Big thank you from

An unexpected insect sighting on dry land is a special treat

by Paul Cormacain

 I CHANCED upon a common bluet last week. This is a common insect, and it is perhaps better known as the common blue damselfly. This particular creature was a male, but what was a trifle unusual was the fact that it was not near water.

You always associate these creatures with water, and I don't remember ever seeing one except beside water. A dam, a river, a lake, anything would do as long as it had some water.

It does have a preference in actual fact. It is widespread and abundant here, and it seems to prefer large ponds and lakes. They often swarm over open water far from the shore. This would not include Cedar Avenue, which is where I saw him, but the Waterworks is still a good bit away.

The common bluet is one of the most abundant and widespread odonates in the world. I should say that the word "odonate" is the preferred scientific word for dragonflies and damselflies. I should also say that much of my up-to-date information on these creatures comes from a new book by Brian Nelson and Robert Thompson, a wonderful book called "Ireland's Dragonflies", which in passing I have to thoroughly recommend.

So much for the commercial! Now for the bluet! It is usually about 32 mm long, and is a stocky and robust insect.

It tends to be very gregarious, which does not quite fit in with a single male in Cedar Avenue. The mature males are patterned sky blue and black, while the lady bluets can come in blue, or brown, or green. In the larval stage, these insects look very "funny". They are slender, but coming out of the rear are leafshaped appendices. So you then have to ask yourself the question, "is this an insect or a plant?"

So we went to Port Mor reserve to see more of these bluets, as this area is getting quite a reputation for dragonflies and damselflies. One of our rarer birds is rather common at Port Mor.

The tree sparrow, quite a rare bird here, can be seen in numbers as soon as you arrive at Port Mor. Some of these sparrows can be seen near Strangford Lough, and there are more on the north coast, but it hard to come across them. At the reserve, however, there are many of these sparrows, easily visible. It is well worth a visit.

As well as dragonflies, damselflies, and tree sparrows, another bird is now known to be there in substantial numbers. That bird is the reed warbler. "Substantial" for reed warblers means perhaps half a dozen, but it is difficult to know exactly just how many birds there are.

One book I have says there are some visiting reed warblers in the south of England, with a few in Wales, but none in Scotland and Ireland. Another book says that the reed warbler is unlikely to be seen in Ireland, and that it is a rare migrant.

The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ireland and Britain is even more specific. The reed warbler comes into Britain in the south east part of England, most of the birds are in the south east. When the birds leave in the autumn they tend to follow their incoming route, and while a few birds make it as far as Wales, but according to the book none reach Ireland.

The reed warblers at Port Mor have not read the Breeding Atlas, so they turned up near Lough Neagh anyway. The RSPB is feeling very proud, and is hoping that the birds will return next year, and the following year, and every other year. They are hoping that the bird will become as common here as it is further east into Europe, and even beyond into Iran.

It has to be said that it is difficult to see the reed warbler. You are more liable to hear them! The reed warbler can be the victim of cuckoos, it has been found in England, so the RSPB is going to ban cuckoos from Port Mor. Well, it is a good idea!

If the reed warbler breeds successfully, the best way to see the bird is by watching it bring food to the young. You can thank the effort made to encourage the birds here, and hope it will be successful in the long term, and I do hope that you manage to see one of these birds. But do be careful when you are close to the birds!

Ulster Star