The Best Singer Gets the Girl!

The following article is a report on a visit by the Southwest Donegal Birdwatchers to Sheskinmore


Our outing on the 15th of March was to Sheskinmore Nature Reserve in Rosbeg. We had the best that nature could offer in the morning and the 6 Nations Rugby Championship decider in the evening – what could be better!

Sheskinmore Nature Reserve is quite an extraordinary place with a number of different habitat types; each with its own type of wildlife; there are loughs, reed beds, saltmarsh, machaire, dunes and beaches.

A large part of the reserve is comprised of machaire; this is the flat, sandy, lime-rich grassland area behind the dunes. Machaire is one of the rarest habitats in the world. It occurs only in the Irish counties of Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Galway, and in the Western Isles of Scotland. In all only 30,000ha to 40,000ha exist, two thirds of this in Scotland and one third in Ireland.

Machaire may be high in lime but it is low in minerals and organic matter, however it produces and impressive variety of plants. These plants provide food for a multitude of insects, which in turn provide food for the birds.

The song of countless of skylarks and a few meadow pipits accompanied our walk across the machaire. Male skylarks expend a heck of a lot of energy hovering and singing their wee hearts out – and it’s all to impress the girls! A male that can sing loudly and for a long time has to be fit, healthy and strong, and is likely to produce offspring that are fit health and strong. While the males put on their performances, the females muck about in the grassland below, pretending not to be impressed but deep down, they are.

The sky was also thick with Jackdaws and there may have been a Red Billed Chough or two at the edge of the flock.

From the hide overlooking Sheskinmore Lough, we saw a flock of acrobatic Lapwings engage in a series of aerial stunts. It is hard not to be impressed, and a little mesmerised, by their antics. While the Lapwings are show-offs, the Greenland White-fronted Geese were quite shy. A flock landed on a bit of high ground on the other side of the Lough to graze while keeping an eye on us from afar.

There were quite a few rabbits on the reserve. On previous visits we saw Buzzards which I am sure would help to keep the rabbit population in check, however, we didn’t spot any buzzards on this trip.

I have come across the bodies of a number of Mute Swans in the aftermath of the recent storms. It was sad to see the carcass of a young swan pinned to a fence at Kiltoorish Lough. Like an aircraft in a storm, such big birds probably found it difficult to fly, land or take off and found themselves at the mercy of the storm – it was inevitable that some would succumb.

On the Lough there were Goldeneye, Heron, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan and Teal. And in the fields and skies around the Lough we identified Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Hooded Crow, Jackdaw, Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Skylark and Stonechat.

From here we headed to Tramore Beach. The clear air, the salty wind and breaking waves would clear any head and help anyone forget their worries. A kite-surfer put on an impressive show for us but unfortunately he scared away most of the birds; all but the Sanderlings and a solitary Ringed Plover had exited the scene.

Sanderling - Photograph by Charles Lowe

Sanderling – Photograph by Charles Lowe

Sanderlings are common on sandy beaches and have quite a comic quality. They are reminiscent of dumpy little wind-up toys that scurry back and forth at the water’s edge as the waves come in and out. In this way they forage for small marine worms, crustaceans and molluscs that have lain dormant, awaiting the incoming tide.


The Surfing Two-Step by Charles Lowe

The Surfing Two-Step by Charles Lowe

The species we identified on this trip were Goldeneye, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Heron, Herring Gull, Hooded Crow, Jackdaw, Lapwing, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Ring Plover, Sanderling, Skylark, Stonechat and Teal.

Birdwatchering can be a hungry business. Photo by Kim Pereira

Birdwatchering can be a hungry business.                         Photo by Kim Pereira









Just to let you know that a number of Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls have been spotted around Killybegs harbour. They are very pale compared to any other Irish gull. They don’t have any black plumage, however, juveniles do have a black spot on their beaks.

Our next outing will be to Killybegs, Muckross Head and areas in between, on Saturday the 12th of April. We will meet at Dunkineely Community Centre which is on the Donegal side of the village at 10am and we will car pool from there.

If you would like to join us, please bring warm clothing with a waterproof jacket and trousers, appropriate footwear, a packed lunch and a flask. Bring binoculars if you have them. Telescopes and books are shared. Contact us on 086 8058528 or 087 2770408 or

All are welcome but you are reminded that we are an informal group without structure; each is responsible for their own wellbeing and safety.

Michael Cunningham

Sheskinmore 15.03.14.

Wee Lough near McGlinchey’s

Skylark                                       2
Hooded Crow                               2
Mute Swan                                  1
Raven                                          1
Jackdaw                                      12+ (possibly 2 Chough)

Hide at Sheskinmore Lough

Meadow Pipit                                3
Lapwing ~30
Greenland White-fronted Goose      21
Great Black-backed Gull                2
Heron                                           1
Skylark                                         ++++ (in profusion)

Parking Spot at Tramore

Stonechat                                     4
Herring Gull                                   3


Sanderling                                     ~100 Wheeling in flight
Ring Plover                                     1

Kiltoorish Lough

Goldeneye                                       3 (2m. 1f)
Mute Swan                                       2
Magpie                                             1
Moorhen                                           1
Pied wagtail                                      1
Teal                                                  1
Mallard                                              1
Goldfinch                                           ~12


2 thoughts on “The Best Singer Gets the Girl!

    • Thank you very much Gabreelle. The lake was still there on the 15th of March. I would have imagined that the surrounding sand would be porous and free-draining but that’s clearly not the case. On the positive side it’s handy for washing the sand off your boots when you come up off the beach.

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