by Paul Cormacain
CHRISTMAS is now well over, and we could be looking out for some dreary weather in the months ahead. The kids thought we could do with a break, so they shipped us off to the Mediterranean for nearly a week.
We ended up in a place called Nice, a place neither of us had ever seen before. And what wildlife did we see in Nice? Why, we met up with. readers of the Ulster Star who were also on the same break, but they were not wild. Quite the contrary!
Because the sun shone for us every day, we managed to see butterflies in Cannes, Nice, St Pol, Monaco and Menton. All the butterflies we positively identified were red admirals. I thought that the middle of January was a bit early for these beautiful creatures, and if you saw them in north Africa in January that would be OK But the south coast of France is some way away, the breadth of the Mediterranean to be exact. The sun and the temperature must have been just right for them, with the temperature about the 14C or 15C mark during the day.
Nobody could tell me if red admiral sightings were the norm for this time of the year in this location, and every book I consulted left me wondering. But it was still lovely just seeing and admiring them. They are large butterflies, attired on their upper sides in rich black velvet and brilliant orange red.
We get some European and African ones over here in spring and summer. They do increase and multiply here, but they have never been known to even think about staying here, not even to over winter. Many other butterflies lay large numbers of eggs together, but the red admiral only lays single eggs here and there and everywhere.
We used to joke about 'daddy's yacht' when we were younger. Well, he did have a car for a time but never did make it into the yacht category. But you should have seen the 'daddy yachts' on the south coast of France, every place we went to. I reckon some of those boats could cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and there were huge numbers of them. If daddy had one of those fancy yachts, chances are that I would own a few papers, instead of writing!
Not too far from the yachts were sea birds. The large black cormorants fished from time to time. In between fishing they flew around on mysterious business trips. When not fishing or flying they stood on rocks discussing world affairs, sometimes with their wings outstretched. In spite of all the research, we still do not know if the cormorants hold their wings open to dry them, or whether open wings is an aid to digestion.
Many gulls flew about the place, on the lookout for food, resting, discussing world affairs; or planning the next family. Black headed gulls were plentiful. They were in their winter plumage, and I would say that they were as common there as they are here. Common gulls were also present, and there were some herring gulls flying the flag. We did not come across any great black backed gulls, they seem less common in the Mediterranean than further north in Europe.
Little gulls would be a rare sight here, but common enough in the south of France. They were sporting whitish heads, with dark underwings. Come the breeding season, their heads will start to darken and they will finish up with a black hood and a red bill. They would not be too dissimilar from a black headed gull, only smaller.
Since we were on the shores of the Mediterranean, there were many Mediterranean gulls about.
Their underwings were white, and there is a blackish mark on the head. Like some other gulls, the head will change to black for the breeding season, the bill and legs will be bright red. Its very name tells you where it lives, but recently there have been increasing sightings in the south of England in the autumn and winter.
Other sightings include Ronnie and Vera, loyal Ulster Star readers, who were seen having fun in Nice!
Saturday 22nd January - Winter Survival Training at Greenmount, 1400, sounds like great craic, talk to 4483 0282
Sunday 23rd January - Come to Co tin Glen, at 1000, and see and hear the Birds of Colin Glen, phone 9061 4115.
Wednesday 26th January - The Irish Garden Plant Society; jointly with RHS and 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
Thursday 3rd February -Alternative energy sources in the Belfast Hills, at 1930, location the Farmers' In 'on the Colin Glen Road. Could be fascinating, details from 9060 3466.