- An occasional series of longer Reports and Studies -
ďLough Allenís Special BirdsĒ
Report on the Breeding, Behaviour, and
Viability of Lough Allen's
Water Birds, 2010
Introduction and Aims
Significance of Lough Allenís Birds
Encouraging Important Species
Lough Allenís Winter Birds
Lesser Black-backed Gull
various other Species
16th December 2010
The LAB Bird Report 2010 is intended as part of an assessment of an element of the Natural Heritage of Lough Allen. It stems from an undertaking made (here and elsewhere) during the year to try and come to a better understanding of the sometimes rich and special Birdlife of Lough Allen. This will complement other work being done on rare flowers, fish, butterflies, etc.
Some questions have been answered; others need further research. Some species are thriving, some are managing but with difficulty, others are simply on the edge of exclusion from this location. This latter situation is one which would be a crying shame and which could, and should, be avoided.
The purpose of this particular project is to contribute to the knowledge of the fauna and flora of this Lake that is now being developed by us and others. We believe that this will show that Lough Allen is richer than may have been thought in its collection of very rare plants and animals. This unique collection of species in turn makes the Lough Allen Basin as a whole an area fit for a broadly based conservation strategy. Consequently, a second purpose in this work has been the goal of collecting the evidence and submitting a case to the EU for funding of a major conservation programme for the area under the aegis of the EU LIFE+ scheme.
Such a result would be enormously beneficial for the economy of the area, for the people of the area and, of course, for the conservation of Nature in the area. At the very least, we believe that parts of Lough Allen should be made into a Nature Reserve.
Many of the most recorded bird species found around Lough Allen are endangered species. The very endangered species (as defined by International Convention) found in the Lough Allen Basin would include the Curlew, Lapwing and Black-headed Gull. These are species which have declined by more than 50% in Europe. Birds of medium conservation concern found in Lough Allen include Common Gull, Common Tern, Great Crested Grebe and the Red-breasted Merganser.
The significance of the Birds found in Lough Allen and their status.
One of the significant things about the Lough Allen area is that it has a diverse avifauna in one discrete location. Some of these are marginal northern species (such as the Red-breasted Merganser), others are migratory southern species such as the Common Sandpiper. They both are visitors to Lough Allen in the summertime. Other species are breeding residents but not particuarly common species nationwide. The status of some of these birds is stable but others are in decline. This decline may be global or regional but it is the responsibility of every area to try and protect these birds where they breed or have bred in the recent past.
Whilst Corncrakes used to be widespread in Leitrim, they are now extinct. So too might be our Lapwings and Curlews if the present disastrous decline is allowed to continue. Having regard to the Lapwing, the measures needed to facilitate successful breeding in this type of habitat and in this region are well known, and have been piloted elsewhere. Other new species may also move into the area with proper encouragement. For example, there is no record of the Common Tern breeding in Lough Allen but, they are here all Summer. Another species, the Greenshank is seen passing through the area at various times of the year. We are somewhat surprised to see this species in the area so frequently. They breed in areas in North and West Scotland, and winter in estuaries around the British Islands. We don't believe it is likely that they would nest in the area but it is interesting to see them passing through... They have never bred in Ireland, but there have been occasional sightings (like ours) from various sites.
Inter-species predation is another problem. Many of the significant and important and unusual water birds that breed in Lough Allen do not prey on one another or compete for food. However there are a few species, all of which are in decline and are important breeding members of our biodiversity, that do interfere with one another's breeding success. For example, the Lesser Black-backed Gull harasses and preys on most of the other species. It also shares some nesting localities with the Mergansers, making the possibility of the Mergansers hatching young on these islands almost negligible. But the Mergansers do breed on other islands not occupied by the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Equally, the Common Tern and the other Gulls (Common and Black-headed) are also disturbed by the Lesser Black-backed Gull. The Common and Black-headed Gulls, and the Common Terns, nest in the same colonies next to one another with no apparent difficulties. Also, cattle regularly graze on the main breeding colony and appear also to cause little harm. However the Lesser Black-backed Gull is a significant species as well, and is also in decline. So it, too, needs to be conserved. Consequently, it is an important conclusion of this initial study that... any conservation plan addressing the management of birds stocks in Lough Allen will need to determine and implement means of managing all species successfully. Another example of conflict would be between Lapwing and Grey Crows. Lapwings are harried mercilessly by the Grey Crows when they start to nest both in traditional pastures and lake shores. In this case, the Crows are vermin, and possibly there is a case for controlling their numbers. Grey Crows seem to be a rapidly increasing problem in Lough Allen.
