by Paul Cormacain
THERE are places to which we are drawn at regular intervals. They don't have to be internationally famous spots like the Giants' Causeway, or spectacular places like the Mountains of Mourne.
In fact some of my places are quiet, scenic, with good wildlife and not too many humans. That is not to show an anti-social side, rather a regular desire for some peace and quiet.
So we went to Soldierstown and had a walk along the tow path last week. It was lovely and quiet, scenic with fresh air, plenty of birds and not too many humans. The wind had died down in the early morning and the rain forgot to come down, perfect weather for walking. Although we had some sunshine the dominant colour seemed to be grey. Even the sky was grey. The grass was greeny grey, the water was algae grey, the bridge was grey and the road was grey. To be more positive, it was a lovely grey!
The first birds we saw were lapwings, hundreds of them feeding and flying, always on the lookout for food and predators. With so many birds gathered together, it was inevitable that at any given moment there were many sentinels, so that the chances were that no fox or human with gun could get close. Not stupid, those birds.
Because of its diet of wireworms and leather jackets, the lapwing has always been considered a friend of the farmer. In England, it used to have its own Act of Parliament to protect it.
Many folk thought that the egg of the lapwing was a gastronomic delight, indeed I have even seen some people eating them raw, straight from the nest. Some folk insisted that they be allowed to collect the eggs of the first laying, claiming that the bird would lay again, and also that farming practice would probably damage the first laying of eggs.
Over the years some farming practice has not exactly enhanced the life style of the lapwing, and the RSPB has been particularly concerned about this. So much so that it started off Operation Lapwing.
This shows how little changes in farming practice can enhance the life and numbers of lapwings, and the scheme also awards a winner each year, a farm that they feel has done most to help the lapwing. Anyone interested in obtaining more information about Operation Lapwing should contact the RSPB. Give them a shout on 9049 1547.
After admiring the lapwings we wandered along the tow path. In the old days barges would go along here in each direction, each one drawn by a horse, and we let our mind wander back to the old days.
Did the barge men stop and have a chat? Did the horses stop and have a chat? Were the horses allowed to linger if they came across a tasty morsel? Did you know that Appletree Press has just brought out a new book called Ireland's Inland Waterways?
Then we thought... Many of us have skied in Aspen, dived off Fiji, cycled in China, bird watched in Cuba. Is it now time for some youthful, energetic, person to organise horse drawn boat holidays here and market it internationally? That is my good business idea for 2005.
We watched long tailed tits foraging in the hedge. The flock was a family group, and sooner rather than later the parents will tell the young it is now time for them to fend for themselves.
It will soon be home setting up time again.
Many mute swans were out and about, blackheaded gulls swam and flew and chattered with each other. Mallard and pochard were the two types of duck represented on the canal. Waterhens and coots and little grebes were all out swimming and feeding and perhaps making plans for this year's family.
Peace and serenity is good for the inner person!
Saturday 22nd January - Winter Survival Training at Greenmount, 2pm, sounds like great craic, talk to 4483 0282
Sunday 23rd January - Go to Colin Glen, at 10am, and see and hear the Birds of Colin Glen, phone 9061 4115
Wednesday 26th January - The Irish Garden Plant Society, jointly with RHS and Ulster Museum, hosting New Year Lecture, details, talk to Catherine on 9038 3152
Thursday 27th January - Oxford Island is organising a talk, photographic exhibition, and display on traditional boat building and fishing in the Lough Neagh area, more on 3832 2205.