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From coast to mountain top, from farmland to expanses of bog, Mayo provides many rich habitats for a wide variety of birds.
Having miles of Atlantic coastlines Mayo is a good place for observing sea birds. From about the middle of August until October passage migration of birds such as skuas, terns, shearwaters, gannets and petrels can be observed from many of Mayo’s headlands such as Downpatrick Head, Erris Head, Kilcummin Head and Annagh Head. Such autumn sea watches can be particularly good when there is a strong northwest or west wind which drives the birds closer to land.
A number of Mayo’s bays are excellent for observing wintering wildfowl and waders. In particular Killala bay (a designated Special Area of Conservation) is an important feeding area for Light-bellied brent geese. These geese are winter migrants from high-arctic Canada. The geese feed mostly on eel-grass, which grows on muddy estuaries. Other interesting birds that frequent this area include greenshank, golden plover wigeon, teal, shelduck and knot. In the summer months, the bay and in particular Ross strand are home to Sand martins. Terns, including Arctic, Common and Sandwich can be also be seen.
In the summer months, the islands and sea cliffs are places to visit to see nesting sea birds. Clare Island boasts a large colony of fulmars. The cliffs at Downpatrick Head support nesting colonies of fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots. Choughs can be seen on both Achill and Clare Islands. These small corvids, sometimes called ‘sea crows’, are quite rare and surveys from 2002/3 suggest that Ireland holds approximately 60% of the northwest Europe population.
The Mullet Peninsula is one of the few places you will still hear corncrakes. These are shy secretive birds that have suffered huge population declines, mainly due to changes in agricultural practices. Often the distinctive kerrx-kerrx call of the male is the only indication of their presence. The best time to hear them call is between mid-May and early July and usually between midnight and 3am!
Twite is another species that has suffered declining populations. The species is similar to a linnet. It is estimated that there are only about 100 breeding pairs left in Ireland and Mayo particularly the Mullet Peninsula is one of their last remaining strongholds.
Occasionally Golden Eagles can be spotted in Mayo, but so far they have not been recorded breeding here.
Author & Photography
By Karina Dingerkus