Birds of Oxford Island
The following bird list is in taxonomic order. It should be noted that there are relatively few records included for the period from 1991-2004. When a date is given for a particular rarity it should not be considered the only record there has ever been of that species on the reserve. Any sources are referenced in the text. Status (i.e. rare, common etc.) refers to that at Oxford Island only.
Most data on breeding pairs of passerines is taken from the 2008 Common Bird Census (CBC) of Oxford Island. In most cases numbers are likely to be slight underestimates. It should be noted that only areas inside the Nature Reserve boundary were covered during the CBC i.e. excluding the woods around the Marina, Raughlan and Bird’s Island. Even within this site some areas such as the Closet Meadows were covered only sporadically. A comparison with previous Common Bird Censuses is included. In addition some estimates of breeding pairs are sourced from personal observations of the author and from previous CBCs.
Pairs nest annually at both the Closet and Kinnego Bays and usually also at the Discovery Centre pond. This species also grazes throughout the year on the Closet Meadows.
Small numbers of this declining species (usually in single figures) are present in most winters, often on the Closet Meadows south of the river and sometimes on the bays. Twelve were present on the Closet Meadows on 12th January 2008 (Mark Killops) and two were at Closet Bay on 7th January 2009.
Bewick’s swan formerly occurred in much greater numbers at Oxford Island; with 50-100 birds wintering annually (Culbert et al. 1981).
Over 100 are regular on the Closet Meadows (on the agricultural fields south of the river) between October and March. The author’s highest tally to date was 125 birds on 25th February 2008.
Pink-footed goose is occasionally present with greylags on the Closet Meadows. Twenty-one were here on 14th February 2009 (Mark Killops).
White-fronts are occasionally seen with greylags on the Closet Meadows. Eight flew over Kinnego Marina on 28th October 2005 (Mark Killops). Two were seen on 17th April 2001 (Ed O’Hara).
Brent Goose Branta bernicla. Rare winter visitor.
Greylags regularly occur on the Closet Meadows (south of Closet River) in winter. On 30th January 2007 there were about 250 in flight over the reserve and on 20th March 2007 there were at least 240 on the Closet Meadows. More usually 50-100 geese are present. Numbers have increased greatly since the early 1980s when “not more than 7” (Culbert et al. 1981) were seen annually.
In most years two to four pairs nest on Croaghan Island, Owen Roe Flat and possibly at Raughlan. Scarce in winter.
Flocks of twenty to fifty wigeon occasionally graze by the Closet River in winter. From 2005 to 2008 most records were in late February and early March. One or two wigeon are sometimes seen on the bays in summer months; these echo a trend also seen at Lough Beg (D’Arcy 1978) and Portmore Lough (personal observation). In 2005 a pair probably bred on Ram’s Island to the north-east (Allen, 2005).
Pairs of this unassuming duck are seen throughout the year. Probably two or three pairs breed. Males by the Croaghan Hide have been heard giving their whistling courtship calls. Numbers may increase in late summer. Fifteen birds were present on 14th November 2007, 29th July 2008 and 22nd August 2008. Forty-five were in the Closet and Kinnego Bays on 25th August 2009. A high tally was eighty-one in Closet Bay on 5th August 1988 (Wildlife Notes).
Common in winter on adjacent areas of the Lough shore, teal is relatively scarce at Oxford Island. This may be due to a lack of shallow feeding areas for dabbling species. However, cold weather can bring teal into the bays in small numbers. Formerly flocks of eighty could be found on Kinnego Bay in winter (Culbert et al. 1981) and in January 1989 about 100 were counted (Wildlife Notes).
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Resident, breeding. Upwards of five pairs nest annually around the shoreline. Up to twenty-five mallard are regular on the Discovery Centre pond but numbers in the bays rarely reach 100.
Up to five (two males, three females) were present in November and December 1988 at Croaghan Island and Kinnego Bay (Wildlife Notes).
