This is officially the day in the US where a
rotund rodent decides whether winter is over, or is going to drag on for
another 6 weeks. Generally, anyone
living north of the Mason Dixon Line can count on 6 more weeks of the same (and
that’s a mild winter), whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not. *
But in these parts, February is generally
considered the start of spring.
Who cares if it’s still freezing cold? The first daffodils are blooming (yes, saw one last week in
the Botanic Gardens), the snowdrops are well up – along the Lagan and elsewhere
- and it’s now light when the kids leave the house for the school bus.
And in the Park, the bluetits are starting to
seriously search for nest sites.
Which means this is your very very last chance to get a nestbox up if
you hope to have birds using it for nesting in your garden this year.
Now househunting in a Park near you
If your garden has no large old trees with
suitable holes, birds will happily use a nestbox; generally the smaller birds
such as the tits, sparrows, robins and housemartins. And the ideal time to place your boxes is late
autumn/winter. Birds prefer a
well-weathered box - more homely - but February rains, gales and ice can do a
lot of weathering!
A few basic tips:
-The best site for you to view the box may not
be the best spot for the birds.
-Avoid strong sunlight and the wettest
winds. Facing the box between
north and east is usually best, unless there are trees or buildings giving
shade all day.
-Make sure birds have a clear entrance so the
parents can come and go easily on food forays. Don’t clutter up their flight path.
-Boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should
be two to four meters up a tree or a wall.
-Don’t put two boxes too close together –
birds need their territories. Most
gardens tend only to have one nesting pair of any species with the exception of
sparrows and house martins which form colonies.
-Put up different boxes to attract different
You may not get any takers this spring, but
come autumn birds may check out the nestboxes looking for a cosy place to roost
or feed, and make them their nesting sites next year.
Throughout the Park numerous nestboxes of
various types are now in place as part of its ongoing bird conservation
programme. Some are visible from the
towpath, but many of them are tucked away to give the birds vital privacy and
safety. This spring the Park is
looking forward to uptake by a wide variety of species and during the breeding
season will regularly monitor the boxes. Those which have not been chosen as
nest sites will have their locations reviewed and may be moved to different
So if Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend put
you in the mood. OR if you bought
a box months ago with great intentions, don’t leave it languishing in the garage
a day longer!
The RSPB has a detailed leaflet on nestboxes,
including how to make your own, ways to fix the box without damaging trees and
the best boxes for different species.
You can also buy a ready made box at the RSPB headquarters in Belvoir
Park. And check out the RSPB website and online shop: www.rspb.org.uk.
*If the groundhog emerges from his burrow and
sees his shadow, he resumes hibernation.
No shadow? Then the chunky
critter expects the return of milder weather. Bit like trying to get up in the morning only the other way
Speaking of deadlines…aspiring fledgling
artists only have until the end of the month to enter the Lagan Valley Regional
Park Art Competition and have their chance to win glory, acclaim and up to £100!
The Park is inviting the young and talented to
send in their work - anything
about the Park that has inspired them.
Its heritage and historic sites, activities along the Lagan, wildlife,
scenery, nature, fun. There are 3
age categories: 11 and under, 12-14 and 15-18. And the winning art will be on public
display at the visitors’ centre adjacent to the Lock Keeper’s Cottage.
So if the family is heading for a walk along
the Lagan, bring cameras, sketchpad and your eagle eyes. Also, be sure to stop at the Lock
Keepers Cottage for an entry form.
You can also get details and download forms by going to the Park
website: www.laganvalley.co.uk. Closing date is February 26th. Now all you have to do is choose your
awards ceremony outfit!
Photo and artwork provided by Lagan Valley Regional Park