by Paul Cormacain
WE managed to keep coming across sandpipers, and they were always in a noisy mood.
The first one was down by the seaside, in a quiet location, no visitors, lovely scenery. I tend to associate the common sandpiper with small lakes and quiet rivers, and it took me a while to realise that there was a small river flowing through the rocks of the coast. So although we saw the sandpiper on the coast, he was actually living on the banks of a stream.
The common sandpiper is a grand traveller. It breeds in Europe and Asia, but its wintering headquarters is in Africa, or even in Australia. For breeding purposes, sandpipers come to the south of England as early as the end of March. They would not arrive in the north of Ireland until April or even May.
There were actually two birds on the beach, presumably a male and female as the sexes are identical. They were scolding us for getting too close. They were warning the young not to move when the human invaders were in the neighbourhood. We did not see any young sandpipers that day, but that was put down to the ability to "freeze", and remain motionless for as long as the parents were telling them to. I remember one year encountering some young. I went off to get a camera, returned in a few minutes, but never saw the creatures again. The parents just told them to freeze, which they did very successfully, and I just could not manage to sight them again.
The next pair of sandpipers seen were living on the shore of a couple of square kilometres lake. I was looking for butterflies and dragonflies at the time, and would not even have noticed them but they opened their big mouths and starting protesting at my presence. I had just sighted a very large dragonfly, and was getting ready to take notes on its appearance. I think it was the largest dragonfly I had ever seen, with a large body at least ten centimetres long, and a wingspan which I think was even larger.
The sandpiper flew off shore to a small island, and harangued me from there. The mate was on down the shore some metres away, and I felt that the two birds were taking turns at shouting at me, and presumably telling the kids to freeze. I did not see any young. When I tried to get details fo the large dragonfly, he or she had disappeared into thin air. I was tempted to shout back at the sandpipers.
To digress .... We have a young at heart visitor from South Africa, and we took Rosaleen to the Dixon Park to see the roses. The roses are quite fantastic, you should try a visit there soon. Among the roses we saw an iguana, perhaps nearly a metre long. No, I did not have a lunch time brandy. The story is even more simple. The couple who had the iguana acquired it about six years ago. It is indigenous to central America, is a vegetarian, and if I met it in Venezuela I would run a mile.
Back to the sandpipers. I came across more birds further along the coast, and again the parents were taking turns to scold me. Not having seen any young, and wanting to see some young, I lay down, partly hidden, and did not move. I must have lain that way for perhaps a quarter of an hour. The scolding stopped. I looked towards the birds, and to and behold, there was a young sandpiper being tended by a parent. I watched for a time, but never saw more than one young at any given time. They usually have four young, and I did not think that they would have lost three of them. Perhaps their curious nature did not allow them to expose all the young at one time. Perhaps they had to take turns at hiding, and moving about.
If you come across a common sandpiper, it will likely be near a small lake or river. If the parent thinks you are getting too close, or too dangerous, it may employ the trick of pretending to have a broken wing. It then moves away very slowly, encouraging you to follow. When it gets you far enough from, for example, its eggs, it then flies off in a perfectly normal way and laughs at you.
Great birds, common sandpipers.
With the weather somewhat variable, the butterflies do not appear to be as plentiful as they were a week or so ago. Most days I see the occasional speckled wood, and that only happens when we get some sunshine for a time. A large white was investigating the nasturtiums in the front garden today, and I do not doubt that in the fullness of time there will be large white larvae feasting on the flowers.
The green hairstreak is a reasonably common butterfly. It is found in large numbers in the south of England, and the population is about similarly dense in Wales. Further north and west the numbers fall off, which means that it is not as common in Ireland and Scotland. Moving further east, the range of this insect stretches into the distant east throughout Europe, and parts of north Africa. Then its range extends further east into Asia, and eventually distant Siberia.
According to butterfly reports a couple of these butterflies turned up in County Down last month. Then more of these flying beauties turned up near Oxford Island.
At the beginning of this month more green hairstreaks turned up near south Lough Neagh.
The male of the species is usually seen more frequently than the female. Two of the larval food plants are birds' foot trefoil, and broom. The male may be encountered nearby, waiting for a lady hairstreak to come along. The males can become attached to a particular spot, and sometimes more than one male has an identical favourite spot. So they fight. Did you ever see butterflies fighting? Well, the experts do say that there are cases of the butterfly actually attacking a human. I just do not know how they do it.
On chalk grassland, females fly low over the ground and they can be seen crawling over Common Rock rose plants searching for young growth on which to lay their eggs. The larvae are out and about now, and in a month's time will go into the papal state. Come next April or May, these pupae will transform into the beautiful green hairstreak again, ready to attack more humans.
An apparently popular and common butterfly this year is the painted lady. This insect lives in North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, and its numbers irrupt each spring. It breeds continuously in it warm range, does not hibernate. The creatures can visit us at any time, but peak migration usually occurs in June. If the weather is suitable, the painted lady can breed here, producing yet more painted ladies.
Ian Rippey has been collating sightings, and he tells me that some turned up in Roscommon earlier this month. Then they were sighted at Wexford, and other fast fliers landed in Ballyclare, and also on Rathlin Island. A crowd of them was sighted in Sliabh Gullion Forest Park, in south Armagh. More were seen in Fermanagh, and yet more in north Armagh, and County Down.
It is just amazing how all these butterflies travel from Africa to see us here. More turned up at Ballynahinch, at Drumadarragh, Ballinasloe and the Shannon Callows. Brookeborough hosted some painted ladies. More were seen in Newcastle, Loughgall and Strangford.
Again, I would ask you to report any sightings of butterflies or moths to the Butterfly Conservation.
Saturday 17th July: For the children, fun day with environmental games, phone Wildlife Trust on 028 9060 1694 For the children, Ugly Bug Ball at Oxford Island, more from 028 3832 2205
Saturday 24th July: Butterfly Outing to the Umbra, Castlerock,
11:00, with Bob Leslie, more information from Butterfly Conservation on
Open Day at Portmor Lough, more from RSPB on 028 9049 1547
Sunday 25th July: International Bog Day at Peatlands Park, phone the Environment Service on 028 38851102.