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Inch Levels Wildfowl Reserve- Donegal

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Old Wednesday 22nd April 2015, 21:05   #1
Green Sandpiper
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Uddingston, Lanarkshire
Posts: 308
Blog Entries: 72
Inch Levels Wildfowl Reserve- Donegal

Recently had a family holiday in Buncrana, based in a farm cottage near Stragill Strand, Lough Swilly. In among the birds ticked off during the family aspect of the holiday, I also had the chance to visit Inch Levels Wildfowl Reserve.

My trusted copy of Finding Birds in Ireland identified this reserve as a key site, the excellent Inishowen Wildlife Club website (
not only reinforced this, but was a marvellous wealth of information as well, so I knew right off that this reserve was my best chance of a Big Day. My original plan was to also cover Inch Island, but I soon realised that if I did this I wouldn't be doing either site justice.

(just as an aside, many, many thanks to Paddy McCrossan from the Inishowen Wildlife Club for getting in touch with me before I travelled)

I've given a summary of my 'passive' birding during family outings in my blog, but feel that Inch Levels needs to be highlighted far and wide as the supreme site it is.

I managed 2 trips to Inch Levels- a quick, 'flying' visit (see what I did there) to whet my appaetite, and a few days later a much longer visit. Quickly, it became clear that even the 5-6 hours I could spend on site on the second visit barely scratched the surface. This reserve is worthy of a full weekend exploration, which sadly I couldn't commit to.

Anyway, the reserve is signposted well from the main Buncrana- Derry road (please note UK reserves that roadsigns aren't evil…) and the narrow road into the reserve was full of birdsong- willow warbler, chiff-chaff, and blackcap being the obvious ones as I slowly drove, windows lowered, and soaking up the ambience. It was 6 am, incidentally, and at that time, 2 degrees Celsius, so the windows- down approach was courageous. From the car park I head along the path towards Inch Lake. Immediately, skylark song filled the air, but a meadow pipit was the first, obvious bird- landing on a fence post 10 feet in front of me. Mute swans and greylag geese sat out on a muddy islet, using the weak morning sun to warm up cold muscles.

The path had the water/ marshland on its left, and arable farmland on its right. 20 BHGs mobbed a grey heron high above this field, as starlings, mipits and a song thrush pootled around on the ground. Further along the path, oycs and teal sat among the rocks on the water's edge, with a pair of wigeon even further on. A pair of redshank flew in and waded through the shallow water- albeit the low dawn sun made visibility fairly painful. Coots and cormorants further out on the water, plus mallard and large numbers of tufties.

Yellowhammers, chaffinches and a reed bunting flew down onto the path from a small copse of trees bordering the field. The main colony of gulls is centred on a low- lying islet in front of a hide, and near a berm splitting the lake in two. It’s a good mile or so walk to the hide, and the walk itself is a good-un. The hide is well maintained and offered great shelter.

Near the end of the path, sand martins danced over the water, plus swallows dive- bombing both the water and me. Some instinct told me that there'd be house martins in among the sand martins- they were moving too quick to get a good look in low light, but something niggled at me.

Anyway, gave up trying to see fast- flying birds while staring into the sun. The left side of the lake had huge numbers of BHGs, herring gulls and a pair of GBBGulls- which even at distance were huge. The noise of the BHGs was deafening, until a 'not quite right' scream drew my attention upward, as a line of a dozen sandwich terns flew in procession toward the islet. Very low, very acrobatic, very welcome.

The other side of the berm was quieter, but did provide RB merganser, GC grebe, redshank, curlew and mute swan disaplying to each other. (so, not all that quiet…) The warbler song carried far in the morning air, but the main focus at the hide is the waterfowl and gulls. Ideally, would need a scope (I don't have one…) but the impression of the place is one of constant action. Moving on from the hide, and back into the cold. Robin, pied wagtail, and willow warbler in the scrubby trees. Chiffchaff called from the car park at the far end of the pathway, and I head off toward it. Once there, got the chiffy, plus housesparrow, blue and great tits, and a further song thrush.

Time, for once, was on my side, and I opted to head to the next hide on the pathway round. Signpost said a mile walk (or, 1.6 km..) and clearly a Donegal km is a lot longer than an Uddingston one… Did get lapwing copulating in an arable field, plus pheasant. A common tern flew low over the water (which by now was on my left) Bullfinch in the trees showing well, and once at the hide, got whooper swans and greylag geese. From the hide, got a redshank appearing to settle down on eggs, plus plenty o' teal, wigeon, mallard, coots, etc.

By now, I had a choice of contuining the circuit of unknown length, or retracing my steps for another look at the terns and hirundines. Opted for the latter, just as an arctic storm blew in from the Lough. Soaked for 5 minutes, then the sun re- appeared. Got goldcrest low down in the trees, quite chuffed my hearing still worked after the gulls/ thunder noise. Back onto the berm, got more terns flying in (and out) plus more GC grebes.

Back to the hide, and the hirundines were displaying again. I was determined this time, and the angle of the sun was more favourable. Eventually, one of them banked away long enough for me to see the white patch on the rump, so I was fairly made up that my perseverance had paid off.

The highlight, though, was the appearance of a half dozen tree sparrows in the tree, about 6 feet from me. I glanced at them, assumed they were housesparrows, then did a double take as I saw the black beardy bit. Sat and posed well, although the camera was still in the rucksack after the tempest and couldn't get a photo. Nice year tick. The walk back to the car was fairly uneventful (posing mipits, skylark, curlew, redshank, etc, etc) and by now it was late enough in the morning for cyclists and runners to be a nuisance. Wrote some preliminary notes in the car, and headed home, flushed with a fine day birding, but tinged with sadness that even a 6 hour visit hadn't done the place justice.

From my two visits there, I successfully ticked off in excess of 50 species, including 8 year ticks- armed only with binos. With the right equipment, at the right time of year, and with enough time I'm pretty certain you could hit 70+ species.

If anyone finds themselves in the area, whether for an hour or for a week, I can't recommend this reserve highly enough.
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