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Birds of the Erne Islands

 


BIRDS OF THE ERNE ISLANDS

The 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. protection.

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 Boa Island>>

Contributed by John Cunningham

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