Two males were present on 7th June 1998 (Ed O’Hara). In recent years single pairs have bred at Portmore Lough RSPB Reserve.
Like teal, the lack of shallow shoreline areas for “dabbling” may discourage shoveler from frequenting Oxford Island. This duck formerly bred in small numbers (Culbert et al. 1981) but is now rarely seen. Nine were deemed notable in Kinnego Bay on 16th August 1989 (Wildlife Notes). The species is more common in winter at Portmore Lough, Reedy Flat and Lurgan Park Lake, but numbers on the entire Lough Neagh wetlands are low, with annual peak Wetland Bird Survey counts of well under 100 the norm in recent years (Calbrade et al. 2010).
One male was on Kinnego Bay on 24th September 2005 (Mark Killops). It was probably an escape from captivity.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s an estimated 40,000 pochard wintered on Lough Neagh. Since then numbers have fallen dramatically with just 8000 on the Lough in the winter of 2003/04 (Maclean et al. 2006) and an even lower peak count in 2008/09 of 5799 (Calbrade et al. 2010). Numbers at Oxford Island mirror this larger pattern. Formerly flocks of up to 2000 could be expected on Kinnego Bay in winter (Wildlife Notes) but now 100 to 300 is the norm. Since 2005 the author’s highest count has been approximately 530 on 12th January 2009. There were slightly larger than average flocks in Kinnego Bay in October 2010, with 323 counted on 16th and more than 400 on the evening of the 30th.
At present, “the balance of evidence would suggest that the causes of decline at Lough Neagh and Lough Beg are primarily site-related, rather than the result of large-scale processes such as climate change” (Maclean et al. 2006, p63). The drop in numbers is probably linked to hyper-eutrophication which may cause a decline in the chironomid midge larvae that diving ducks such as pochard, tufted duck and goldeneye feed on (Maclean et al. 2006).
This duck breeds in small numbers, mainly at Kinnego Bay. It has done so since at least 1975 (Warden’s Report: July 1975).
A North American species rare in the British Isles, but recorded regularly in the bays at Oxford Island. If it is indeed the same bird, a single ring-necked duck has wintered annually on Kinnego Bay from 1999 until at least 2009 (Gordan, 2009). One was present in late May and early June 2010 (Ed O’Hara, Mark Killops). These would be late dates for this winter visitor.
An east-European species, this is another regularly visiting rarity, at least one being present on Kinnego Bay in most winters.
At least one or two pairs breed annually. Wintering tufted duck numbers on Lough Neagh have fluctuated considerably since the 1970s. Like pochard, tufted duck populations reached a peak in the early 1990s when an estimated 30,000 birds overwintered. Since 2001 numbers have declined drastically with only an estimated 9000 birds in winter 2003/04 (Maclean et al. 2006) and 5126 in 2008/09 (Calbrade et al. 2010). Formerly flocks of around 2000 were occasional in the bays at Oxford Island and of 2500 diving ducks on Closet Bay on 5th February 1990 “most” were tufties (Wildlife Notes). However it is now unusual to count over 200 around Oxford Island. See Pochard for possible causes of the decline.
Like a larger, more robust tufted duck with a pale grey back. Scaup also tends to make a more noticeable leap out of the water before diving. On Lough Neagh numbers declined from 1998 to 2004 but the species has since recovered (Maclean et al. 2006).
Numbers usually build up in Closet Bay throughout the month of March in what may be a pre-migratory gathering. Small flocks of up to forty have been present in the past few years, with males outnumbering females by approximately 2:1. This gathering seems to have been ongoing for at least twenty years with scaup noted in Closet Bay in March 1988, 1989 and 1990. A high tally was 297 on 6th March 1988 (Wildlife Notes). Almost 100 were at nearby Ardmore on 12th January 2009.
Single birds of this species were present on Kinnego Bay in January 1989, 1990 (Wildlife Notes) and 1991 (Ed O’Hara). Birds were also present on 2nd April 1994 and 19th January 2002 (Ed O’Hara).
