Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Watch the birdies!

See thousands of our feathered friends at lough before mass migration

Thousands of wild birds will be setting off on their long migrations south within weeks as the autumn migrations begin.

And wildlife experts are inviting people to come and see the birds that have spent the summer breeding on Lough Beg National Nature Reserve before they head south for the winter.

Lough Neagh Wetlands biodiversity officer Seamus Burns said the walk this weekend will take in the breeding birds and unusual wildflowers of Lough Beg, as well as a trip to Church Island which houses the remains of a 12th century monastery.

"We'd encourage as many people as possible to come along on Sunday as it will be a great opportunity to spot a wide range of migrating birds," he said.

"Ospreys that breed in Scotland pass through here on their journey south and usually stop off in Lough Beg to catch fish, as do a range of wading birds such as black-tailed godwit and whimbrel.

"The walk will also be a good chance to spot birds like the common tern, curlew, lapwing and redshank, all of whom have spent the summer at Lough Beg with their young.

"In addition, many of the wildflowers that are found in the wet grassland at Lough Beg can be viewed at their best at this time of year, including the rare Irish lady's tresses orchid and the pennyroyal, a fragrant mint flower that only flowers in Ireland at Lough Beg."

Louise McAlavey, of the Environment and Heritage Service, said: "Lough Neagh is a hugely important site for biodiversity. Joining this walk will help people learn more about the fantastic range of bird life found there."

Meanwhile walkers will be able to visit Church Island, which is accessible by foot in late summer and only becomes an island in winter as the water levels rise.

The 'church spire' on the island was built for Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol in the late 1700s, who lived in Ballyscullion House overlooking the lough.

Seamus said: "He wanted to be able to look out and see a spire from the house.

"The spire was bent by an aircraft based at the American Air Base at Creagh near Toome during the Second World War. It has been straightened up quite recently by the Department of the Environment.

"The ruin of the old church dates back to the time of Saint Patrick. It is thought that Patrick used the Bann to navigate to the island on Lough Beg where he met with Taoide to found an early Christian settlement in the 5th century. That settlement is recorded as Inis Taoide (Taoides Island) in the Annals of Ulster of the 11th century.

Booking is essential for the walk, which begins at 2.30pm from the entrance to the National Nature Reserve along the Ballyscullion Road. Car parking is available in the farmyard along the Ballydermot Road opposite Church Island.

Ground conditions are likely to be wet and walkers are advised to bring wet weather gear and bring binoculars or telescope. For further information, call Seamus Burns at 077 2540 2533 or email seamus@lnlb.org.uk

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