Northern Ireland

A year of animal magic

I knew when I got the job of Agriculture and Environment Correspondent a big part of it would mean working closely with animals.

But I had no idea it would be embarrassing and exhilarating in equal measure.

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Media captionThere is believed to be between 50 and 70 dolphins in the group that was filmed

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly in late August.

I had gone to Ballycastle to meet the Department of the Environment's Marine Division who were helping us with a couple of stories out on Rathlin Island, off the County Antrim coast.

We were making the crossing on a couple of powerful ribs.

Image caption It was a rough ride on the rib but certainly worth it

Joe Breen of the Marine Division mentioned that a large pod of bottlenose dolphins had been spotted in the local waters and suggested we try and find them.

After an hour of fruitless searching, we were about to head back when we spotted some splashes in the distance.

When we closed in, we found first a couple and then scores of dolphins surrounding the boat, bow-riding and leaping clear of the water.

It was a spectacular 10-minute display. Using an underwater camera we were able to get some spectacular shots of the 70-strong pod weaving through the waters round the boat.

It was a privilege to witness.

I have been an avid hill walker for years and have covered much of the Mournes in that time.

I knew the RSPB had reintroduced Red Kites to the area but had never actually seen one of the majestic birds of prey.

In October though, I got the chance to see one up close and watch it being released in rolling drumlins near the mountains.

Image copyright Amy Colvin
Image caption Rio the Red Kite has bred consistently since her release and has raised five chicks

Rio the Red Kite had been found injured and after being patched up by a vet was ready to take to the skies again.

A crowd had turned out to watch, though that did not seem to faze Rio, who cast a beady eye on all before her, before soaring majestically into the County Down skies.

The red kite programme has had its problems, 15 of the birds have been found dead, some poisoned due to a mistaken belief that they pose a threat to livestock.

In fact, their main diet is small mammals and worms.

One of the more unusual stories I covered this year, was the transfer of a couple of red squirrels from Belfast Zoo to a military firing range!

Image caption One of the squirrels gets a little loving attention

It is part of a programme to reintroduce the reds, which have been under big pressure from their rival greys due to disease and a competition for food.

The Ministry of Defence had built a soft release pen in a stand of trees between the ranges and the reds were taken there.

Not the safest place to release a protected species you might think, but both the ministry and the zoo had no qualms about it, and within days the reds were said to have settled in and become acclimatised to the sound of gunfire.

And then there was Button. The three month old pet lamb had been abandoned by her mother and was being bottle-fed by farmer Lyndon Hull.

Image caption Button is safe from the abattoir as Lyndon plans to keep her on the farm as a pet lamb

The problem was that Lyndon did not live on his farm and had been taking Button to his private rented house in a Moira housing development at night to feed it and protect it from foxes.

A complaint had been made to the Department of Agriculture who had sent an inspector to investigate. I was dispatched to cover the story.

I was walking Button on a lead on the estate as part of a trail we were recording for the report.

As I knelt down beside her, she decided to relieve herself on my leg, much to the delight of Lyndon and the camera crew.

We used the outtake on BBC Newsline and posted it on social media, but we did not expect how popular it would become.

It had 220,000 views on Youtube at the last count.

Button the Lamb had become an internet sensation, at my expense.

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