"Summer's End' Laganscape award winning photo from Ken Orr
Scott answers all those pressing Lagan questions people have been asking this
How has the nest box
programme been going?
Laganscape volunteers have been keeping an eye on all the nest boxes put up
during the winter. We’ve had mixed success so far. We put up dozens of house
sparrow boxes, but have not been able to attract any of these once common
little brown birds. However, the volunteers tell me that they have at least one
pair of blue tits and many have coal or great tits as well.”
Non-breeders checking out next year's home.
Are swifts setting up home
in any of the LVRP nest box sites?
swift boxes round our office have had some attention. Swifts have been flashing
past the boxes, and a passerby thought they saw one coming out of the entrance
hole. We definitely don’t have any nesting, and I would have been surprised if
we’d had any take up residence in the first year. The information we are
getting in from the other sites is the same, plenty of interest but no nesting
pairs. Fingers crossed this means next year will be a bit more exciting on the
The story seems to be
similar at the RSPB Belvoir Park offices, where the birds are definitely
interested but not settling in, so far.
Mark Smyth of the Swift Interest Group may able to shed more light on
what these swifts are up to so late in the breeding season. He believes that the non-breeding
swifts are only arriving now, a bit late due to the poor weather. These young swifts will be scoping out
nest sites for next summer. So
he’s got his CD lure – playing recorded swifts calls – playing as much as
possible. (Bearing in mind the
neighbours who may not find it music to their ears!) Only 6 more weeks and
that’s it until next year.
This'll do rightly! Swift photos provided by Mark Smyth of the NI Swift Interest Group.
Peek-a-boo! Swift photo provided by Peter McGrattan. For his amazing success story please see the previous blog entries and also check out the comment box at the end of this blog which brings us all right up to date with his budding colony.
Do we need to worry about
mink on the Lagan?
It seems we can breathe
easier. “Developments on the mink front are
encouraging, as there have been no sightings for a few weeks. I’ve spoken to
some of our partner organisations and they are saying the same. Hopefully this
means that the mink (of which there were at least two) have moved on. Should we
get any more reports, I’ll be sure to update blog readers. Likewise, should any
of you spot something mink-like in the Park moving through the water or
skulking in the undergrowth, please let me know at the usual address email@example.com. “
Otterly successful at keeping mink out. Photo provided by LVRP.
And what about the Lagan
swans who seem to have vanished?
Will we ever see this sight again? The Stranmillis swan back in 2006. LVRP photo.
for the ‘Stranmillis swans’, there is still no sign. Many locals and towpath
users still ask us where they have gone and will they come back? The answer I’m
afraid is we don’t know. The pair that were seen between the weir at Lockview
and the Lock Keeper’s Cottage disappeared a few years ago; first one left and
the other hung around for a couple of months before moving on as well. This
pair had never been successful breeders and maybe this had been the reason for
them leaving. Many people think swans mate for life but this is not always the
case. If one dies or becomes crippled, the other will try and find a new mate.
As the pair had never produced any young I would guess that one of the birds
was infertile and they split up to go and find a more productive partner. There
were swans further upstream, but even here, none have been successful in
producing cygnets for some time and they tend to come and go. So if you spot a
swan, please get in touch so we can keep an eye on these much-missed birds.”
Laganscape award winner - Bruce Marshall's Hoverfly on Thistle.
How can you be recognised
for your photographic genius?
Easy. “While you are out and
about in the Park, don’t forget to take your camera. Laganscape is launching
our third photographic competition and you could be in with a chance of
winning £100. Check out our website www.laganvally.co.uk
for further details. “ Maybe the stunning examples from past winners here will inspire you!
Reflection - Shaw's Bridge by previous Laganscape photo competition winner Peter Soult.
Lots of news as we are deep into nesting season!
Des res. Spotted flycatcher box at Belvoir.
The swifts have finally arrived at Belvoir Park, no doubt
delayed by the dismal weather.
They’re now shrieking and circling around the nest boxes installed at
the RSPB HQ. But the 64 million dollar question is – are they viewing or nesting?
