ADULT male seeks mate. Enjoys travelling and is a keen flyer. Loves to dine out and seeks fellow meat-lover. Proud owner of a brand new home with great views over Belfast. Wants to start a family immediately. Interested parties please contact Bird Box 2024, c/o Black Mountain. 

It’s not Dúlra who’s seeking mate, but this history-making bird – the first barn owl EVER to be caught on video on the Black Mountain. One night last week he slept (alone!) in a bird box which had been put up just months ago.

Late last year, renowned mountain custodian Aaron Kelly and a group of volunteers erected 14 purpose-made owl boxes on trees across the hill which stretches above Ballymurphy and Andersonstown. It was more a leap of faith than in any realistic hope that the rare bird of prey would actually use one for breeding. 

But last week, a camera outside one of them picked up this astonishing sight. And Aaron was jumping for joy.

“I couldn’t believe they were used so quickly,” he said. “It’s actually the first time a barn owl has ever been filmed on Black Mountain – so it is a landmark event. It makes all that work the volunteers did last year worth it. It was a male – they are more white – but he was alone. He nipped in and out of the box and is sleeping in it but as far as I can see he has no mate.”

The Black Mountain is pristine barn owl territory, with its wild hedgerows and long grass. It’s the sort of terrain they can sweep at night, picking up mice and other prey that are hidden to us. There’s more than enough food there to raise a family.

This week owls nesting in boxes near Lough Neagh laid their first eggs. It might still be freezing, but by the time they hatch, Ireland will be in full spring mode and every creature will be breeding, so there’ll be plenty of food for those hungry mouths.

Barn owls, scréachóg reilige in Irish, must be our most beautiful bird. But the decline of old Irish country lifestyles led to their virtual extinction. Just decades ago, every farmhouse would have had a pair in the barn and the birds lived happily alongside their human hosts, helping eradicate vermin.

Dúlra saw one as a kid when it swooped down over the streetlight we were playing around in Andersonstown – those white feathers and round face were burned into his memory. At that time they must have been breeding in old farmhouses on the hillside. But as those farms were abandoned, the owls retreated.

Over the years the odd early-rising reader has spotted one, but those reports have all but evaporated. With this week’s news that a bird has returned to Black Mountain – and has found himself a purpose-built home he could only dream of – they could well be seen once again swooping over our streets at night.

This lonely male has got a whole mountain to offer a potential mate – he just needs a bird to answer his ad!

The heron that’s feasting on Andy’s garden pond pride and joy

The heron that’s feasting on Andy’s garden pond pride and joy

A GIANT visitor to a West Belfast garden is causing havoc. A heron has spotted a reader’s well-stocked garden pond in White Rise, Lagmore – and almost emptied it!
Householder Andy admits he was fuming when at least eight of his fish were gobbled up, and he’s had to put stronger netting over it. 

The bird actually pierced through netting that was already over the pond after the first surprise attack last year, when 19-year-old prized fish Moby was taken. Andy thought he was on the ball this year but the heron appeared earlier and took eight more. What fish are left are in hiding and too terrified to come out! Andy is wondering if birds that normally feed on the algae-hit Lough Neagh are being forced to seek food further afield. 

“I’d normally be pleased to see the heron down in the towpath and the like, but not in my own back garden!” he said. Let's hope it doesn't find Dúlra's frogspawn!

If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.