Big thank you from

Wagtails flock in

by Paul Cormacain

LIKE a magnet, Leathamstown Dam beckons us, so we had to make another visit. Grey wagtails are still thriving there, the nature of the undisturbed countryside and the food supply seems to suit them.

Many of these wagtails move to the coast for the winter, indeed, I have seen what I consider to be huge flocks there this year.

The weather is mild and there are many insects about, so a portion of the wagtails are quite happy to remain in their breeding quarters.

The grey wagtail is a common bird along fast-flowing, rocky, upland streams and rivers. Sounds like the habitat for dippers, and indeed you will frequently see both birds in the same stretch of water.

We did not have much luck with the dipper this time, merely sighting one in the distance as it raced away from us. They are usually more friendly and visible at Leathamstown.

The wagtail is an attractive bird. It has a fast flight, there are flashes of yellow plumage to be seen, it undulates as it flies and it is quite unmistakable. And the dipper is quite unmistakable too. It is black with a white breast.

You will frequently see the dipper standing on a rock in the middle of river or stream. Because it has a distinctive method of bowing at the waist, or dipping, it is highly visible. And the dipping also gives it its name.

We were at the river that runs into the dam and were looking at a large hawthorn. It still had fruit on it, although this fruit was beginning to look the worse for wear.

Suddenly a flock of birds appeared out of nowhere and settled on the large bush, or was it a small tree?

The birds were thrushes from Scandinavia moving south for the winter. Well, the fieldfare comes from there, the redwing has a larger range and some of them may have come from as far away as Iceland.

Another dozen or two northern birds landed on the tree. Because of all the movement, with birds flying hither and thither, it was impossible to count them. As they flew on to the tree, other birds flew off, some to land on the ground and others to land on another tree in the endless quest for food.

The Scandinavian bird, the fieldfare, somewhat resembles our large thrush, the mistle thrush. The size and shape are about the same and eating habits are not dissimilar. We have mistle thrushes in our garden feasting on the cotoneaster berries every day, and if any fieldfares were in the vicinity and found this cache of food, they would be eating alongside the thrushes.

The fieldfare has a blue-grey head, nape and rump. Where the mistle thrush has a clearly defined spotted breast, the fieldfare's breast is ill-defined, if spotted. It has a chestnut back and a dark tail.

There was more movement of birds, some flying to the ground, others to one tree or another. Great communicators they were, and great movers, never staying too long in one place.

The redwing is slightly smaller than the song thrush. It has prominent white eye stripes, and shows red patches upon the flank and under wing.

There was more bird movement, but this time it turned out that a flock of starlings flew up into the hawthorn to join the northern thrushes. Never saw that before, we thought. Perhaps the starlings saw movement, saw birds, and being sociable creatures decided to join them on the tree.

Isn't it great that different colours of birds have learned to live together in peace and quiet.

Coming Events

Monday 24 November - Lisburn Society for the Protection of Birds is having an indoor meeting, Friends Meeting house, at 7.30, where you may learn more about Northern Irish Gulls. More from 4062 6125.

Saturday 29 November - Learn more about the natural benefits of many of our native plants,
loam, and get more details from. Oxford Island, on 3832 2205. Celebrate Tree Week at Portrush Countryside Centre, 12pm, and take your pick from animal rescue, raptors, wildlife wagon, tree dressing and craft, storytelling and competitions. More from DOE 9054 0003.

Monday 1 December - Sounds like an interesting tour of the library at Pinebank, looking at the background and history of the area. Details from Oxford Island, 3832 2205

Monday 15 December - Lisburn RSPB members night at 7.30pm.

Ulster Star