Monday, 13 May 2013

Birding at RSPB Portmore Lough Reserve

Today my bird group set out to bird watch at the RSPB Portmore Lough Reserve in County Antrim.  The weather was either sunny or gale force wind accompanied with torrential rain however all of us were deterred to go as we had heard there was a Marsh Harrier seen recently and we were all very keen to see it.
View of part of Portmore Lough with March Harrier in centre.
There is a wonderful history to Portmore dating back to 10,000 BC however time and space does not permit me to tell you it all however I will let you know a little of the more recent history.  Portmore as well as Lough Neagh was lowered by over 10 feet since 1847 to reduce seasoning flooding and increase land mass and the last lowering was in 1959.   In 1920 the Willow trees around the Lough were not only used in basket making but also used at the Belfast Shipyards to carry hot rivets.  In 1944 a Royal Naval pilot set off from Long Kesh to test his Wildcat fighter plane.  The engine exploded however he was saved because the plane landed in the shallow and muddy lough.  In 1984 it was recovered and restored by the Ulster Aviation Society.



In 1991, thanks to grant funding, the RSPB were able to buy the land adjoining Portmore Lough, followed by the lough, reed beds and willow scrub in 2002.  They are now managing the site to replica the soft shoreline once found around Lough Neagh. The great news is that since then, the Lapwing and Snipe are breeding again.   In fact this year there are over 30 breeding pairs of Lapwing which is probably the biggest number in any one place in Northern Ireland.

On our way our to the hide which is now accessed by a broad walk, we saw the blossom of BlackThorn.
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Spring is really trying to break though as we passed by a bank of pretty white petticoats of Cow Parsley and the meadows were decorated with the pale pinkish Cuckoo flowers that are also known as Lady's Smock.  


Cow Parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris

Close up of one of the flower heads above 

Cuckoo Flower- Cardamine pratensis
Also during this walk we saw Robin, Blue and Great Tit, House and Tree Sparrows, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and many Sedge Warblers singing however they were deep in the reeds and only popped up momentarily before dropping down again however I did get a photo of one, albeit is very far away and small.

Sedge Warbler
From the hide we saw a good number of Great crested Grebes, 1 Heron, Herring and Black headed Gull, Common Tern, Tufted duck, Pochard, Little Grebe and Coot with a nest.  



                                                                 Common Tern

We all watched the skies and reeds hoping for a glimpse of the Marsh Harrier and then it appeared.  It was quite a distance away.

Marsh Harrieer

We were delighted although one member of the group didn't see it.  However it appeared again several times and then there were 2 of them and they flew straight for the hide.  We rushed out just in time to see both of them fly over us.  These photo are the best I could get with me camera although not too good I decided to put them on the blog.







What a wonderful sight and all of us saw them this time.  We made our way back and as the rain had stopped for a little while we watched from the new platform and suddenly one of the Harriers lifted and started mobbing a Hooded Crow.  It went up and and down several more times, passing across where we were standing.  


It was a great finish to our day and we were all delighted we had made the journey despite the terrible weather.  We all agreed the 'bird of he day' was the Marsh Harrier.

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