Quick-thinking Ahoghill woman has helped find cause of pigeon disaster

Sean McNeice's 14lb 9oz fish from Rooney's Turn at the Drowes.
Sean McNeice's 14lb 9oz fish from Rooney's Turn at the Drowes.

Get your money on right away if you want to bet on the precise cause of the wood pigeon disaster that afflicted North Antrim when thousands of the birds ended up as meagre meals for foxes and cats.

As I write this article a dead pigeon is on its way to Mosside vet WP (Liam) McCullough for post mortem examination. And the one who is leading the field this week is a woman – Mrs Bertie Fleck of Ahoghill, Co Antrim.

She rang me on Monday to say that she had in box a dead collared dove – one of eight which had died near her home in the past two weeks.

She said: “Marley, my Pomeranian, brought it into the house this morning and I immediately thought of getting it to the vet for post mortem examination. Mind you, I doubt if I would have got it if it had not been a wild night last night when few, if any, cats would have been out. The other seven dead birds were eaten before I could get to them and I think it was cats that took them.”

And, Dorothy (that is Mrs Fleck’s Christian name) who assuredly has her wits about her, has a head start on other readers who had been looking for uneaten dead pigeons for nearly a month now.

Not everyone has a Marley Pom but, as well as that, when doves were dying in unusual circumstances near her home five years ago, she sent one of the bodies to Belfast to have a post mortem carried out. When the result came back it said the cause of death was the parasite disease, Trichomoniasis, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Dorothy said that, before dying, the doves near her house had appeared to be “fluffed up and unable to swallow”. She said that the small birds around her house were “not so plentiful” in the past few weeks. But she put it no stronger than that.

I may have the result of the post mortem on Dorothy’s pigeon in time for next week’s article. In the meantime I am most grateful to her for, not only putting the dead pigeon into a box, but actually taking it to the vet’s mother for collection by her son.

I am grateful too, to that great field sportsman William Reynolds of Stranocum for his view on what might have caused the deaths of so many wood pigeons.

One of the best shots it has been my pleasure to see in action, William is a fount of knowledge about wildlife in general and when he talks about his favourite subject you had better listen. But in this case, Dorothy may have the inside track on him – a position experienced by very few.

He said he feared that pigeons in his area might have been dying from ivy poisoning. He said a couple of months ago big numbers of wood pigeons had been feeding on ivy berries near his home, but since then, only a very few pigeons were to be seen.

William said that changes in farming practice over the past 40 years meant that pigeons and other wild birds had to rely on berries from the hedgerows during the winter.

He said: “It used to be that there would have been a lot of grain left on the ground after harvesting, helping birds through the winter. But now, grain fields are ploughed up as soon as the crops are in and there is no grain left for the birds. As well, buttercups and clover are in short supply during the winter.”

On Wednesday night, as I was about to send this article off to Farming Life I got an email from Tyrone reader Raymond Watson  from Glenhoy outside Augher saying the previous day he had found a dead pigeon and another living pigeon that, though apparently uninjured, it seemed not right as it was unable to fly. He was wondering who to contact about the pigeons.

Perhaps the best thing he can do is to ring Mr McCullough on 07753 824 250 and ask if he requires any more pigeons for post mortem. Thanks Raymond.

Meanwhile, Robin Swann Ulster Unionist MLA for North Antrim, has repeated his declaration that in any reduction of government departments in Stormont, the management and protection of our waterways and their usage must be co-ordinated by one department.

He repeated his call after the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure furnished him with information on the number of successful poaching prosecutions it has brought in each of the last three years.

Robin said: “I am concerned by the reduction in the number of prosecution cases brought last year. In 2011/12 a total of 225 prosecutions were taken against 84 people, while in 2013/14 this had fallen to 175 prosecutions against 98 people. 

“The most common offence recorded and taken to prosecution is fishing without a licence, but I am still highly concerned about the common unlawful use of monofilament nets, erecting a fishing weir or fixed engines and the use of salmon nets near the mouth of a river.

“I believe a united approach under one Department or body would be better equipped to tackle this threat to legitimate anglers.”

DCAL Minister Caral ni Chuilin said that in 2011-12 there were 112 prosecutions for fishing without a licence; 51 for unauthorised entry on several fishery; 12 for possession of fish unlawfully captured; 12 for unlawful method of angling; two for use of matter of vegetable origin; five for being in possession of an unlicensed fishing engine; eight for possession of unseasonable trout; two for taking fish on Lough Neagh during close season.

