lake that we spied a large number of birds.

As we approached, we also saw a large flock of northern thrushes here for the winter holidays. And sitting on the quiet waters of the lake were many swans, of at least two types, and ducks, waterhens, and coots. Hundreds and hundreds were in front of us, a huge display of, mostly, northern visitors

There were perhaps several hundred thrushes, redwings and fieldfares, and they were flying from one field to another.

The field they left had just been denuded of its worms, beetles, snails, caterpillars, larvae, all those creatures that appeal to northern thrushes, and that people leave severely alone.

The field they flew into was now for the same treatment, and woe betide any creature that revealed itself. It would quickly be scoffed.

Later, for a change of diet, the thrushes would come across a berried hedge and would gorge on berries.

These birds have a very healthy, varied diet.

They will feed well during their winter holidays here, then the fieldfares will retire to Scandinavia for the breeding season.

The redwings will fly north to northern Europe and Iceland, also refreshed after their holidays, and ready to do their bit in producing more little redwings.

The geese were barnacles, and there were over 90 of the birds grazing in a field. Half of their lives is spend in east Greenland, the other half in Scotland or Ireland where they spend the winter.

Nineteen years ago there was a biological expedition to Greenland and its main purpose was to study the summer and breeding biology of the barnacles. The information gleaned on that expedition has helped scientists and ornithologists to plan subsequently, and means there is a healthy population of these birds in both Scotland and Ireland.

When the trip was announced I thought it would be a lovely trip to make, but did not Volunteer.

Instead, we sponsored a bird, which was ringed at a spot called Orsted Dal, in east Greenland, on the sixteenth day of July in 1984.

This bird was subsequently seen on Islay, off Scotland, towards the end of that year. I never got any more reports about it and often wondered how long it lived, did any mishap befall it, how often did she breed.

During the winter the barnacles tend to congregate on islands or on promontories, usually in grassy fields. It would be quiet and retiring, and would not be normally seen near people. So we were lucky to get so close to so many birds.

We only had the binoculars with us, no telescope, so I tried to look for rings on any of the birds' legs. Perhaps I was checking to see if our sponsored bird was alive and well, but the distance was too great, and we Could not see ally rings.

Some mute swans swam on the lake. They kept their distance, which made me think they were not local birds, as local birds get used to their environment and get slightly used to humans.

If the weather had been severe in mainland Europe some swans would have flown over here to get away from it all. These birds would be much more reticent than our local birds, and would definitely keep their distance.

There was a handful of whooper Swans m the Same field as the geese. Icelandic visitors, they were either resting or grazing, apparently without a care in the world. It would just take one dog or one human to create consternation in that field !

The coots and waterhens were at peace with the world, likewise the ducks. They were all quietly feeding, or resting. Something like -a calm before a storm, I could not Help feeling.

The winter visitors will be thinking about heading north soon and the birds that stay here all year will be getting an injection of love soon.

Suddenly there will be courtship, and jealousies, and rivalries, followed by the patter of tiny feet. Incessant searching for food- will follow, and the seemingly impossible task of stuffing food into young mouths will commence. The birds deserved a time in the sun. leading the good life, for it will all end soon!

Coming Events

Wednesday 5 March - Lorcan O'Toole has been close to the re-introduction of golden eagles in Donegal, and at 7.30 will talk about the project at Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146

Sunday 9 March - Try a Lagan Canal Walk, starting at 2pm, from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, phone 3832 2205

Wednesday 19 March - Learn about Butterfly Recording in the south, with David Nash, Ulster Museum, at 7.15

Monday 24 March - At the monthly Lisburn RSPB meeting, Maurice McNeely will pose the question. why ring birds? This will be at Friends' Meeting House, at 7-30, and about which more can be learned by calling 4062 6125

Saturday 29 March - Trip to Coney Island to watch the herons, at 10.30, details from Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. 3832 2205

9 May - preliminary notice of Bat Night at Bog Meadows

Ulster Star