by Paul Cormacain
TRAVELLING around the countryside at this tune of year is so markedly different from say, travelling around in the spring.
Different types of birds fill the air. Gone are the swallows, gone are the warblers. Geese and swans from northern parts have arrived. Northern waders are there in abundance. I have not seen any northern thrushes yet, but there must be loads of them somewhere. They frequently form in great flocks, so sometimes if you see one you see ten thousand.
A few reports have come in that there are waxwings in Deny, Fermanagh and Donegal. So keep an eye open for these rare visitors when you are out and about. They could turn up anywhere.
Now that hedges and trees are becoming more bare, it is possible to see that most small nests are gone. They have been blown away, trampled underfoot or overgrown. More substantial nests tend to remain, especially those which are built communally, or when birds use the same nest for years. Birds like rooks would come into this category, and herons likewise. Raptors nests tend to be large and substantial, and they can now be seen more clearly. One of the more enduring and long lasting nests would belong to the magpie.
Having said that, there is always the exception to the rule. A magpie nest in a neighbour's garden, which I watched being built, has now nearly disintegrated. Enough leaves have fallen for the nest to be clearly visible, and I am surprised that the nest is in such poor shape. The more usual magpie nest would be solid now. I suppose this reflects the character of the bird. It is hard, tough and aggressive, a natural survivor. It is more liable to scold a cat than any other bird.
The first arrival of magpies in Ireland is recorded.
It happened in 1676. A flock of about one dozen magpies was over in England. A severe storm blew up. The wind came from the east, and the exhausted birds were blown across the Irish Sea and landed on the coast of Wexford, totally worn out. In 1684 an English settler Robert Leigh, wrote that "about eight years ago, there landed in these parts.... a parcel of magpies that now breed."
Jonathan Swift was aware of the presence of magpies. On July 9th in 1711, he wrote that "magpies have always been there (Wexford) and nowhere else in Ireland till of late years." You could say from all this that folk are aware of magpies!
Like to learn some more interesting statistics about the bird? This is from research done in Dublin. Each pair of Dublin magpies lays 5.7 eggs. How do you lay .7 of an egg? From these eggs, 3.61 chicks hatch. 2.1 of these birds survive to leave the nest. Not many folk know these facts!
The magpie is a very well known bird, and has a very distinctive appearance. Its distinctive plumage, which helps to make it easily recognisable, is a contrasting black and white. It has a long wedge shaped tail. It can be a harsh bird, and will steal eggs from nests, and indeed it will eat young birds. But then, so do many raptors and sea birds.
Are you still absorbing information about magpies? Well, here is the last bit, and it is geared mainly at the linguists among you. In Scottish the magpie is 'pioghaid', and in Irish the name is 'snag breac'. And don't forget to keep an eye open for the waxwings!
Saturday 13th November - Wildlife Trust Hedgelaying Competition. Phone Victoria Meredith, on 028 4483 0282, for more info. Open day on RSPB reserve on Lough Foyle, call 028 9049 1547 for more details.
Tuesday 16th November - At Lagan Valley Island Arts Centre, 19:30, "Playing With The Elements", phone Catherine on 028 9038 3152 for details.
Sunday 21st November - Oxford Island is organising a Visit to the Summit Level of the Lagan Canal, starting at Moira Rail Station at 14:30, more from 028 3832 2205
Monday 22nd November - Hear Jim Wells on Irish raptors in Friends' Meeting House, Lisburn, at 19:30, more from 028 9266 1982.
Saturday 27th November - Help the Wildlife Trust have a successful International Volunteers' Day at Glenarm, details from Malachy on 028 4483 0282.
Wednesday 1st December - Belfast Parks and the Irish Garden Plant Society will be holding a lecture on the Glasnevin Central China Expedition 2002, in Malone House at 19:30. Details from Catherine on 028 9038 3152.