Big thank you from

Local swans decide to take a `year out'

by Paul Cormacain 11/06/2004

 RECENTLY had a report of ten swans turning up unexpectedly on a small lake. A strange sort of thing to happen when the breeding season is in full swing, so I thought a visit would do no harm. They were all indigenous birds, all mute swans with no foreign northern visitors among them, and all in mature plumage.

It was too early for this year's new birds, and in any case their colouring would have been different. They did not look like big ten-year-old adults, so I could only deduce that they were last year's broods.

When the adult swans have their brood reared, and are ready to go into production again for the following year's brood, they chase off the previous year's young. These swans are less then a year old, are not children, so to speak, but are by no means adults. Obviously, a few families' youngsters got together, decided to spend the next year in what students would call 'a year out'.

So one day they landed on this small remote lake,-and the incident was reported to me. I went and had a look, formed my own theory about the birds, and you have just read the theory. Does it sound plausible?

Adult swan pairs will all have eggs or young by now, well mostly voting, as all eggs should be hatched by now. They tend to have about five to seven eggs, the female laying them on a large platform which she had built, with the male supplying the building material. They will jealously guard the nest against all intruders.

Dogs will be dispatched, likewise foxes, and I have seen the swan adults chasing off human adults. I would not like to be in the line of fire if a pair of swans decided that I was too close to their nest, and it was time for me to go.

When swans are not rearing a family, they can become very comfortable in the company of humans. They would almost feed from your hand. I have often wondered if the Whooper swan is as tame in Russia as the mute is here. Anyone know?

The way Ian Rippey is getting information on butterfly and moth sightings augurs well for lepidoptera in the future. Different types of insects have thrived and numbers dived in the past, and the more information we have the more we can help these creatures. So keep up the quality and quantity of these sightings, and please continue to report them to Butterfly Conservation.

I came across some very interesting larvae last week, but am still without a positive ID. They were large and long, about 8cms long, which is a lot of cms. There were a number of them about, so I collected some and put them in a large box. I secured the box, added some local growth to make the caterpillars feel at home, awaited the arrival of Bob Aldwell who was due the next day.

Bob would be one of the foremost experts on lepidoptera, so naturally I was hoping his visit would clarify the type of common creature I had found. While  had left the box in a secure place, I was not going to lock the larvae inside.

Checking at regular intervals during the day, I found the creatures quite at home in their new box. They moved about a bit, but did not depart. They came to the top of the box, then went back in again. Great, I thought! When Bob arrived, the creatures had all disappeared.

To make up for the loss of my pet larvae, Bob showed me some larvae of the six spot burnet. Had I been very observant I would have spotted them myself, but nothing beats having an expert about the place! Then he showed me the larva of the holly blue. Then he showed me a holly blue egg.

The holly blue has been reported to Ian Rippey, but not too many of them. The consensus is that there may be more about than meets the eye, or we may perhaps see thetas and mistake them for something else. I certainly am very conscious of them, am forever on the lookout for them, but to my knowledge have never seen a holly blue!

It is great to have an expert about from time to time, but for my sins I have now been told to be on the lookout for dark green fritillaries.

Coming Events

Saturday June 26 - Wildlife Watch Fun Day at Delamont, details from Wildlife Trust on 028 4483 0282. Try a boat tri p on Lough Erne to view the waders, 1400, phone RSPB on 028 9049 1547 for more.

Saturday July 3 - Wildflower Event on Oxford Island, 10:00, sounds great, contact them on 028 3832 2205.

Sunday July 4 - At midday, Crawfordsburn Country Park. explore the flowers and butterflies in the meadow, contact 028 9185 3621. Mammal Weekend at Peatlands Park, at 13:00, phone the Environment folk on 028 3885 1102

Saturday July 24 - Butterfly Outing to the Umbra, Castlerock, 11:00, with Bob Leslie, more information from Butterfly Conservation on 028 9079 6979. Open Day at Portmor Lough, more from RSPB on 028 90491547.

Ulster Star