The Drowes continued its first decent run of the season bringing numbers of salmon caught to 10 for the week. Fishing has been more in line with what one would expect for the third week in February.

After the fish caught on Monday and Tuesday there was a blank on Wednesday followed by two more on Thursday. Three were caught on Friday but a blank on Saturday in spite of there being big numbers of rods out that day. Another two fish were caught on a wet and windy Sunday. 
The first fly-caught fish of the 2015 season was landed by Tony McCabe from the Upper Mill Pool on Thursday morning. The 10lb 6oz fish took a Willie Gunn variant. On Thursday afternoon Eddie Roulston had a 9lb 4oz fish on a golden tiger Rapala from the Grazings.

At lunchtime on Friday Sean McNeice had a beautiful, deep fish of 14lb 9oz on prawn from Rooney’s Turn. Later in the afternoon, William Marshall had a fish of 8lb on prawn from the Mill Pool and John O’ Donnell had one of 8lb on a black Flying C from Peter’s High Bank.

On Sunday Jason Nash had a fish of 7lb on a black and copper Flying C from Briney’s and Simon Harris had one 9lb on a black and orange Flying C from above the Turn Hole. 

Sun glasses were found at the Blackwater Pool and can be collected by the owner from the tackle shop, Lareen.

Nancy Hearne of Fishing in Ireland says Mayo angler Nigel Lackey caught the first salmon of the season on the worm at the Moy. It weighed 6lb 7oz and was taken on the Ballina Salmon Anglers Association waters. Michael Wade used a Delphi Collie to land a 10lb 14oz fishy from the Whin Pool on the Bundorragha River.

Valentine’s Day proved fruitful for the Currane as Dublin angler, Noel Clancy had a 13 lb 8oz salmon. Gillie Terence Wharton Snr caught another weighing 9 lb.

Opening day on Lough Corrib saw some beautifully marked brown trout caught. In spite of bad weather, fishing guides Jacek Gorny and Nancy says Tomi Kurman boated some fine fish. Marty Smity and Michael Flanagan had nine hits and boated four on trout-coloured lures. Kevin and Jerry Molloy had three trout with the best fish of the day at 12lbs taken on the troll at Oughterard. Kevin and Harold O’Toole were also trolling and landed seven trout for 12lb 12 oz. The Winners of the Corrib traditional opening day Langan Cup competition for Collinamuck and District AC for the fifth year in a row were John and Frank Butler with six trout for 20lb 1oz.

At Craigmore the mixed weather affected the fishing this week compared to the settled weather last week. Leslie Beggs had 34 trout on pink lures and Steven Alison had 30 to 8lb on mixed lures.

Harry Diven had 14 by the same method and Jim Magill landed 10 on bloodworm and damsels.

Other catches were: Ryan King, 12; David Couples, 10; Jim Irvine, 16 to 7lb; John McClean, eight to 7lb; Ryan Johnston, 17 to 5lb;  Ian Moore, 19 to 7lb; John Hughes, eight; Samuel Anderson, 4lb 10 oz; Eric Murray,4lb; John Carson,4lb; Ryan McAuley, 3lb 10 oz and 4lb; Derek Laird, two at 3lb 10 oz, 5lb and 6lb. Colin and Brian Martin both netted fish at 5lb.

It never rains but it pours. On Sunday I was on my way from Cushendun to Ballycastle when my enjoyment of the moorland scenery was rudely interrupted by my driver exclaiming excitedly – “Look at the grey crows”. There must have been scores of them in a field near Lloughareema.The driver’s eyesight is a lot better than mine so I did not question his arithmetic, But that evening as I was wondering how best to reduce the hoodie numbers, I had a call from John Healy whose late father Frank was the most popular man in the Glens of Antrim because of the great work he did controlling fox numbers in North Antrim with his splendid terriers. Many a sheep farmer told me that they would have been out of business if it were not for the work Frank did.

Anyway, John was on the phone to tell me about the greatest thing since sliced bread. We had been working for years with Larsen traps and a good job they did. In fact a few years ago I wrote about one captive hoodie that had accounted for 102 hoodies in a Larsen trap which I and Patsy McBride used on the Lough Mountain and on Patsy’s home farm at Watertop. I would take the Larsen to the moor near Loughareema once Patsy’s sheep had finished lambing.

But John said emphatically that I was now badly behind the times.

He said Larsens were fine and very convenient where relatively small numbers of hoodies or magpies were concerned.

But where hoodies or magpies were tripping over each other the answer was definitely the Ladder trap. My driver has agreed to make a Ladder trap for me.