Well they are certainly viewing only at the LVRP Park
offices. David Scott reports
seeing them circling the boxes, but so far none have investigated within.
Swifts are almost continuously airborne, so they provide few
photo opportunities. The exception
being when they are nesting. Mark
Smyth of The Swift Group has been sending me some tremendous footage of swifts
nesting, both here and across the water.
Plus a truly amazing story from right here in Northern Ireland. Peter had
swifts setting up home less than a week after he put up boxes, as you can see from the photos he sent to Mark. Now that is a result!
To see footage of this astonishing beginner’s luck, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9zDElImhqQ or visit
saveourswifts.co.uk where a feast of further videos awaits!
Thank you Peter for these brilliant photos of a pair of swifts. As you can see, they are not able to perch, but still manage somehow.
This story is a bright spot in what
has been the worst year yet for Mark Smyth’s colony of swifts. Lots of tales of abandoned nests due to
the cold. Like all of us, the
swifts are still waiting for summer. Hopefully the next blog will have news of swifts settling in
and raising their young. But
they’d better get a move on! Come
July it will be time to think about flying south again.
Speaking of getting a move on...if you haven’t yet taken part
in the RSPB Make Your Nature Count garden wildlife survey, there’s still
time. From now until June 12th,
the RSPB is asking everyone to spend an hour in their gardens counting the
wildlife they see, then submitting the results. The survey includes birds, as well as common, and uncommon,
garden visitors such as hedgehogs, frogs, bats and badgers.
Our city and country gardens are oases for wildlife and
helped sustain many creatures over the hard winter and rollercoaster spring, so
the RSPB is keen to know how nature on our doorstep is doing. It’s easy. Visit (link), get all the information you need, plus
wildlife recording forms, then have fun watching what hops, creeps and perches
on your patch, and submit the results online.
Gardens can support a huge diversity of wildlife.
coast to save our seas
The RSPB’s Claire Ferry is completing a month-long odyssey
around Northern Ireland to highlight conservation issues. 500 miles on foot through the past
month of cold, wet and wind takes some commitment! Along the way, she has been visiting schools and RSPB
reserves and collecting signatures on her petition for a Northern Ireland
Marine Bill. The rest of the UK
has already enacted Marine Bills to protect our coasts, seas and the natural
diversity they support. But NI is
lagging behind. Our own Marine
Bill is desperately needed to protect what we have before its gone
forever. Any further delays could
spell disaster for populations of seabirds such as puffins and kittiwakes, which have plummeted
due to a shortage of food sources.
For the final leg of her walk, Claire will be accompanied by
hundreds of schoolchildren, supporters, (and a giant inflatable shark) to
present her petition to the decisionmakers at Stormont, It takes place on June
14, so if you care and can be there, please join the throngs. To follow Claire, donate to her trip
and learn more about the petition, visit:
Not quite up to 500 miles...yet? Why not voyage by shank’s mare to the source of the
Lagan? The Lagan Valley people
have organised a Return to Source walk on June 16th. It’s a fair hike, but well worth it,
especially on a good day when the view is fantastic from the rolling Down
uplands. For details contact the
Park Office on 9049 1922.
All photos from the LVRP, except for Peter's swift images.
It’s been a rollercoaster
few months for wildlife. First a
Baltic winter in Belfast, then a Sahara drought, followed by March gales, rain
and chills in May. How do
animals manage to build nests, breed and raise their young, let alone survive
through it all?
according to David at the LVRP:
"The changeable weather, while a disappointment for us over
what seemed to be never-ending public holidays, is a real challenge for the
wildlife in the Park.
The gales have brought down many trees and the nests our
feathered friends spent laborious weeks building in the spring. Thankfully none
of the bird boxes put up by our volunteers have come down; the screws must have
been long enough after all!
The squirrels (both red and grey) have had the same problem
with dreys (yes, squirrels make nests also) being blown down. For many of these
animals there is still plenty of time to start again. Squirrels will produce
2-3 litters in a good year.
However, some of our larger birds like the crows, herons and
birds of prey need a whole summer to raise their young. Colleagues have told me
that some heronries have been decimated and many rookeries are in a bad way.
