by Paul Cormacain
WE were staying in a friend's house, the weather was good and the hospitality was better. Local wildlife was well trained, and prompted. As we opened the bedroom curtains in the morning, we were delighted to see a male pheasant a short distance away. Obviously, it had been told to hove into view as we arose.
We watched, fascinated. We thought how often we had ever seen a wild pheasant so close up, and decided that this was the nearest we had ever been to a wild pheasant. What was this male bird doing so close to human habitation? Nearby, there were whins growing. They had been allowed to spread and prosper, and looked magnificent with their bright green and yellow colours. Could the lady pheasant be living there?
The birds are usually reckoned to nest in late April till June, but there are very many reports of birds nesting just a little earlier this year. Must be the weather! So if the weather has encouraged other birds to breed early this year, why should not the pheasants also nest earlier?
The lady pheasant scrapes a hallow in the ground, and scantily lines it with leaves and grass. It would be too obvious out in the open, so mostly the birds go in for nesting under thick vegetation. What thicker vegetation could you get than whins, and what enemy could progress through a thick whin area? Certainly I thought I would try to move through the whins, and failed miserably. I even wondered how the poor lady pheasant could get through those whins.
Pheasants come from the far East. Its home is from the Caucasus across to China, and it is birds from the western part of that area which were introduced to western Europe. One theory has it that the birds were introduced by the Romans into Britain, that is, almost two thousand years ago. The newspapers did not record it at the time, so it is not known just how accurate this theory is.
There are different types of pheasants in the Far East.
The Roman empire was one of the most far flung empires, and the Romans had a reputation for bringing their wildlife with them. They are supposed to have introduced the pheasant into Italy, Gaul and Germany, as well as into England. Come to think of it, the Romans did not make it as far as Scotland and Ireland, so where did the Scottish and Irish birds come from?
Pheasants are not the only trained species of wildlife in the area. After breakfast on the day we saw the pheasant, a butterfly came fluttering by. It was a small tortoiseshell, and its visit duration was also small. It was mild, but not summer, spring but not wet, slightly autumnal but not too windy. Can you picture the sort of day it was?
The small tortoiseshell was the first confirmed and identifiable sighting this year. From that point of view it was delightful, but it was not followed by other butterflies as I had hoped. The creature had not invited its' uncles and its cousins and its aunts". This particular insect will likely mate with another of its race, they will produce eggs in May. Then the next group of tortoiseshells will produce butterflies to hatch in August and September, and they will be the ones who try to come into our houses in the autumn to have a nice, safe, warm, and dry home in the winter.
Some other butterfly records are in. Two small tortoiseshells was sighted near Lisburn about the middle of March. Another was sighted at Buncrana, Donegal, and another one in the deep south near Cork. The first peacock of the year was seen near Ballyclare, and another one at Buncrana. A red admiral was seen at Cork.
Have you seen any butterflies so far this year? If so, the local butterfly brigade would love to hear from you. Details would include time and date, location, and you could add in the weather if relevant. Happy butterfly hunting.
Saturday, April 2: Outward Bound Walk along Newry Canal, where there may be a few birds about, details from 028 9050950.
Saturday, April 16: Early, early bird start at 0500 for the Dawn Chorus at Castle Archdale, talk to 028 6862 1588