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A Report from

Birding "Norn Iron" ,

Stephen Hewitt.

As a proud Ulster birder I felt I should add something to your N.I review.

Firstly the RSPB Belfast Harbour Lagoon Reserve is surely one of the best in the UK?! In winter there are hundreds of widgeon, teal, mallard, curlew, dunlin and oystercatcher and thousands of lapwing and golden plover. There are also shoveller, shelduck, heron, greylag geese, pink-footed geese, snipe, ruff, water rail, kestrel and buzzard. All these species can be viewed simultaneously from the observation room. Black-tailed godwit approach to within an inch of the obs. room window (no exaggeration!) while sparrowhawk and peregrine also make regular raids over the reserve. In summer there is a thriving common tern colony.

Recent rarities have included green-winged teal, little stint and white-rumped sandpiper while unusual gulls are regular.

Away from Belfast, Oxford Island, on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, is good for common woodland species; tits, finches, redpoll, siskin, goldcrest, treecreeper winter thrushes etc. with high numbers of breeding sedge and grasshopper warblers. There are also blackcap, chiffchaff, willow warbler and a few whitethroat. Enormous flocks of lapwing and golden plover can be seen in winter as well as 100+ whooper swans. Buzzard, kestrel, sparrowhawk and raven are resident while hen harrier and merlin are occasional visitors.

There are large flocks of diving ducks in winter, often including a few scaup, red breasted merganser and more usually goldeneye. Rareties have included smew, ring-billed and ferruginous duck.

RSPB Portmore Lough Reserve in SE Antrim has a similar avi-fauna to Oxford Island but there are also breeding snipe, lapwing, tree sparrow and perhaps curlew. Marsh harrier and osprey are regular visitors to the reserve in spring. About half a mile away from Portmore on the eastern shore of Lough Neagh there is a small sandy area called Lady's Bay which is easily viewed from the road (check your OS map!). This spot is excellent for passage waders; last year I recorded greenshank, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, curlew, ruff, snipe, redshank and lapwing here. Buff- breasted sandpiper has also been recorded from this site.

Lough Erne, Lough Foyle, the Mournes and adjacent Donegal (in the Irish Free State) are also well worth a look.

If you're in Donegal, try a trip to Sheskinmore Lough (About 4 miles north of Ardara). It's a really wild spot with no facilities, access is easiest from Tramore Beach at Rossbeg where there is a caravan site, or off the main Ardara-Portnoo Road. There's a sand-dune system, machair grassland, reedbed and moorland as well as a rocky and sandy coastline. I've watched it for some years now (mainly in the summer) and it's excellent!

There can be large flocks of chough and also raven. Peregrine, hen harrier, buzzard and merlin are regular while I've seen a marsh harrier once in spring. Snipe and lapwing breed. Also loads of orchids and other wildflowers.

In winter ther are greenland white fronted, brent and barnacle geese, great northern and red throated divers, eider, twite, the odd snow bunting and reasonable numbers of waders at Ballinreavy Strand. Really excellent site but you have to take the time to explore and trek about it a bit to get it's full potential!

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