by Paul Cormacain
THE river through Dunmurry coming down from the local mountains has been polluted for something like two years now.
No herons have been seen there for perhaps two years, not by me and not by folk I know who are more frequently in the vicinity than I am.
So it was a pleasant surprise to come across a heron fishing in the river near the road bridge that crosses the river.
The theory is that the river has mended, normal life for the wildlife has resumed, and the heron knows this. Herons are not stupid, you know. So the bird was fishing in the expectation of getting his dinner.
Life is getting more urgent, more hurry-hurry, for the herons in this fair country about now. Already the lady herons are looking at the gent herons, and the gent herons are looking at the lady herons. Heron love is in the air!
These birds live in colonies called heronries, and if everything is in order they will return to the same colony year after year. One heronry I tend to visit each year seems to always remain the same.
This colony is in trees near the County Down coast, is easily accessible and is well known. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why it is such a successful colony. I have only ever come across herons' nests in trees but there can be other places where the herons will build a colony.
On some islands, and on some treeless coasts, herons have been known to build nests in reed beds, and also on sea cliffs. For the birds to survive these spots would have to be pretty remote. With very little in the way of danger, the birds could survive from year to year.
By next month, the female heron could have righted the nest she used last year, and could be laying three to five eggs in the nest. Like I said, they are among our earliest breeders. The male bird would have produced some new nest-building material, and the female would have used this to renovate the nest.
I watched a heron yesterday fishing in the sea. It was off the County Down coast, and the bird was standing in about 30 or 40 cms of water.
Its technique is quite familiar, it just stands motionless until prey comes within reach. Then, in its own good time, it strikes. Invariably it makes a kill.
When bird books get to the heron, the language used can be quite flowery, and the bird is frequently described as "a tall grey sentinel". Very poetic! It also gets described as the "silent killer of the marshes".
If a small fish turns up within striking distance the heron will invariably strike, catch the fish and then swallow it head first. If the fish is a large one, the heron will strike, then take the fish ashore to pick away at its flesh.
If a frog turns up it goes the same way as a small fish. If a small creature like a mouse goes for a swim, or is located ashore, the heron just stabs it with its "pick axe of a bill", then eats it whole. Ruthless, efficient creature.
If you can hang on to March 7th, Oxford Island is having a Herons Ahoy! Day, when you can take a trip to Coney Island to view herons. More details from 3832 2205.
Just thought I would mention snowdrops. Have seen them fully mature in other people's gardens, now in our own garden we have some lovely snowdrops showing themselves off to full advantage. Our changing weather must suit them!
Monday 26 January - Hear Janet Wilson talk about the Wildlife and Culture of Kenya, at Lisburn RSPB at Friends Meeting House, 7.30.
Saturday 31 January - Lough Erne Birdwatching, 10am, contact Wildlife Trust, Dorothy Maher, on 6638 7327.
Saturday 7 February - Swan Watch at Oxford Island, Main, details from 3832 2205.
Sunday 8 February - The Wildlife Trust will teach you all about hedge-laying if you turn up at the Bog Meadows at 10.15, more from Malachy Martin on 4483 0282.