Ways of protecting/encouraging our important species.
In the case of Lough Allen, current observations indicate that a quick approach to increasing nesting opportunities for the Common Tern by means of rafts might be counterproductive at this stage. Common Terns will nest on rafts but they may not raise young successfully. In Lough Allen they have established themselves on a small piece of ideal ground at the south tip of The Spit adjacent to the Black-headed Gull colony. There are two problems here. Firstly, if the water level was to rise due to heavy rain their nest would be flooded. Secondly, this location is close to Round Island (an area with a significant Lesser Black-backed Gull breeding colony) and is also very exposed. The Gulls continuously fly over and seek to rob eggs from the smaller Gulls and disturb the Terns (whether the Terns managed to lay eggs or not, we donít know). Rafts would provide protection from fluctuating water levels but would immediately attract the Terns away from a safer area to where they would be completetly exposed to marauding Gulls. This seems likely to undermine, rather than encourage, any newly establishing colony. Better options might be to encourage the Terns to a suitable breeding area in another island further from the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony which might be able to provide a higher nesting area safe from Summer flooding. Terns were seen scouting in such an area at the end of last season. Other work done in different areas has included providing nest covers and barrage sticks to deter overflying Gulls but we feel that any raft in the middle of Lough Allen will become a natural perch and part of a marauding route for the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. If we can encourage the Terns to become established in a naturally protected area they may not immediately form a target for attack
Tern Rafts at Rye Meads, Lea Valley near London (Common Tern nearest camera)
Conservation measures elsewhere for Lapwings, have included such measures as removing trees from suitable large open grassy areas. This prevents Grey Crows and other predators from perching close by. Lapwings prefer open grassy areas as they then have a chance to see such predators approaching and can protect their nest or young. Pilot projects have been undertaken in Scotland and in Northern Ireland to improve conditions and seek to increase Lapwing breeding numbers. In Northern Ireland the conservation measures also included removing rushes and tall grass from large areas of an island in Lough Erne so as to provide safer nesting and breeding. So far this has resulted in larger numbers of Lapwings returning to the L. Erne islands in Summer. This might not suit the islands in Lough Allen but there are a number of open grassy areas around the Lake which with a significant management commitment could be made more attractive for Lapwings. Such a commitment would be best planned if such areas could be established as a Nature Reserve either through purchase (as part of a LIFE+ scheme) or in cooperation with the landowner on a farming-for-wildlife type basis.
Red-breasted Mergansers are found all around the coast of Ireland in winter, but breed mainly in the West and North of Ireland and, indeed, have a northwesterly breeding range in Europe also. So they are present in Lough Allen on the edge of their range. But they do seem to be a vibrant population. Their breeding success, however, is clearly being put under threat by the activities of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. One possible way of protecting Mergansers from such predation might be to provide nest boxes very close to the edge of the water as this is their natural preference. Mergansers nests need to be close to the water and protected, usually in roots of trees like the Alder found all around the lake shore. However, Lough Allen is a lake with very changeable water levels and there is no point in putting in Merganser nest boxes if they are going to be flooded during the subsequent nesting season. The Lough Allen Mergansers may be adapted to this variable water level as nest sites we have found (after the breeding season) have been a short distance in from the water (as opposed to right beside it as seen in American studies of the species). But they have been in areas with continuous tree cover right out into open water. A constant fairly low water level in Lough Allen during the breeding season would also be a boon to many species?
