BIRDS OF THE ERNE ISLANDS
Island in itself is not particularly interesting as an area for birdwatching but is
surrounded by islands and water and a habitat which includes everything from moorland to
high cliffs. Mr Joe Magee who was the local representative of the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds tells of the immensely varied birdlife around Boa Island.
The biggest influence on Lough Erne in
the recent past has been the various Erne drainage schemes and in particular that of 1880
to 1890. This lowered the level of the lake almost two metres and exposed a great amount
of lake bottom which is now dry land. This new land belonged to the Government and in most
places was just allowed to run wild and form dense scrub. Most of Boa Island has this
fringe of scrub apart from the foreshore of Ardshankill Townland where the local people
disregarded the Government and grazed the land and prevented the seedlings of trees
growing. In addition during the Second World War this foreshore was part of a military
base and carried a lot of military traffic. This bare shore has various wading birds
nesting such as Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing and very unusually the Dunlin. There are only
about 15 pairs nesting in Northern Ireland and about two thirds of them nest between here
and Castle Caldwell. One or two pair nest here in Ardshankill, about six pair along Lowry
shore near Castle Caldwell and one pair at Tulawanya Lake nearby.
The biggest concentrations of birds are
on small rocky islands such as Gravel Ridge Island and Screegan Island. Gravel Ridge
Island, almost all rock and a small amount of grass and some nettles had about 4000 pairs
of Black Headed Gulls nesting there in 1988. It is only about 2 acres in size. Gulls like
these nest in dense colonies together for protection and they will help each other to
drive away predators such as Magpies or Grey Crows. The gulls mob them by crowding all
round them in the sky. Other birds take advantage of this protection and 94 pair of
Sandwich Terns nested on the same small island as well as several kinds of ducks mainly
Tufted Ducks. However mink and rats are two other predators the birds can do little about.
The mink are an introduced species and an increasing menace but rats have been around the
lake longer. The rats on Gravel Ridge have been able to swim out to the island at some
stage and during the summer when there is plenty of food they multiply on the dead birds
and general casualties of the colony. When the birds leave however the rats have the
barren island to themselves and although some may swim away it is believed that they turn
cannibal and only the toughest and most fierce survive until the birds return next year.
Sometimes the R.S.P.B. puts down poison for the rats. Man was once a powerful predator on
these birds also as he took eggs to eat locally or to send to England to be eaten in fancy
restaurants. The birds could replace these eggs if they were taken early enough in the
season however and the removal of eggs did little harm.
Another recent arrival on the islands
have been feral geese. These are geese that have gone back to the wild and this has
happened with Canada and Greylag Geese that now nest on the islands. Screegan Island is
home to about 80 pairs of Lesser Black Backed Gulls but it's real claim to fame is that
the very rare black tern once nested here. This is recorded in the A.A, Book of Birds.
There are other terns nesting in the area and, including the Sandwich Terns already
mentioned, there are Common and Arctic Terns. Like some other species the Terns have
declined in recent years and there are only a few small colonies on the lake and a colony
of about 15 pair on an island on nearby Lough Verty.
The most unusual and exotic bird to nest
here has to be the Flamingo. Three birds turned up first in 1981 and two returned in 1982
and to everyones disbelief built a nest and laid an egg. The sight attracted
television cameras and sightseers and the disturbance may have prevented the egg hatching
out. The nesting Flamingo would stand up when disturbed and remained standing even when
people were far away. For this or other reasons the egg never hatched and the Flamingos
have not come back. They were probably escapees from a Zoo or Nature Park. They had a sad
ending when shot by some local thugs.