by Paul Cormacain
THE Quoile, at Downpatrick, has always been a delightful spot for a walk, and if you can get good weather there is no place to beat it. We walked something over three miles there last week, and it was magic.
Where we approached the water there were about half a dozen fishermen and they set the relaxing theme. Well, they were fishing, but not very strenuously.
One guy had left his bait box out, sitting on the wall, and the food in it was attracting birds to come along for a wee picnic. I got the impression he was as much interested in watching the birds as he was in catching fish.
Roach and perch and pike and eels were all available for the catching. Now, if we lived in the real Europe, spent Euro, and spoke a couple of languages, we would be dead keen on getting our hands on any of these fish. But because we live in the idyllic outskirts of Europe we tend not to be interested in these fish. Did you know, for example, that virtually all the eels caught in Lough Neagh are exported to Europe?
We have managed, a few times over the years, to acquire Lough Neagh eels with which to make a superb dinner. But mostly these eels are not seen here. They just pass through. In the same manner, coarse fish caught here tend to be dumped back into the water, whereas in Europe they would be dumped onto the pan!
Then I could go on about fungi. But instead, I will go on about the swans in the Quoile. They were mostly in pairs, but then they do mate for life. Just like humans, I hear you say!
There was a group of immature swans, seven or eight in all, who kept to themselves. At this stage, the parents would have told last year's young that it is about time to go out into the big bad world and make their own way. So the young have left the family grouping.
The adult swans were very active. Normally, they spend the time drifting around, picking at food here and there, and wondering about next year's holidays. But they were pattering along the surface, taking off to fly away on some very important business. Or they were pattering along the surface, landing, after having been away on some very important business.
Even more dramatic were the golden eyes. These birds are regular visitors to Scotland and Ireland during the winter. They come for the food and the 'mild' weather. Then in 1931 a pair bred in England, not a million miles from Liverpool. The following year a pair, perhaps the same pair, nested in a rabbit burrow in Cheshire. Goldeneyes normally nest in holes in trees.
Then in 1970, and subsequently, breeding pairs were discovered in Scotland, with the occasional English sighting, and it is now acknowledged that the bird is a Scottish breeder.
I know folk here who put up nesting boxes for the goldeneye. I have not yet heard of any breeding birds, but it is just possible that there might be the odd pair breeding here.
Dozens of goldeneye were on the Quoile. They were very easy to see, and a delight to the eye, and are well worth a visit if you happen to be in the vicinity. And if not, why not go and see them anyway?
There were mallard on the Quoile. Some of them were in an amorous mood and were looking forward to the patter of tiny webbed feet. Only the mother would not dive, however, for papa mallard takes himself off and lets mama mallard get on with nesting and rearing.
Herons nest in the vicinity, and they were certainly in evidence on the Quoile. At intervals you could see a bird cruising along looking for a good spot to fish. Chances are that the herons will now have eggs to tend, and hatch, for they are one of our earliest breeders.
Why not take a walk along the Quoile Basin and have a look at some fascinating birds. Cannot guarantee the weather, but we had bright sunshine all the time!
14 March - Quoile Centre, bird watching for beginners and their families, 2pm, details from 4461 5520
Monday 29 March - Anthony McGeehan will talk about the seabirds off our coast, at 7prn, at RSPB hide in Belfast Harbour, more from RSPB on 9049 1547
Saturday 3 April - Julian Greenwood will talk about back guillemots to Belfast RSPB, details from Ron Houston 9079 6188
12 April - Why not go along to the egg-stravaganza at Scrabo Country Park, 3pm, more from 9181 1491