For other birds (especially ducks) a lagoon or scrape, fed by water from a higher source and draining into Lough Allen over a weir so as to maintain a constant level suitable for both breeding and winter feeding, might serve to increase the populations of such birds in Lough Allen both in Summer and Winter. Lagoons and scrapes are a common feature of Bird Reserves in the UK. If such a feature were provided around Lough Allen, with a bird hide for viewing, it could become a popular visitor attraction, serve to raise awareness of our natural heritage, and provide a safe haven for the birds. Maybe such an area might entice Greenshank (another elusive species in Lough Allen) to drop in more often?
Lough Allenís Winter birds and Hunting and Pest control.
In Winter there is a good variety of visiting birds to Lough Allenís shores. Whooper Swan numbers are moderate (19 in one group at the end of November), Wigeon (up to 50), Goldeneye, Mallard, Teal and Tufted Duck also occur. Greenland White-fronted Geese have come to Lough Allen in small numbers in the past (2008) but none have been seen in 2009 and 2010 (so far). Possibly the shooting season could disturb many Winter birds, and drive them onwards to other lakes and other locations. It would be a shame to see Lough Allen's significant birds being driven away in this way. If at least some of Lough Allen could be designated a Reserve and protected, it would be a help. Grey Crows, which are becoming quite plentiful, may also need to be controlled. Under present regulations, Grey Crows can be shot by the owner or agent of lands where Grey Crows are causing damage to fauna such as nests or young of game birds. Can this be extended to include wild birds which are under threat or endangered? Another possible need is the culling (or trapping) of mink which could have a disastrous effect on breeding success of Lough Allen's birds if their numbers were to increase or if they were to take over some of the islands. No research has been done on Mink numbers but it is something to watch out for in the future.
Details of the birds we have studied during the year are listed below:
A declining species in Scotland but not considered to be at risk in Ireland?
Calendar. Started noticing these beautiful ducks around mid April this year, while they were scouting around quiet bays and inlets. They spend the winter at sea, so possibly this was the earliest movement into Lough Allen? We spotted them all around the lake until the end of July. From then on they were only rarely seen; they may have been sheltering with young, or moulting, in quiet bays. A few were seen around the north of the lake in late September, but none after that.
Pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, Annagh 'Inner' lake, May 14th 2010
Habitat. Think of the quietest, most isolated locations around Lough Allen, and this is where you may be likely to see Red Breasted Mergansers. You may find them resting on an island or a lake shore or in the middle of a quiet bay. On a clear calm day you may see them far offshore busily fishing around the small islands and skerries. Early on a Summer's morning is a good time to see them; just walk, or drive, very quietly towards the shore and they may be found fishing just off the shoreline. We have often seen them at this time of day swimming very close to Corry Strand, or Cormongan pier, or Inishfail, or Arigna or Corry and Drummans Islands. The inner lakes at Rossmore and also at Annagh are also popular places to find them. Away from disturbance by Gulls, and there appear to be plenty of fish in these sheltered backwaters. We have also seen them actively fishing around a reef off Srabraggan, where fishing boats regularly spend quite a lot of time!
Breeding. Mergansers nest very close to water to facilitate the adults fishing and feeding young. This also enables the young to get used to water as small ducklings but still in the protection of overhanging trees. Mergansers always breed (in Lough Allen) on tree lined shores with plenty of exposed roots where they can hide their nest. Alders would seem to be a perfect tree for them since they grow all along the shoreline and actually well out into the water. This is a specific feature of Alder (i.e. they can fix Nitrogen with nodules found on their roots), and Alder Carr (as such shore woodland is called) is a particular feature of Lough Allen. This is probably an important reason why Mergansers are so prominent here and absent from other lakes.
