by Paul Cormacain
DO what do I see last week but a queen wasp in the house. After writing about a queen bee recently, this wasp must have been getting vibes. Or perhaps the house was too hot. But where had she been since autumn, and why come out at this time?
The day was very mild, with no wind and occasional sunshine. I wasn't too sure what to do about the wasp, but she wanted out into the mild, great outdoors which beckoned. So I eventually caught her, wrapped her up loosely in a tissue and told her not to be afraid. I released her outside and off she flew, unafraid.
If she had stayed in the house she might return to hibernation, or she might fret and keep flying into windows as she attempted to get out. If she were outside, the theory goes, she has time to look around for a new home for this year. (Well, a pair of blackbirds built a nest in a Christmas tree, in Cork, and proceeded to lay eggs.)
If the day turned colder, the queen could seek out a hole in which to crawl to hibernate again. She could then possibly use that hole as a nest site later on.
Either way, she might be lucky and survive. If she stayed in the house she would only worry herself to death for not being able to get out. Getting her out of the house seemed the best thing to do.
We keep going to the coast to see the migrants, and the variety seems to be endless. Of note last week was a great nor-them diver, and we came across a flock of over fifty shelduck feeding at low water nearby.
We tend not to see the diver in summer, but during the winter it visits our coastal waters to relax and to eat. Our three main divers would be the great northern, red throated, and black throated, and they may all be seen during the winter.
If you are very lucky you may see the red throated diver in summer, for they breed in very small numbers here, but further north in Scotland they are more common. Not common, just more common!
The great northern diver is a very heavy bird with a very large, strong, beak. You could nearly identify him by the beak. The divers all change their plumage in the winter, each with dark black-greyish top bodies, and white to grey-white underparts. Then the beak is particularly good at helping identification.
The red's bill is slightly upturned. The great has a very large bill, as mentioned, and the black has normal sized bill pointing ahead. Our great northern diver had a very large bill. He was quite close to shore, he fished intermittently, and he did not seem to mind the few bird watchers having a look at him.
The shelduck were a few kilometres away on a flat beach. Here the water was partly out, and large expanses of sand, and some water, was visible, and attractive to these birds.Co
Some of the shelduck were on the sand, some were paddling in shallow water. Some were taking a wee break, others were on the lookout for food. It is a safe bet that the ones not looking for food would be looking in the near future!
The shelduck can not decide whether it is a duck or a goose. Some books call it a duck, others say it is a cross between a goose and a duck. My safe way out is to say it is our largest duck but it acts like a goose!
The resting birds were, well, resting. The foraging birds were after molluscs, insects, crustaceans, and they were retrieving them from the wet sand, and also from shallow water. While they make like a crab or shrimp, they will also indulge in the occasional mouthful of vegetable matter.
What a good healthy diet for a beautiful bird!
Saturday 7 February - SwanWatch at Oxford Island, loam, details from 3832 2205.
Sunday 8 February - The Wildlife Trust will teach you all about hedgelaying, if you turn up at the Bog Meadows at 10.15, more from Malachy Martin on 4483 0282
Monday 23 February - Jill McAdam will talk about Wildlife of the Falklands, and for that you can go along to the Lisburn RSPB meeting at Friends' Meeting House at 7.30. More details from David on 4062 6125
Saturday 28 February - Willow Weaving for your garden at 1 pm, at Oxford Island, phone 3832 2205