by Paul Cormacain
WE went to another place on the south coast last week. It is a spot easy to access, just a short distance south-west of Newcastle. The air was exhilarating, the rain stayed off, the exercise was good, and the wildlife was not too bad.
Oystercatchers were there in noisy numbers. These birds can usually be found in coastal areas in the winter. They gather in large numbers on both rocky and muddy shores, and sometimes they congregate in very large numbers in some of our estuaries.
On the beach near Annalong were lapwings and curlews, two of out most common waders with large numbers overwintering here. The lapwing breeds all over the island, and in winter we get more birds sampling our hospitality, having flown in from Britain and Europe.
I have to say I love the call of the curlew, always associating it with happy childhood days in the country at the Rock, Leathamstown and Bohill. Many curlews pass through travelling further south in the autumn, having come from colder climes. Then in the spring we get a new increase in numbers as these same birds pass through again, this time heading back north.
We were able to get close enough to both these types of birds to be able to see the more distinctive features. The curlew is a long-legged bird, but it is its bill that stands out, so to speak. It is very large, and curves downwards. The black and white lapwing has peculiarly rounded wings, but close-up its tall head plume is most distinctive and noticeable.
Cormorants swam offshore. A small number of wigeon swam close to the shore, allowing us a good view of this attractive bird. The occasional pair will nest on the island of Ireland, but most of the wigeon we see here are winter visitors.
The male of the species, as is usually the case, is the eye-catching bird. It is largely grey, and has a reddish-brown head. The buff forehead mark is an outstanding feature, making the bird easy to identify. The lady bird looks good too, with a rich brown plumage and a rounded head shape.
These birds can be found far inland. They will likely be grazing in local fields, taking to rivers and lakes in between feeding. Our birds mostly live in Iceland, or north-east Europe, and are happy to come here for the winter. Many folk would be happy if these lovely birds stayed.
Lough Neagh is well inland, and you will usually see goldeneye there in the winter. We saw some of these northern visitors in the sea near Annalong, and they after travelling from northern Europe to be with us. This is another handsome bird, with the male appearing black and white in the distance, both in the water and in the air. Only when close-up can you see the odd head shape, and the white spot near the bill. Yet another lovely duck, which only comes to see us in summer.
There were other waders and ducks on the south Down coast that day. Some we saw in the distance, and could not be completely sure of identification.
It is a lovely part of the world, deserved to be cherished and protected, but should also be visited at intervals so that we can see how lucky we are. Why not take a wee trip down, now and in the spring and summer and autumn?
Saturday 17th January - Box-building for birds, bats, bees, at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. Why not phone them on 3832 2205.
Monday 26th January - Hear Janet Wilson talk about the Wildlife and Culture of Kenya, at Lisburn RSPB at Friends Meeting House, 19:30.
Saturday 31st January - Lough Erne Birdwatching, 10:00, contact Wildlife Trust, Dorothy Maher, on 028 6638 7327.
Saturday 7th February - SwanWatch at Oxford Island, 10:00, details from 028 3832 2205.