We have most often seen evidence of nesting and breeding on Lough Allen's islands. They even nest on the 2 main islands occupied by the Lesser Black-backed Gull. We have seen both mature young (i.e. successful breeding) and eaten eggs on Gull Island and on Round Island. 'Mainland' sites where we have seen evidence of breeding (i.e. the male cruising up and down keeping guard along a shoreline in the breeding season), have been near larger islands (Drummans Island, which is often attached to the shore), sheltered bays (Rossmore, or Fahy beach) or inner lakes, almost cut off from Lough Allen (e.g. the lake at Annagh). Other places where we have seen Merganser pairs, have been at Round Island and The Spit, A very rough estimate is that there were 9 or 10 breeding pairs this year, and about 15 immature birds (hatched 2009). Difficult to find 2010 chicks (we never even saw a nest though we knew the rough location of a few!) but saw at least 2 young birds, one at the end of July, the other in September.
A once familiar species, now declining all over Europe. Their breeding population has undergone large and widespread declines since 1800, and, they are of Global conservation concern. It's estimated that there may only be a couple of hundred breeding pairs left in Ireland.
Lapwing (one of a pair) on the Spit, June 29th
Calendar. Lapwings overwinter inland in flocks in fields or marshy areas. Large numbers migrate to Ireland from Europe in Winter swelling the numbers of native birds. During the extreme floods in November 2009 we saw many Lapwings (up to 50) happily feeding in flooded fields around Carrick-on-Shannon. On November 21st this year, we counted a single flock of 220+ in the same flooded area west of Drumharlow Lake. Only small numbers have been found around Lough Allen in Winter. From late Spring some Lapwing pairs were seen around Lough Allen's shores, as well as small flocks of (probable) non-breeding birds. On August 9th, a group of 9 Lapwings were flying around the Sluices/Holly Island. However, in the cold weather during December we have only seen small numbers of Lapwings (1-5) around the breeding areas of Srabraggan and Murhaun at the southern end of the lake.
Habitat. Lapwings like open grassy wettish areas where there are no trees. Especially in winter, they like to group together in larger flocks as there is safety in numbers and they move in flocks from place to place. Their ideal breeding habitat is similar, open grassy areas or wide muddy bays with low vegetation and little tree cover. Trees can provide a perching place for predators (especially Grey Crows) which rob eggs or kill the chicks. Suitable habitats exist around Lough Allen, but considerable management would need to be put in place to have any chance of establishing a viable breeding colony. However, such an effort might be worth making bearing in mind the appeal of this bird, its part in our heritage, and its rapid decline.
Three different habitats where Lapwings were seen regularly this year included a stony exposed low island (with good visibility to look out for predators), a sandy muddy bay with a spit and a shallow lagoon, and a cattle pasture near the lake. In all these areas the Lapwings were regularly persecuted by either Grey Crows or Lesser Black-backed Gulls and we donít believe they successfully raised any young? There is one large area of wide open grassland at the north end of the lake which (with consent of the landowner) might be made more suitable for Lapwings by removing a few medium sized trees and trying to provide a wet area or scrape as a feeding resource for young birds. Removing rushes from open fields could also help attract Lapwings as has been done on islands in Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. But these would be mainland sites at Lough Allen as the islands here are too small and stony and largely covered by trees.
Breeding. Small groups of Lapwings were seen throughout the Spring. Up to 4 pairs were seen establishing nests on the east and the west shores of the southern end of the Lake. These areas are close together as the Lapwing flies and these pairs may have been visiting both sites. 2 pairs tried to nest near Srabraggan but quickly abandoned the effort after persistent attack from Grey Crows. 2 other pairs stayed on or near The Spit for the Summer and might possibly have been successful (though we have no proof)! Not wanting to disturb them, or any other breeding birds, we kept our distance. We observed display flights, observed repeated visits to specific locations, and noticed efforts to distract marauders from sensitive areas? We did not see any young birds, though. The first territorial Lapwings we saw were in early May, the first displaying pair (on the Spit) was on 21st May where another pair joined them on 28th. Up to 5 birds persistently tried to nest in the pasture south of Srabragan in May and early June. In early July, a small group of 5 were flying around the south end of the lake (probably non-breeding) and one (of a pair) still on The Spit until 23rd of July. One pair was seen on the Fahy shoreline below the Yellow river at the end of July, they seemed very 'tied' to that location.