Hopefully this won’t have a huge impact on the species as a whole, but can be
devastating to local populations.
Moorhen on a 'lawn' of duckweed
One thing that has been noticed is an abundance of hawthorn
flies, sometimes called March flies. Here they normally come out in April when
the hawthorn is just starting to flower. These small, slow-flying black flies
are a favourite of trout. Some of the local fishermen have told me this has
really improved the size and health of the fish after such a hard winter. The
kingfishers have taken a bit of a battering thanks to the weather, so this
improvement in the fish stocks is welcome news for them, as well as otters and
herons amongst others.
So while many creatures within the Park have been having a
tough time, others seem to be faring slightly better. We will have to wait and
see how things pan out over the summer and any information from you, the
reader, is always welcome. If you see something of note please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. The more eyes and ears the better!
It hasn’t been easy for
garden wildlife either.
And the RSPB summer wildlife
survey aims to find out how our favourite garden residents have coped. They’re sending out a call for all of
us to take part and help them create a snapshot of the state of nature on our
Make Your Nature Count kicks
off this weekend – running from Saturday June 4th through Sunday the
12th. So there are
plenty of chances to spend an hour observing your garden and counting the
critters you see. If it hops, perches, flies,
scuttles, it can be counted. Make
Your Nature Count widens the remit of the RSPB’s January survey Big Garden
Birdwatch, in that it also includes frogs, hedgehogs, bats, butterflies,
squirrels, badgers, as well as birds.
It's good to share - best buddy bluetits
You don’t even need a garden
– patios, local parks, school grounds, the patch behind your workplace – any of
these places could be an oasis of wildlife teeming with fluttering, buzzing and
The RSPB launched this new
survey after the immense success of Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s largest
survey of its type, which attracted over half a million responses. Early June is the time of year when
garden wildlife is at its most vibrant: plenty of insects and flowering plants,
nesting and breeding birds, returned summer migrants. So it should provide a good indicator of how animals have
fared over the last year and if they are recovering from two hard winters in a
Yes, it should all be in
full swing. But is it? I’ve been getting feedback that this
spring has presented plenty of challenges, for the birds anyway. Swifts, which should be back from
Africa by now are either arriving late, or coming, finding conditions too cold
and wet, and moving on to warmer patches.
House martins arrived here only to find a shortage of mud for nest
building, and now that they can finally get going, the wet and winds have
played havoc with their plans.
I’m also hearing stories
about nests blown out of trees by the gales, sometimes with eggs and chicks in
them. And with the sun only making
fleeting appearances, the same goes for the insects. Leaving birds short of food just at a time when they need
the extra nutrients the most. Is
it the same story in your garden?
A common visitor to my garden, and maybe yours too! They like catfood.
Even in summer gardens can
be important refuges for wildlife, and garden feeders vital food sources!
Fortunately it does look as
though summer may finally be in sight (I should have known the good weather
would end the day I got out all my sandals and painted my toenails!) But that means wonderful conditions for
spending an hour in your garden.
To emphasise that Make Your
Nature Count is for everyone, city and country the RSPB will be putting the
spotlight on two gardens: a rural garden in county Derry and an urban garden in
Belfast (mine!). My garden
is no showpiece – pretty ordinary with bald patches in the lawn and football-proof
shrubs (and sad, wind-battered lupins), but I am looking forward to being
amazed by the biodiversity that can be found even in a typical family garden
and learning about all the species that have adapted to city life.
So now that the weather is
finally improving (fingers and painted toes crossed), we can all boost the
wildlife community on your doorsteps by taking steps now to create a more
nature friendly garden. Those colourful
blooms buzzing with butterflies are not just appealing for humans. The RSPB website has plenty of
To take part in Make Your
Nature Count, visit rspb.org.uk to find information and wildlife recording
sheets to download. Complete the
survey, then submit the results online.
P.S. Make Your Legwork
Count. Don’t forget the
Towpath Challenge sponsored Lagan Walk is this Saturday! Details: www.laganvalley.co.uk.
Photos provided by the RSPB and Lagan Valley Regional Park