Big thank you from

The small bird with the aggressive character

by Paul Cormacain

TWO goldcrests were entangled together, and they fell in a noisy heap at our feet.

Perhaps they were fighting over a lady goldcrest, for the brief look at them seemed to show they were both males.

Perhaps they had had been inspecting nest sites, one bird decided he had found the perfect spot and the other came along to challenge him.

Life can be hard for goldcrests, as it can be for any birds. Little things like partners, nests, eggs, young, can all assume a major significance. It is a bit like human neighbours rowing over the height of a common hedge.

Goldcrests are our smallest bird, with the proviso that if long tailed tits did not have a tail then they would be our smallest bird. Small, yes, but also aggressive, for they have been known to scold humans, coming very close to them.

This happens if the bird thinks that humans constitute a threat to the nest or young.

The goldcrest nest is usually built in a conifer, and it is slung under a branch like a hammock. Unusual to look at, but when you examine one closely you will even more appreciate the construction, with a comfortable home made from spiders' webs, moss and feathers. And of course it is a very small home, but you can see them in the breeding season.

These particular birds were in conifer country, in Hillsborough Forest. They are quite common there, as indeed are many other types of birds, flowers and trees, not to mention the humans out for a spell of exercise and fresh air.

In fact, the area is one of the best utilised spots for recreation in the country.

Then there was the other extreme of size. There were dozens of mute swans, looking as gracious and invincible as ever. They are always a delight to see. Dozens of lake and river birds were out and about, and many of them could be bribed to come quite close with the promise of food.

Very many folk who visit the forest bring some scraps for the birds. The birds are very used to this. Sometimes you only have to approach the water's edge to have wild birds swimming towards you in the expectation of getting some free lunch.

Sea birds enjoy Hillsborough Forest also. Many black headed gulls were there, looking resplendent in their breeding attire. The spring black colour of their heads was looking very prominent and refreshing.

A certain amount of flirting between the lads and lasses gulls was going on. Hurray for spring, and love!

We had nearly circumnavigated the lake before we noticed the other sea birds in the vicinity. They were very large, very prominent, very numerous, but we did not expect to see cormorants in trees, and had neglected to look up.

I suppose we were too busy watching swans, ducks, waterhens, coots, gulls on the water, that we at first messed the cormorants on a tree in the middle of the island.

We counted the cormorants. There were nineteen of them, large reptilian creatures in appearance, associated with the sea. The books say that they come inland to river, lakes and reservoirs to feed, at times. These birds are supposed to be non-breeding, but I cannot accept that these creatures were all bachelors and spinsters.

Four types of duck were out in numbers on the lake. They were mallard, tufted duck, pochard and teal. Then there were the grebes, coots, waterhens, and swans as mentioned.

Away from the lake were many forest birds, as well as the goldcrest. We usually see some raptors about Hillsborough, but none that day.

If you have not been to the forest recently, why not take a wee trip there, get yourself some fresh air,some exercise, and admire the trees, the water and the birds, and some flowers. Highly recommended!

Coming Events

Saturday 17 April - What about an outward bound walk along the Newry Canal? Different walks, details from 9050 9550

Saturday 24 April - A walk with Anthony McGeehan through the RSPB reserve in the Belfast Harbour Estate, more from RSPB on 9049 1547
If an early start appeals, Dawn Chorus at 6am, Oxford Island, more from 3832 2205.
What about the last bird ringing event of the season, Wildlife Trust Centre, Crossgar? Call them on 4483 0282

Monday 26 April - Lisburn RSPB AGM, plus George Gilliland on Rathlin. More from John Scott, 9260 1864.

Ulster Star