Common Gulls off Corry Strand, April 16th
The Common Gull, despite its name, is not so common at all. It is included in the list of moderately endangered species. It is a very attractive bird and not at all aggressive like its cousins, the Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Calendar. Common Gulls seem to be around Lough Allen all during the year in small numbers, but from mid April onwards we saw them gathering in small groups around the North end of the lake, and also at the south end near Cormongan.
Habitat. Lough Allen's quiet, isolated islands seem to suit them well. In late Spring and Summer they can be seen on Gull island off Corry Point. In small numbers admittedly, as the Lesser Black-backed Gulls also occur here. The small size of this Island may make it difficult for them to protect their eggs from marauding Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Their stronghold, however, appears to be The Spit where they occupied one part of the outer Spit (a treeless open area with some large boulders and ground consisting of small stones and gravel with a small amount of plant cover.) There is a distinct 'no-man's land' between the Common Gull zone at the northern end and the Black-headed Gull zone on the southern end of the Spit. The large boulders provide some protection and sites for nesting, and the openness of the whole area allows them to see when the Lesser Black-backed Gulls decide to come visiting from further north on the lake.
Breeding took place on Gull Island, and up to 10 individuals were seen here during the breeding season. One spectacular nest was seen high up in a tall dead Alder tree! This was probably a old Crow's nest, but provided a good vantage point for the Common Gull high off the ground. Three very recently fledged Common Gulls were seen in the water just off this island on 25th June. These may have come from the tree nest, as it appeared to be vacant at that stage. But by far the largest number of nests and young were seen on The Spit, where adult numbers reached approximately 30. On June 29th. young but quite hardy Common Gulls were seen venturing onto the shoreline and into the water. One other late sighting of a Common Gull pair (on July 13th) was on an isolated beach and sandy spit below the Yellow River on the eastern shore of the lake. One adult was very agitated and flying around me as I watched from the edge of the trees a good distance away. At least one young Common Gull was seen on the shoreline close to the other adult. Throughout the lake, during the next few weeks, we saw upwards of 25 to 30 young Common Gulls in flocks with adults.
Young Common Gulls on the Spit, June 29th Very young Common Gulls, Gull Island, June 25th
Often regarded as a familiar and rather common gull this species is, in fact, also on the list of endangered species. On Lough Allen this year there was a large breeding group on The Spit. They bred later than the Common Gulls and only arrived as the Common Gulls were sitting on eggs. They also appeared to be less successful than the Common Gulls. This may have been because they appeared less well able to handle the persistent harrying by the Lesser Black-backed Gull from neighbouring Round Island. This is a species that needs to be encouraged and offered a degree of assistance in order to maximise their breeding success.
Calendar. Started seeing Black-headed Gulls (c.10 birds) on the Spit on 22nd May. By early June, the numbers had increased to 32, reaching a peak of 60 on 17th June. By end June, many adults, and young, were moving away from the breeding grounds out onto the lake and other islands. By the beginning of August, these gulls were not to be seen in the usual haunts, but scattered around the lake in small numbers. During Autumn, and to date (mid December), a group of up to 20 Black-headed Gulls seem to congregate around the sewage treatment ponds in Drumshanbo, especially during very cold spells when much of the south part of the lake has been frozen over.
Black-headed Gull with two young, 23rd July
Habitat Their favoured habitat in Lough Allen appears to be low stony areas in quiet locations, with good visibilty all around. They don't occur on the tree-covered islands (where Lesser Black-backs hold most of the territory). Areas we have seen them in good numbers include The Spit (at breeding time), around Cormongan in Spring (a popular fishing area), and Yellow River beach at the end of July where large numbers congregated (21+ adults) with at least 13 young.
