Big thank you from

Return trip needed in the search for rare butterflies

by Paul Cormacain

DUNDRUM called last week, and we answered the call, heading off early to spend a few enjoyable hours there.

It was cold but it stayed dry for our visit, which made it all the more enjoyable.

The threat of rain, always present, kept everyone else away, and the cold was an added incentive for folk to stay indoors. We did not see another sinner there! We had the whole place to ourselves.

We had heard that the caterpillars of the marsh fritillary had been sighted in that area and we hoped we might catch a glimpse of this increasingly rare butterfly.

In Europe as a whole the marsh fritillary is declining, but local lepidoptera enthusiasts here are hoping they can help.

They aim to find out more about this lovely butterfly, alert the public, or farmers, or state bodies, or any combination so that the habitat of the creatures is preserved.

If you would like more information, or would like to help in any way, why not get in touch with Trevor Boyd? He can put you in touch with a local group of like-minded people, and you could encourage them, accompany them, or help in any way you like. Trevor's number is 9185 2276.

We sighted no marsh fritillary in any state of development. We did mark into the diary a future visit when the butterflies may be flying, and this normally starts at the midway point in May.

So if you see any marsh fritillaries at Dundrum, or any other place, please inform Trevor. Or you could always send on the information to me, and I will ensure it gets to the right place.

What Dundrum lacked in butterflies of any state of development, it made up for in waders and gulls.

Along one part of the beach we saw only hooded crows, but at another spot there were curlews. Nearly everyone finds these birds fascinating, whether it is the shape of their long, down turned bills, or their beautiful cry of the wilds.

It is when you hear its "coor-li", as it is usually written, followed by hubbling song, that you know the bird is in a breeding mode.

I am told by the Belfast Hills folk there are curlews breeding on the mountains, or will be in a month or two. There were probably hundreds of curlews.

Then we saw a solitary snipe. This is another bird which fascinates some folk. They love to hear it singing! When the snipe sings, it is only fooling some folk, for it does not sing at all, but rather it makes a noise that sounds like singing.

Especially at courtship time, the snipe flies downwards at an angle of about 45 degrees. Its tail is outspread, and the two outer tail feathers vibrate in the wind.

Now if you get a physical object resonating at the right frequency it will produce an audible noise. Just like your voice.

If it vibrates too slowly or too quickly you will not be able to hear the noise. The snipe knows this, of course, so it vibrates its outer feathers to make an audible sound and this is its "singing".

If it did not fly at the correct angle, or at the correct speed, there would be no "singing", and the lady snipes would not be impressed. So it has to get it right!

The red legged redshanks were out and about. These birds are highly sociable in the winter, and flock quite happily, often with other waders on muddy open shores.

There were plenty of other waders about. The range of these redshanks is quite extensive, for they spread eastwards through Europe, and keep going.

They live all the way as far as the eastern sea board of China. I wonder how many languages they speak. Dundrum, a magical spot on the coast of south Down. Why not pay it a visit? And do not forget the marsh fritillaries!

I have just received a communication from the National Trust concerning an event on one of its properties on Monday 14th March.

It concerns Castle Coole, in County Fermanagh, and if you are in the vicinity you might like to go along and listen to a wonderful musical evening, beginning at 7.30.

It is just possible that some of my nephews and/or nieces may be playing, which just goes to show you how high the standard of musicianship will be. (Said he modestly.)

Coming Events

Sunday 6th March - The Dinosaurs of Colin Glen, at 11am, at the Glen Centre, an exploration of the geology of the glen, more from 9061 4115
Ballynahone Bog Day Out, a practical volunteering event, details from Malachy on 4483 0282.

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 90491547

Wednesday 16th March - Find out what the National Trust has planned for Divis Mountain, at 7.30, in Belfast Castle, call 9060 3466 for more.

Sunday 20th March - Oxford Island to Castor Bay, 3prn, a 'leisurely dander', find out more from Oxford Island on 3832 2205

Monday 21st March - Lisburn RSPB meet to hear Anne-Marie McDevitt on The Countryside Management Scheme, more details from David McCreedy on 4062 6125.

Tuesday 1st to Thursday 31st March - Castle Espie Easter Trail, contact 9187 4146 for details

Ulster Star