Wildlife of the Inishkea Islands
The Inishkea Islands are two relatively low lying islands, with magnificent, sweeping, white sandy beaches, 3 miles west of the Mullet Peninsula in Co. Mayo. There is evidence that the islands were inhabited by man as far back as 5,000 years. There are also significant early Christian sites dating back to the 6th Century. The islands were deserted in the 1930’s following a tragic fishing accident in 1927, when 10 island men were drowned. Boat tours visit the Inishkeas throughout the summer, weather permitting, and you can explore these magical islands for about 4 hours before returning to the mainland.
The Inishkeas are designated as a Special Protection Area. The islands are the most important wintering site in Ireland for over 3,000 barnacle geese. Brent geese also feed here during the winter. Significant numbers of waders also spend the winter on the island (ringed plover, sanderling, purple sandpiper, turnstone, oystercatcher, golden plover and dunlin).
Breeding birds include fulmar, shag, 4 species of gulls, storm petrel, common tern, Arctic tern and little tern, oystercatcher, lapwing, ringed plover, redshank and dunlin.
The islands are also listed as a Special Area of Conservation. They are an important breeding location for Grey seals, where they haul ashore from August to December each year to give birth. Over 280 fluffy white pups are born on the island. Grey seals feed on a variety of fish and squid.
As you walk around the island you will hear the constant screeching of the various tern species. You need to take great care not to disturb the ground nests of these vulnerable birds – don’t go into the colony, just watch from a distance. Approximately 180 pairs of the world’s greatest travellers, back from Antarctica, the Arctic tern, nest here. You will also see a rare colony of little terns, back from their winter trip to the west coast of Africa. Only a few colonies of these birds exist in Ireland. Terns feed mainly on small fish, which they catch by plunging from a great height into the sea.
Kevin Murphy is an amateur photographer with a love of nature,
based in Co. Mayo. You can view Kevin’s photographs on www.irishwildlifephotography.blogspot.ie