Young Black-headed Gull with a young Common Gull behind
Breeding. The only breeding colony we have found in Lough Allen is on The Spit. There is an interesting demarcation here; Common Gulls occupy the northern part of the Spit for about half its length. There is a small 'no-man's land' area moving south, then in the southern part of the Spit, the Black-headed Gulls have their nests. At the very end of the Spit, a very small area was claimed by Common Terns. In early June, the numbers of Black-headed Gulls on the Spit had reached 32, though they may not have started nesting at that stage. The occasional arrival of a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls caused quite a bit of disruption to both the Common and Black-headed Gulls. The intruders were chased off by the Black-headed Gulls quite aggressively! The Common Gulls did not appear to be so aggressive? Up to 4 Terns also joining in the fray. By 17th June, there were 60 Black-headed Gulls on The Spit and definitely on nests and we witnessed less intrusion by Lesser Black-backed Gulls. By this stage, the water level was fairly low in the lake and cattle from the shoreline had waded out to The Spit to graze. Could the cattle's presence have put off the Lesser Black backed Gulls? The resident Gulls did not appear to be disturbed by the cattle at all. (Though the cattle could have caused some damage to nests by trampling on them...)
Black-headed Gulls seem to breed slightly later than the Common, as many Common Gull young were swimming and flying around the island while most of the Black-headed Gull eggs were only hatching out. This was at the end of June (29th). By July 12th, the majority of both species of Gull had moved off the Spit, and only 6 Black-headed Gulls were seen. In their nesting area more than 20 hatched-out shells were counted, but we only checked a small area, as we didn't want to disturb any young chicks that may have been hiding. Two weeks later, we passed near to a large raft of Gulls on the lake and rocky skerries out beyond the islands off Cormongan. These included about 15 Adult Black-headed Gulls with 7 young, quite happily in the company of adult and young Common Gulls (3 and 13 respectively). In another part of the lake, the beach below Yellow River (quite an isolated spot), there were 21 adults and at least 13 young Black-headed Gulls about a week later. The Black-headed Gull is a species that is in decline and especially so in England, where they are actively conserved. Apart from predation by Lesser Black-backed Gulls, they appear to be doing very well on Lough Allen.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
These are the Gulls that can cause havoc by stealing eggs from other nesting birds. We have seen predated Merganser eggs on Gull island (which is a stronghold of the Lesser Black-backed Gull though some Common Gulls manage to breed there). However, the Mergansers do not appear to have been so lucky, as we saw a number of predated Merganser eggs on this island. On many occasions, we saw a Lesser Black-back disturbing the nesting birds on the Spit, causing Common Gulls, Black-headed gulls, Lapwings and Terns to chase it away. The Black-headed Gulls appeared to be the most persistent in trying to dive onto the Lesser Black backs in midair.
Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
Calendar. Seen throughout the year in small numbers, they congregate mainly on two small islands in the north and south of Lough Allen sometime towards the end of April.
Habitat. Rocky islands with tree cover and dense vegetation seems to be their preferred habitat for breeding, but many of the small rocky skerries have their resident groups of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Some of these groups may be 'bachelor' colonies of non-breeders, a little distance away from breeding colony.
Breeding. The breeding colonies are on Gull island (off Corry Point) and on Round Island (off Cormongan). Nests were evident on some of the islands, including one on a small rocky skerry just offshore from the old Power Station at Arigna. At the end of June, (25th) we photographed one Lesser Black-backed chick just breaking out of its shell (see below). Largest count of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were 22 on Round Island, 10 on Gull island off Corry, and 7 on a low stony 'skerry' off Gull island but with no sign of breeding. We saw a number of nests, particularly on Gull Island and many hatching eggs but only noticed a small number of young ones flying. (This could have been due to our attention switching to the search for Lady's Tresses orchid around Lough Allen at this time, early August!)
Hatching Lesser Black-backed Gull, Gull Island, Lough Allen
Another species suffering decline but this is a new one to Lough Allen. We have seen the Common Tern in small numbers around Lough Allen in previous years but assumed they were only migrants (particularly around the south of the lake, around Holly Island and Murhaun shore).
