Big thank you from

Celebrating the glory of our wonderful wetlands

by Paul Cormacain

THIS article concerns World Wetlands Day. Since the day is now past, perhaps I should have written this a few weeks ago, but some of the information received had an embargo on it.

Perhaps I should have written about it in general terms, and left out some of the detailed plans which had been embargoed.

World Wetlands Day is a one day celebration, held annually. It celebrates the glory of our wetlands, points out the endless change, and encourages folk to become more involved in the wetlands, and in the general environment.

Many organisations are involved on an international basis in World Wetlands Day.

Not the least of these organisations is the RSPB, who just happen to have a wetland site about five minutes drive from Belfast city centre. It is a great site inside the Belfast Harbour Estate, and the bulkies will let you in if you mention where you are going.

(Bulky is the name by which I used to know harbour police all over the world, although I must say I have not heard the word used for years.)

This Belfast Harbour Reserve has no enemies of wildlife, almost. No people with guns are allowed near it. The birds of prey are naturally occurring. The local foxes were well foxed. They used to invade rare terns' nests, and just loved the fresh eggs, or fresh young birds. Very healthy, you know.

The reserve was so successful at encouraging terns to visit and breed, that something had to be done about the foxes. Otherwise the fox population would have thrived as much as the terns, and would have wrought serious damage on the tern colonies.

The clever people in the Society for the Protection of Birds built islands on the lake for the tern nests, then built a wall around the island. This turned out to be a very clever move, for the terns were much safer, and the foxes just had to get their meals elsewhere.

We were talking about this the other day, when we chanced to look at a tree at the far side of the reserve. What was on this tree but a large buzzard, possibly with a full belly. When he sat there for a long time we figured he was digesting his previous meal. He was also looking at his next meal.

The terns were all off in Nigeria and Ghana, places where I have watched them many a time in our winter, although then we wore only shorts and flip-flops. Warm memories! Get back to the Harbour Reserve, and winter!

So the tern does have enemies. Buzzards are naturally occurring, are not all that common, and would not do enormous damage to a tern colony.

Foxes were learning about terns, and what an easy source of food they represented. Well, the tern builds a nest on the ground, easy for foxes to raid.

Moving and protecting the terns could only be described a good management, and was not in any way anti-fox, just pro-tern.

We saw hundreds of green plovers at the reserve the other day. We also saw four snipe, a bird we tend to see less frequently than previously. There were hundreds of black tailed godwits, and hundreds of black-backed gulls.

The RSPB has many human visitors going to the Harbour Estate Reserve.

It is keen to encourage even more visitors, and welcomes one and all. We drop in at different times of the year, and there are always many birds about.

If it is breeding time, there are always the terns, and many other kinds of birds breeding in bushes, in rushes, on islands, on the shore.

The next time you are in the vicinity, and remember Belfast city centre is vicinity, why not take yourselves along to the reserve.

You are guaranteed to see many birds, in any season, and it will be nothing but a pleasant experience.

Coming Events

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
Anthony McGeehan will talk of Bird Postcards at RSPB Belfast Harbour reserve at 7pm, details from RSPB 9049 1547

Saturday 28 February - Willow Weaving for your garden at l pm, at Oxford Island, phone 3832 2205

Sunday 7 March - Wildlife Trust wants you to roll rip your sleeves, grab a spade, etc at Glendun Tree Nursery, at 11am. More from Malachy Martin on 4483 0282

Ulster Star