Big thank you from

Icelandic redshanks swell the winter flocks

by Paul Cormacain

THE redshank is a common enough bird here. I have known it to nest in the vicinity of Lough 'Neagh, and there are records of it breeding at lakes further south. North east of us, in Scotland, many more of the birds breed, and in winter they tend to come over here to visit us.

Birds from the north of England would also come in the winter, and many of the redshank from Iceland would swell the winter flocks here. So in the breeding season you would be lucky to come across the odd redshank, but in the winter it is easy to see them flocking at suitable eating sites. We saw many of them last week.

The redshank is grey brown with dark marking, lighter in colour below. The most distinctive feature of the bird would be its long bright orange red legs, with a reddish bill dark at the tip. The secondary and inner primary wings are all white, which means that in flight you see much white A similar bird, the greenshank, has long green legs and a long blue grey bill which is slightly upturned. Its rump and under parts are white, and it upper parts are grey coloured darker markings.

While we saw many redshank last week we saw only one greenshank. From past experience this would be about par for the course. The greenshank does not breed here although there is a three decade old record of it breeding further south in County Mayo. It does breed in northern Scotland, but in much smaller number than the redshank. It is believed that the birds which visit here in the winter are Scottish birds.

I had not known it till I looked up a reference book, but it seems that the greenshank was badly oppressed in the past by egg collectors. I used to know many egg collectors, so perhaps it would be better not to go down that road. Now, of course, egg stealing is illegal, and there does not seem be much of an urge to collect eggs. In fact, there are no egg collectors that I know nowadays, although very occasionally there are newspaper reports of some one stealing a rare sort of egg, the egg of a golden eagle or an osprey, for example.

To digress, I have had one report of an osprey in County Down of late, but I could never find any one else who saw the bird. Scottish breeding ospreys pass through Ireland on their migration.

The RSPB, and their southern counterparts, have erected platforms at what are considered suitable locations, to try to tempt the osprey couple who pass by to set up home there. So far, there has been no success, but one of these years I confidently predict that we will have breeding ospreys. Then we will have Scottish visitors coming over here to see our nesting ospreys, and they will look, and be amazed, and take photographs, and say how wonderful it all is.

Every year for the last five years there have been dedicated folk moving around Scotland, and at times they will take a young bird from the nest of a golden eagle. Their actions are heavily supervised and regulated by the Scottish and Irish authorities. The young eagles are brought over to the Gleann Beatha Mountains in Donegal, fed by unseen humans until they are ready to fly, then released into the wild. Food is left out for them every day for a while, then they learn to cope with life in the wilds. They are thriving!

But how do we get the greenshank to breed here? I am not sure that it is necessary, and would be quite happy to see the odd visiting Scottish bird. Apart from the few Scottish birds, the greenshank breeds in Scandinavia, then eastwards the whole length of Europe and Asia. That looks to me like a healthy number of greenshank, and I do not think we should interfere. (The golden eagle used to breed in Ireland, both north and south, but it was humans who persecuted it to extinction. So it is quite right for folk to reintroduce a bird that other folk drove out.)

So please keep an eye open this week for ospreys, and do not be too disappointed if you do not see one. Keep an eye open for the golden eagle, and jump for joy if you see one. There have been a few reports of them along the north coast. If you go to the shore this week, you are almost guaranteed to see redshank. Rejoice if you do! The greenshank is just possible at this time of the year, and they should be around most of our coastline. Enjoy!


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 - The Wildlife Trust is hosting Christmas Crafts at the College, Stranmilis College, at 13:30. For more phone 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

Saturday 4th December - RSPB is having an Open Day and Christmas Fair at the Belfast Harbour Reserve. details from 028 90491547

Sunday 5th December - Help the Wildlife Trust have a successful International Volunteers' Day at Glenarm. details from Malachy, on 028 4483 0282.

Ulster Star