Big thank you from

Wonderful wildlife at Strangford

by Paul Cormacain

IT was time for another trip to Strangford Lough so we headed there on the Monday. It was quiet, calm, dry, with no sign of panic on the roads or in the water.

The oyster catcher is a great bird, and it uses instant recognition signs by way of its bright Colouring, or its distinctive call, or both. But the birds were quieter than usual and were not as high-profile. I suspect domesticity has set in.

The oyster catcher is a fair sized bird, over 40 cms in size. It is black and white, has long pink legs and a long orange bill. It is usually instantly recognisable. And once you know its call it is instantly recognisable, even if you only hear it and don't see it.

Once the lady and gent oyster catchers get married, they go around making scrapes on the ground. Then the lady picks one scrape, says 'this is a good scrape', and commences to line it with shells and pebbles, and sometimes goes mad and adds a few flowers. It is virtually invisible.

The lady lays two or three eggs in April or May, then both parents incubate for about a month. This could throw some light on the apparent scarceness of the bird at the moment, for half the birds Could be sitting on eggs, or could even be feeding the young.

We did not see any young, but then they can be very difficult to see.

The nest of the ouster catcher is very difficult to find, the eggs of this bird blend in beautifully with the background and the young know to lie motionless when there is danger.

So we seldom see eggs, nests or young.

In the breeding season the adults are also difficult to see. The rest of the year the oyster catcher is ubiquitous, especially with foreign birds joining us for the winter holidays.

The red-breasted merganser may be seen on Strangford Lough, although it is not on every visit that we would see one.

The male of the species is a fine fellow, multi-coloured and handsome. He has a dark green head with a double crest, a chestnut breast, with a grey and white back.

The female of the species is a much drabber creature, dark brown and grey, and with a white bar on the wing.

This duck makes the nest by lining leaves and down in a well-screened hollow in thick vegetation, lays the eggs, incubates the eggs and looks after the duckling on her own.

The male hangs around with the boys, and they all congratulate themselves on what fine fellows they are, and isn't it great that the ladies are all so busy!

That great traveller who comes here every year from Arctic Canada, the brent goose, was nowhere to be seen.

They arrived here last autumn to escape the harsh winter and to get something to eat, and have now headed back northwest to Canada, in time for the breeding season.

There were some gulls about Strangford Lough that day. A few common gulls put in an appearance, although they have things on their mind about now.

Even as you read this paper, the common gulls may be laying their eggs. The name is badly given for this gull is anything but common. Then there were herring gulls - large, noisy, aggressive, successful birds. Their success is in part due to the fact that they will even eat the young of their own kind.

They will also eat anything else they come across, even mastering the art of dropping shellfish onto rocks to crack them open for eating.

Many other birds frequent the Lough at this time of year. Why not visit it yourself, and have a good time looking at the wildlife?

Coming Events

Sunday 1 June - A sea trip around some cliffs at Islandmagee at 11am. Contact Andrew Upton, Wildlife Trust, 4483 0282.

Saturday 7 June - Butterfly Conservation goes on the search for the marsh fritillary in County Down. Full details from Ian Rippey on 3833 3927

Sunday 8 June - World Ocean Day. Check the activities in Castle Espie, phone 9187 4146.

Thursday 12 June - Meander through the Montiaghs, 6.30, learning about its wildlife and history. Details from Oxford Island on 3832 2205

Saturday 14 June - Wildlife Trust invites you to spend the evening at Lagan Meadows, at 7pm, to admire the wildlife, details from Malachy Martin, 4483 0282.

Ulster Star