Unusual visitors wing their way to Lough Erne

Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup

It’s been a bumper week for birdwatching in County Fermanagh!

In just two days, RSPB NI’s Brad Robson saw no less than five unusual species on Lower Lough Erne.

Long tailed ducks

Long tailed ducks

The nature conservation charity owns or helps manage 43 islands in the lower lough.

On Tuesday 7 June Brad was on the lough checking on the colony of Sandwich terns and Black-backed Gulls which raise their young on Gravel Ridge Island each summer.

While the torrential rain seems to have negatively impacted some birds nesting in the taller vegetation, those which used a purpose-built gravel strip on the island seem to have withstood the wild weather. In June 2014 similar downpours wiped out the breeding colony of both gulls and terns.

Whilst in the area, Brad was amazed to see a Lesser Scaup; only the second time one has been recorded in the county. This small North American diving duck is a rare visitor to Europe and occurred for the first time in Ireland in 1988

Knot

Knot

Also on the island Brad noticed a spectacular male Ruff in breeding plumage - a wading bird which is red-listed (of the highest conservation concern) in the UK. Although frequent in some areas this species is rarely seen in Fermanagh.

Two Knot, which breed on the high arctic tundra of Greenland, arctic Canada and Eurasia were also seen, these were the second and third records of this species in the county. Further surprises came when a pair of Long-tailed Ducks, also high arctic breeders were also in the same area. The following morning a Little Gull was present close to Boa Island. This species breeds in western Europe but only occasionally appears in Fermanagh.

This influx of usual visitors is likely to be linked to the wild weather.

RSPB NI’s Fermanagh Area Manager, Brad Robson, commented: “I suspect they were passing overhead and when the rain, thunder and lightning started they dived down and took refuge on the lough.

“I’ve never seen so many unusual birds within a short space of time in my 19 years on the lough. It really was amazing and proof that you never know what surprises nature has in store!”