Calendar. This year, we had our first sightings of Common Terns on The Spit on May 28 (2), and two days later 4 were present. Only 3 were seen on the Spit on June 4th, and from then onwards, only one pair were present. Around the end of June two terns were seen diving on Black-headed Gulls on Jenny's Island; perhaps the Terns were prospecting for suitable nest sites there? They were present there during early July, but then seemed to disappear.
Common Tern over Lough Allen
Habitat. The Spit is stony and gravelly with very little grass and vegetation but is isolated from the mainland for much of the year and gets little disturbance from there (except for cattle, which the Terns don't seem to mind much). However, the territory they occupied on the Spit was very small, and at the extreme end of the stony shore. Possibly, they may need slightly more space (or less disturbance from Lesser Black-backed Gulls) to breed successfully? In Rye Meads Nature Reserve, near London, the Wardens have set up Tern rafts in some of the many lagoons on the old Lea River and reservoirs. These are used by Common Terns, however they are also used (in greater numbers) by Black-headed Gulls. And since the Gulls are in serious decline in the UK, the wardens are quite happy to see the rafts being used in this way. On Lough Allen, such rafts are unlikely to work as the breeding Terns would be very exposed to marauding Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We are investigating if a sheltered raft could be designed that would still attract the Terns but hinder the larger Gulls from landing or attacking.
Breeding. One pair settled on the Spit from late May and were present all throughout June. They occupied a very definite territory at the southernmost end of the Spit, next to the Black-headed Gull nesting colony. This they defended vigorously from intrusions by Lesser Black-backed Gulls which arrived from neighbouring Round Island as regular as clockwork! They actively fished in this area and further south towards Jenny's Island but, from a distance, we could see no Tern nest or eggs on the Spit. Numbers of Terns around Lough Allen are very small and it would be good to provide the right sort of habitat for them to breed, but it's important not to upset the delicate balance between the species.
Sandpiper just arrived at Cormongan Pier, Lough Allen, 3rd May
Calendar. First seen in early May, when they arrive from Africa, these delightful birds are quite common around the lake through May, June and July. They largely disappeared in late Summer, presumably on their long return migration to Africa. However, during October single Sandpipers were seen on a number of occasions at Spencer Harbour. Are these birds that have decided to over-winter here or are they late migrants from further north? Some Common Sandpipers are now over-wintering along Irish seashores in recent years.
Habitat. They like small islands and muddy or sandy shores but do seem to occur almost everywhere around the lake. There's plenty of insect and other invertebrate food in the band of broken down branches, leaves, and organic detritus, that occurs along much of Lough Allen's shoreline. For breeding, they seem to be more associated with rocky and exposed shores found on promontories and islands.
Breeding. There were many occasions when, arriving at a small island or stony shoreline by boat, we were greeted by the anxious piping of a Sandpiper protecting its territory. Sometimes, we saw a pair flying off together only to circle around and return very quickly. On Jenny's Island, particularly, their antics in late summer made it difficult to count them, as a small group (5 at least including 1 young) kept circling around and around the island. We also saw definite Sandpiper pairs at Cormongan, Long Island, The Spit and Srabraggan (all in the southern part of the Lake) and also at Corry Point, Drummans Island, Fahy beach, Yellow River at the northern end of lake. But, they can be regarded as present wherever the shore is suitable and a steady breeder probably in good numbers.
Calendar. First seen on the lake in mid-July, and seen throughout the summer. Quite a large flock (up to 25) were at Murhaun shore throughout July and August, seen again (10) in mid October. Since that date, not seen around the lake until Dec 11/12 when we saw 2 Curlews at Fahy Cemetery beach, and one at Murhaun.
Habitat. The muddy, sheltered shoreline around Murhaun and the Spiranthes islands particularly seems to suit Curlews. Behind this shore are open areas of grass with few trees where horses often graze. On the shore itself, there are a number of tiny inlets and bays with old Bog Pine branches and trunks sticking up out of the mud to give plenty of cover. Some reed beds just offshore also serve as protection. We have often seen a group of 25 Curlews in this area, sometimes strung out along the shore, feeding, a short distance from one another. Other locations where we have seen one or two birds include the Spit, and the Bay south of Yellow River.
