The woods, meadows, wetlands, parks and farms along the Lagan are alive with wildlife.
The incredible variety includes many of the most endangered birds in the UK and Ireland. We're working to protect these birds and other wildlife to prevent further declines and make the Park a safe place for them to feed and breed.
Read more about our project
What a rollercoaster ride! Since my last blog it's been very busy along the Lagan. (Apologies for such a long gap, but snow, ice, weather-related fender benders and winter doldrums clipped my wings a bit!)
Usually the bleak midwinter is a quiet time, especially for birds, but not this year. Not only have we finally emerged from the longest cold snap in decades, but the Park was snowed under with visitors - winged and otherwise.
The icy Siberian air sent birds such as redwings, fieldfares and waxwings in great numbers to the British Isles, escaping even colder weather back in Scandinavia. Usually our winters are too mild for these species, but the below-zero temperatures made them feel right at home.
Redwings have been spotted at Lockview in Stranmillis. These, and the fieldfare, resemble their cousin the mistle thrush, but there are differences. The redwing is the UK's smallest true thrush, identified by a creamy strip above the eye and persimmon side patches. To see and hear, go to: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/r/redwing/index.aspx
In contrast, the fieldfare is a large, colourful thrush and very social, travelling in great flocks from a dozen up to 200 strong. If they see good pickings, a hundred fieldfares will descend and munch away until every last juicy morsel is gone. Not unlike locusts....or the recent flocks of journalists circling the Lock Keepers Cottage. http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/f/fieldfare/index.aspx
Don't be fooled by the waxwing's flamoyant plumage or natty crest. This small, plump bird is actually quite shy. But as seen here, they bring a welcome flash of brightness. http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/w/waxwing/index.aspx
Handsome Scandanavian visitors - waxwings @ Lockview
There have been other visitors too. Such as an invasion of sea life. Usually cormorants are occasional visitors, but this year many have made their way upriver. Also every winter one or two seals venture up the Lagan from Belfast Lough and this year is no exception. Could better fish stocks be the reason?
Cormorant flaunts his wingspan
Salmon are back in the Lagan and spawning. It look place later this season because the wet autumn brought high water levels, making getting upstream and spawning too tricky. But as conditions turned colder and dryer last month, the water subsided and the salmon came. Followed by the seal.
More salmon also mean more fry for kingfishers - a glimmer of good news for birds which don't cope well with the cold. They struggle to fish as their preferred slow-moving quieter spots along the river are always first to ice over. Frozen stretches near Lisburn also left a couple of confused swans high and dry.
Winter wonderland - unless you're a kingfisher
Small hedgerow birds found the going tough too. Worms couldn't break through the rock-hard ground. Berries and seeds are starting to be in short supply. If it weren't for the ivy providing vital shelter and fruit, many birds would not have survived. As it's only January, there's still plenty of winter to come. So please keep feeding the birds in your garden. You may even see a few redwings among them.
The extreme cold has not been all bad news. (Though anyone with burst pipes might disagree) After so many mild winters, a blast of cold restores nature's cycles. But I'm much happier basking in the current spring-like balminess and seeing the crocus shoots coming up. Nature's way of restoring our spirits?
Photos provided by Lagan Valley Regional Park