Big thank you from

Deer, deer - it used to be the badger now it's something else

by Paul Cormacain

I read in a paper printed not a million miles from here that there is a scare/ allegation that deer may be linked to the spread of bovine TB.

It used to be the poor badger that got the blame for this disease, until very recent investigations proclaimed that the badger is not the culprit, and had been badly maligned. Some folk will still blame the badger.

According to Farm ' Week, the Irish Deer Society want a national census for deer. As of fifteen years ago there were deer in only six of the southern counties. Now every county, north and south, has deer. This is mostly good news, but some farmers in the south have complained about the increase in deer numbers. And according to some sources deer have been linked to the possible spread of bovine TB. I know this sounds somewhat vague, but we owe it to ourselves, our cattle, and our deer to investigate further.

Had another interesting item from a reader near Lisburn. You know how the weather has been mild to very mild, although by the time you read this we may have cold and snow? But while the weather is still mild, what turns up the other day but a queen bee, and very close at that.

You will know how the queen becomes impregnated in the late summer, all the workers and drones die off, and the lonely queen takes herself off to a wee hidey-hole to hibernate throughout the winter. Well, the lack of cold worked on this queen, and she eventually thought, "this is spring". So she slowly came out of a deep sleep, and woke up.

In the spring, it is the role of the queen to wake up, to go out and about and look for a suitable nest site. That will be the spot for the new nest, the spot where the queen will lay her eggs which she has been carrying since last year, the spot where she will live out her life.

Now if a queen comes out of hibernation in January, somebody better tell her quickly that it is still winter, and she should go back into hibernation again.

What happens to a queen like this I do not know. I suspect it may be difficult for them to re-hibernate, but can find out no more about it. I hope she survives the winter, and has a happy life later in the year.

Enough of flying insects, what about some flying birds? Swimming birds? Diving birds? Well the eider does all three very well, not to mention having an historic connection in the making of eider down quilts.

It was off the north Down coast that we came across five eider last week. One was a male, the other four were female, and they were sticking together because it is in their nature to be sociable in the winter. Come the spring they may start looking at each other and asking "would that one diving make me a good partner?"

For now, it is all gregariousness and friendship. This friendship would be more normal much further north, for the eider is more an Arctic bird than an Irish sea bird. But these birds may be seen off Down, Antrim, and Donegall. Across the water they mostly live off Scotland.

The male is a large black and white creature, and will nearly always be observed in the water. The female, as is usual in these cases, is a much duller brown creature, more difficult to observe if she is on the nest.

Some birds can be found here all the year round. You should keep an eye open for them the next time you are near the sea. Small numbers do breed here, lining the nest with eider down, would you believe?

The thing is, I cannot recollect ever finding an eider nest. Perhaps you will be more lucky!

Coming Events

Saturday 31 January - Lough Erne Birdwatching, 10am, contact Wildlife-Trust, Dorothy Maher, on 6638 7327.

Saturday 7 February - Swan Watch at Oxford Island, loam, details from 3832 2205.

Sunday 8 February - The Wildlife Trust will teach you all about hedgelaying, if you turn up at the Bog Meadows at 10.15, more from Malachy Martin on 4463 0282

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

Ulster Star