Breeding. Are known to breed on the West side of the lake on the slopes of Corry Mountain. On the Lake itself we first saw them this year in mid July. At this time of the year these could be birds coming down to the lake after breeding had finished, or they could also be birds migrating through from further north? Our work has not (yet) included much research on the hills and upland areas around the lake; perhaps this is something to be addressed in future years, and to ascertain where Curlew breed in the Lough Allen Basin.
Other Bird species recorded around Lough Allen.
Heron, Raven: Both breeding on Church Island. Heronry and Raven's nest close to one another.
Greater Black-backed Gull: 2 or 3 individuals north of the lake; but moved south when fledging of other gull spp. taking place.
Whooper swans: First arrivals of 2010 on Lough Allen 20th Oct (4) 24th Oct (7) 22nd Nov (19)
Mute Swans: Infrequent around the lake.
Moorhen: Only seen in three locations; Corry Island, Inner lake, Kilgarriff and Spiranthes Is. north of Drumshanbo
Water Rail: Inner lake at Kilgarriff, 30th April
Jays: Plenty around Inisfale island.
Kestrel: near Diffagher River 26/9; Fahy, 19/4
Golden Eagle: seen once in May 2009 near Corry Point, (flew towards the Playbank mountain) also in July 2010, over Round Island, Cormongan. (Flew over the lake and was seen circling over the windmills on Corry mountain).
Sparrowhawk: 19/6, where Shannon enters the lake.
Hen Harrier: 26/10, By Wind farm, Corry Mt above Spencer Harbour.
Wheatear: Shoreline above Horse Bay, (Derrytelgeroe) near small river, June 24
Greenshank: Srabraggan, 2 on 14/3; One at the Spit, 23/7, 2 at Srabraggan December 12th
Redshank: One at Srabraggan, 14/3, 2 at Srabraggan December 11th
Spotted Flycatcher: Inishfale 15/5, also Corry Point on Scots Pine (26/5)
Sedge Warblers: Fields near Inishfale bay (19/5), Kilgarriff (30/4)
Grasshopper Warblers: Fields near Inishfale bay (19/5), also where Shannon enters L. Allen 9/4 and 22/6
Blackcap: Annagh 9/4
Gt.Crested Grebes: Pair Annagh 9/4, pair Rossmore 13/4; one adult with immature bird off Cormongan 23/7. One seen off Drummans island 26/9 ; a total of 8 seen around the lake December 11th/12th .
Mallard: Common, especially on islands and E. shore around Murhaun, near Drumshanbo. Total for the lake Dec 11/12th, 52.
Teal: Annagh 9/4; Total for the lake Dec 11/12th, 48
Wigeon: 3 in Inisfale Bay, 14/3. Flock of 35 Murhaun shore, 22nd Nov. Total for the lake Dec 11/12th, 6.
Tufted Duck: 2 at Srabraggan, Dec 11th, 9 at Corry Point Dec 12th.
Goldeneye: 2 on Dec 5th, Srabraggan
Reed Bunting: Rossmore 13/4, Kilgarriff 30/4
Cuckoo: Kilgarriff 30/4, also on 2/5. Holly Island, 24th June
Kingfisher: 26/9 Diffagher River, NW Lough Allen. One at Drumshanbo Lock, and another near the Sluices, Dec 11th.
Snipe: 9/8 (1) and 22nd Nov(1) Dec 11th (2) all at Murhaun shore.
Willow Warblers: very common
Chiffchaffs: very common
Song Thrush: frequent
Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare: Common in winter
Woodpigeon: Very common
Cormorants: Not very many; usually seen singly around the lake.
Barn Owl: on Shannon River just south of Ballintra Bridge and Sluices, August. (seen twice while conducting Daubenton Bat survey!)
Dipper: December 12th (1) Cleighran More. On the lake shore.
Thatís all for this year Folks! We promise to
do better next year...
Always very happy to hear of your Bird Records for the Lough Allen Basin.