Big thank you from

In the trail of the lonesome bird

by Paul Cormacain

IT was a nice, bright, dry, Sunday morning. One could lie in bed, or one could go for a walk on the Lagan Towpath. One went walking.

It was not yet 9.30, but there were cyclists out and about on the towpath. Men cyclists only, not a woman cyclist in sight. We wondered if there was some convention or custom whereby the gentlemen went out early, and the ladies went out later.

Then we came across other walkers. Guess what? They were also male, not a female in sight, and again we wondered if the girls were not allowed out too early in the morning.

Next we came across some runners, and, well, then we looked at the birds of the feathered variety. A pair of woodpigeons, sat on a nearby tree, decided we did not represent a threat, and allowed us to look at them.

This type of bird is our largest pigeon and it is also the most widespread.

It is to be found in fields, in woods, in parks, and we have them in the garden every day. I think they must visit most gardens.

If you use the word dove, this may be our largest dove but it has a comparatively small head. It has conspicuous white wing flashes and overall its plumage is soft grey. It has a sheen of pink and green on the head and breast, with white marks on the side of the neck. Its grey tail has a thick dark band on the end.

So if you look at a pair of woodpigeons, as we were doing, they can look quite dull and unattractive. Then a flash of sunshine touches them and they can look absolutely lovely. Or they move a little, and a great variation of colour occurs.

The two doves we were watching decided to move off and in an instant they transformed from dull-looking birds into wonderfully-coloured birds.

A few metres on along the towpath we heard a familiar sound. Looking up into a tree we saw a solitary long-tailed tit. This is unlike any other creature, especially unlike other tits, for its body is the smallest body of any tit, and it tail, as its name suggests, is apparently far too long for its body.

The tail is much longer than the body. And in the winter tire bodies get together for protection and warmth, and here was this bird all alone.

The colour scheme of the long-tailed tit is crimson-pink, black and white. There are conspicuous black and white head stripes, and the outer edges of the tail are white. The bird needs company in the winter. I have yet to see a solitary long-tailed tit before this sighting. You may only see four or five birds together, or you may see many more. You can find them in company with other types of tits, and I have seen them with other birds like goldcrests and finches. But never on their own.

I felt its call was slightly distressed. I felt it was saying, "where are my friends?" We stopped for a time to watch it, and listen to it. It carried on as normal, even if tire cry was slightly distressed.

Acrobatically it searched for food, at one moment upright, the next upside down.

Then we walked on, and a short distance away we came across a normal winter flock of long-tailed tits. They were calling to each other, their way of maintaining contact, and they would normally be on one tree at a time. Then one would move to the next tree, followed by the others one by one, continually communicating, continually on the move, continually on the look-out for food.

Then we decided the birds were moving in the direction of the lost, lonely one. We stayed to watch. Sure enough, the flock eventually reached the tree that held the lone bird, he became very excited, calling "hello" to each one of them, and rejoining them in a very happy frame of mind.

I meant to write about the noisy robins, sorry, the singing robins. They seemed very common, and very happy. There were many blackbirds, many thrushes, magpies, finches, crows, runners, cyclists, but no ladies. Except the one with me!

Coming Events Sunday 11 January - The Wildlife Trust is looking for volunteers to help clear scrub that is invading the grassland at Milford Cutting near Armagh. Anyone out there game enough, or strong enough? If so call Malachy Martin on 4483 0282

Saturday I, January - Box-building for birds, bats, bees, at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre. Why not phone them on 3832 2205.

Monday 26 January - Hear Janet Wilson talk about the Wildlife and Culture of Kenya, at Lisburn RSPB at Friends Meeting House, 7.30.

Ulster Star