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17 September 2014
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Nature's Calendar

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Waterway activities


Freshwater areas are great for wildlife watching in winter because they provide warmer, safe havens for many species.

The Nature's Calendar team provides an expert guide into activities that you can get involved with in freshwater areas.

Herons - these elegant birds love freshwater habitats

Swan spotting - Lough Neagh

Mute SwanThere are two species of swans on Lough Neagh - Mutes and Whoopers.

But how can you tell which bird is which when they are in flight and it's hard to see them close up?

* Both birds are large in size but the Whoopers have evolved as great flying machines able to fly long distances.

There have even been reports of these birds flying at altitudes as high as Mount Everest, 26,000 feet.

Whoopers are a noisy bunch - they can do the 800 mile trip from Iceland in one go - and as a result their wings don't make a sound, but they are very vocal, honking away to each other.

* Whoopers have a distinctive yellow bill compared with the Mute Swan with its orange beak.

* Mute Swans are silent vocally but have noisy bodies because they're not so used to flying.

Listen for the sound of their wings slapping and flapping - they make much more of a throbbing sound because more physical effort is involved.

* Also watch for the swans feeding on the lough and surrounding farmland.

* These wild birds can be a little skittish so try using a telescope which is that the best bit of kit for seeing them.

Heron watching

Herons are visitors to many of our waterways but they can be surprisingly elusive, so follow a few tell-tale clues:

Heron* Pellets under the trees are a good sign that herons are around or have been in the vicinity.

* Look for large nests in the trees, and birds flapping about.

* Be careful when you're visiting a heronry - the adults often throw up their stomach contents when disturbed!

* A good place to find Grey Herons is Coney Island on Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.



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