by Paul Cormacain
AS I have been known to remark, the river Lagan has the ability to draw folk back to it.
The tow path is quite delightful, and early on a Sunday morning it is almost deserted.
There were not many people earlier than us on Sunday. The weather was lovely. the sun even shone for a spell. After an hour's walk we were nearly back at the car when the rain started, which meant that our timing was nearly perfect.
Last year must have been a good year for robins. Every few metres there seemed to be a robin. I spoke to many of them in their own language, and most of them were quite content to look at us, and sometimes talk back.
Rarely did they fly away, and mostly they allowed us to come very close to them. I got the distinct impression that they were all on the look out for a mate. The long tailed tits had a mate. I know these birds are supposed to be common, but it is not every day that you can see them.
I have just checked up on their numbers on these islands. They are widespread over England and Wales. In the north west of Scotland the bird is less then common, but can still be found there. In Ireland there are fewer numbers of long tailed tits in a small area of the south west, otherwise they are to be found all over the country.
In past winters I have seen flocks of these birds in down town Belfast, as well as in the leafy suburbs. And in the countryside you may come across them in small winter flocks when they tend to stay together for safety reasons. One pair we saw on the Lagan towpath was not interested in safety, they were only interested in love.
These birds were talking love talk to each other, thought life was wonderful, and sometimes talked about the size of this year's family.
They will build a domed nest in a tree fork, at a height of anywhere from one metre high to perhaps 25 metres high.
They will piece together lichen, hairs and cobwebs to form the distinctive nest with its entrance near the top. Then they will add a lining of thousands of feathers before camouflaging the outside with cobwebs. By late March the lady tit will commence to lay eggs. Because of the factors already mentioned, the lady tit may even start to lay sooner.
The robins already mentioned all seemed to be on the lookout for a mate. A pair of mallard flew up the river, making plenty of noise. A few minutes later a pair, perhaps the same pair, flew down river, still holding a very loud conversation.
Later on, at another spot on the river, a pair of mallard sat calmly and let us all watch them. They knew they were protected by the water.
Later on again, we came across two pair of mallard standing in shallow water at a weir. They were quite unafraid of humans.
A large mute swan was floating in the river between the weir and the humans on the other bank. It appeared totally fearless, or perhaps it was just quietly digesting its breakfast.
Magpies were in a noisy mood. Having already seen them building nests this year, it was safe to assume that they were making much noise about who would marry whom, and where would the nest be built.
Or they may have been arguing about who owned what territory. They may even have been planning how many little magpies they would have this year. Blackbirds were very noticeable because of the noise they were making, and because they never seemed to stop flying back and forwards on their mysterious business.
I do believe they were having magpie-type discussions, and when we heard the coal tits talking, and the blue tits, and the great tits, not to mention a selection of crows and finches, we realised that bird spring had come in spite of what it says on the calendar.
Sunday 13th February - Oxford Island is organising a leisurely stroll in Lough Neagh Wetlands at 2.30, call 3832 2205 for more details.
Thursday 17th February - At 7.30, Beyond Black Mountain, in Linen Hall Literary, with Belfast Hills Partnership, call 9060 3466
Monday 28th February - Lisburn RSPB has Anthony, McGeehan and Sea Bird Detective Stories in Friends Meeting House, contact David McCreedy on 4062 6125
Friday 11 to Sunday 13th March - Birdwatch Ireland and the RSPB get together at the Killyhevlin Hotel. Enniskillen, for their Annual wildlife, Conference Details from 9049 1547.