Big thank you from

The environment friendly role of the impressive raven

by Paul Cormacain

DUNDRUM Bay stayed dry for our visit. When we walked on the beach we had the most spectacular views of the Mountains of Mourne, looking magnificent in their snow-capped majesty.

It must have been on a day like that, and in that place, that Percy French perceived the Mournes in an inspirational way, and he sat down and composed one of the most famous songs of all time.

Having visited most countries in my day, and having seen the best that many of them had to offer, I have to say that this country is the finest of them all. And its people! And its fresh air! Come on, get to the wildlife!

One large flock of oystercatchers, some 200 strong, was gathered along the beach some distance away. We had the whole world to ourselves, well, on that beach anyway, so we walked towards the birds.

They looked so colourful we wanted to get a closer look at them, but whenever we thought they were getting the least agitated we stopped and went no closer.

They settled down quickly. We watched and enjoyed them for a time.

Come the spring these birds will all be interested in meeting members of the opposite sex, their minds will be on raising a family and preserving themselves.

Now, their minds are on self-preservation and looking forward to next year.

Flying over the sand hills and taking advantage of the thermals were ravens, that largest of the dark crows. They are impressive and environment-friendly birds.

Their great role is to be the vultures of sheep country, for ever patrolling the moors and sand hills on the lookout for carrion, or near carrion.

By this I mean they will see a dying deer, or sheep, wait till it dies and then start to clean up the countryside, by eating the cadaver.

Keeps the sickness level down!

They will eat more than carrion. Their background is that of scavenger of large cities, where they developed the habit of eating all available waste.

This partly explains their catholic taste in food and as well as carrion they will eat insects, shellfish, grain, fruit, fish, and young birds.

In the Dundrum area they would get a go at the fish and shellfish.

Any raven nests that I came across were always in cliffs, both inland and coastal. This year a pair of ravens at Dundrum had the cheek to be different and built a nest in a tree.

It was an excellent experiment with the end result that the parents raised five offsprings, successfully.

The normal clutch is four to six eggs, and the raising of five youngsters would be above the average.

Cormac Loughran, the local National Trust man, seemed to be as happy at imparting this news as I was to receive it.

Some credit must accrue to the bird, the man and the Trust. And after he told me that, the sighting of the six curlew sandpiper came up.

I had never seen these birds, but the six passed through last week. They were coming from Arctic Asia, decided they did not like the winter weather there.

They do not like our winter weather either so they have the good sense to keep going. They mostly travel along the east coast but occasionally turn up inland.

It is usually in the autumn you see them, in spring when they are heading north they are in too big a hurry to hang around. Final destination going south is likely Africa.

You may remember that the National Trust introduced Dexter cattle into Dundrum as part of along term management strategy.

Cormac now tells me they are bringing in black Galloways, to increase and strengthen their strategy. It will be interesting to se how it all works out.

Coming Events

Saturday 24 November - Woodland Wander around Necarne, at 10.30, Fermanagh RSPB, who may be called on 028 6632 6654

Monday 26 November - Lisburn RSPB have the Spirit of the Raven talk by Robert McDowell at Friends Meeting House, at 7.30, more from 028 92601864

Wednesday 28 November - Secret Gardens from the Wild - the art aced travel of a botanical sculptor, at 7.30, in Ulster Museum, phone 028 9038 3000

Thursday 29 November - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, 11.30, phone VVWT028 9187 4146.

1 December - Lisburn RSPB outing to Newcastle and Dundrum Bay, enquire further at 028 9262 1866

5 December - Greenmount College, Antrim, at 2pm, learn about striking Christmas displays using simple materials from your garden, phone 028 9442 6661

Monday 10 December - Lisburn RSPB is holding its annual members' night and AGM at 7.30 at Friends Meeting House, details 028 992601864

Ulster Star