BIRDS OF THE ERNE ISLANDS
rarest nesting bird of the British Isles that is found around Boa Island is the Common
Scooter. Despite its name it is not common and rarely nests anywhere in Ireland other than
in Lower Lough Erne and elsewhere in the British Isles only in some remote areas of the
west of Scotland. Iceland is the nearest country to us where the Common Scooter is really
common. Both male and female Common Scooter are almost totally black ducks and they spend
most of their time out in the Atlantic ocean and only return to shore in the Spring in
order to rear their young. Back in the 1970's there were about 150 Common Scooter around
Lower Lough Erne while last year there were only 28 birds. Of these 28 only 7 were
females. The decline in numbers seems to arise from several factors. Pollution seems to be
affecting the bird's special food. Also there has been a large increase in the number of
roach in Lough Erne and these eat similar food to the Scooter. The increase in mink has
provided a ruthless predator for the birds who seems to specialise in killing female
Scooter on the nest. Last year there were only 7 females out of 28 birds. It seems likely
that the Common Scooter will disappear as a breeding bird on Lough Erne despite R.S.P.B.
A bird that nearly disappeared about the
turn of the century but is now once more common about Boa Island is the Great Crested
Grebe. Along with the Little Grebe, the Great Crested Grebe can be found in almost every
reed bed around the lake. Once the Great Crested Grebe was shot for its feathers to make
ladies hats and it almost became extinct.
Birds of prey around Boa Island include
the Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. The Kestrel is not that common in Fermanagh but there is at
least one pair on Boa Island. The Sparrowhawk hunts low over the hedges and occasionally
the increasingly common, Hen Harrier is seen. The most thrilling sight is the stoop or
dive of a Peregrine Falcon which sometimes comes hunting from the cliffs beyond the lake.
It dives down from high in the sky to attack Pigeons that nest among the scrub fringes and
trees of Boa Island.
Small woodland birds nest among the
scrub. The most common is probably the Willow Warbler which is a greenish brown little
bird. A very similar bird is the Chiffchaff but it can easily be told apart because it
continually repeats it's name "chiff chaff chiff chaff". Sedge Warblers and
Grasshopper Warblers are also found about the edge of the reed bed and the scrub. Lusty
Beg and Lusty More Islands have a lot of very big mature trees and in the summer quite
rare birds nest there including the Blackcap and Garden Warblers. Lusty More Island used
to have a population of Tree Sparrows but they seem to have vanished
Boa Island used to be very good for
finding Corncrakes but 1988 was the first every year that the Corncrake was not heard on
the island. Their numbers have been going down all over the British Isles and Western
Ireland and Scotland are the only remaining areas where they can be still heard. In County
Fermanagh where almost every field once had a Corncrake there were only 50 in 1988.
One of the most successful nesting birds
around Boa Island is the Curlew. There are many pairs on the island and Hare Island to the
east of Boa Island has the densest concentration of the birds anywhere in the world. This
island has about 5 pair per hectare.
There is a poem called "The Herons
on Boa Island" by Elizabeth Shane and the herons are still a common sight about the
shores of the island. The island of Inninsmeely to the North of Boa Island has a heronry
where the birds nest in tall trees. In 1988 however there was a great decline in the
numbers of birds nesting and this is possibly due to fish farms shooting birds who steal
their fish or to pollution. Where Innishmeely would normally have 12-15 nests there were
only five occupied. At another heronry on Inishfree, further up Lough Erne, where there
were usually 18-20 nests there were none at all last year. Unless the reason is discovered
soon only the poem may remember the Herons of Boa Island.
The Herons on