Long-tailed duck was recorded at Oxford Island in November and December 1988 and January 1991 (Wildlife Notes). On both occasions single ducks were present.
One male was in Closet Bay on 17th September 2006 (Mark Killops).
One male was in Closet Bay in March 1988 (Wildlife Notes).
A decline from the late 1980s was probably linked to that of pochard and tufted duck (Maclean et al. 2006). See Pochard for possible reasons. This duck is difficult to count as flocks are often further off shore than those of the other duck species and goldeneye also seems to dive more frequently. Flocks of up to 250 wintered around Oxford Island in the past (Wildlife Notes) and numbers may still reach this figure occasionally. Flocks of 60-100 are more usual.
Males display energetically at Oxford Island from early January and this is often a communal activity accompanied by vigorous bathing. Short, nasal “quacks” can be heard as well as the whistle of the birds’ wings in flight. Birds that occasionally summer may be injured; nesting is unlikely.
Up to four birds (two males and two females) have wintered on nearby Portmore Lough in recent years. A single female was present on Closet Bay in May 2009 and associated with a female goldeneye as well as other diving ducks.
A pair breeds in the vicinity of Oxford Island in most years. Secretive and not often seen, the more undisturbed peninsulas and islands around Oxford Island are likely nesting sites. A pair was seen sporadically on Closet Bay in May 2006, April 2007 and April and May 2008. A male and female were also noted on the Kinnego Bay shoreline of Bird’s Island on 20th June 2008. An unusually high count was nineteen just off the tip of Raughlan on the calm evening of 25th August 2009; this was most probably a family group.
Two females and one male were present in January 1988 (Wildlife Notes).
The North American ruddy duck was first recorded at Oxford Island in 1973 and a pair bred in 1974 (Culbert et al. 1981). The British population is descended from escapees from wildfowl collections. An attractive yet controversial species, the ruddy duck causes no damage to the Lough Neagh ecosystem. It does however interbreed with the rare white-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala in Spain, leading to fears for the survival of the latter as a distinct species. Subsequently a UK-wide ruddy duck cull has been enforced.
Small flocks of up to thirty ruddies are regular on Kinnego Bay in winter. Thirty-one were present on 16th March 2008. This may represent almost the entire Lough Neagh population as the 2008/09 peak Wetland Bird Survey count on Loughs Neagh and Beg was only twenty-one, with forty-two in 2006/07 (Calbrade et al. 2010). The interesting “bubbling” courtship display of the male can occasionally be observed at Oxford Island in spring.
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata. Very rare winter visitor.
One in Closet Bay on 30th December 2006 had probably been blown in on strong winds (Mark Killops).
Seen irregularly at Oxford Island proper, such birds are sometimes of unusual plumage types. Present on Croaghan Island where they have (almost certainly) been introduced. Throughout the spring of 2009 a male was often heard “singing” in the woods south of the Hill Field and a female was later seen near here with a group of young juveniles (Michael Hayes).
Single birds were present at Kinnego Marina in December 1987 and on Closet Bay in November-December 1989 (Wildlife Notes).
One in winter plumage was present on 1st October 2006 (Mark Killops). One was also present on 28th August 1994 (Ed O’Hara).
In 1981 breeding numbers were estimated at eight to twelve pairs (Culbert et al. 1981). Small groups of around ten birds are regular on the open water in winter. Eleven were present on 13th November 2008.
Nests at the Kinnego and Closet Bays in substantial numbers. This author’s highest count was ninety-two adult birds on 7th May 2008. Also notable were eighty-four (sixty-six adults, fourteen juveniles) on 6th August 2008 and seventy-two adults in Closet Bay only on 26th May 2009. Breeding pairs were estimated at 150+ in 1981 (Culbert et al. 1981) and flocks of more than 200 have occasionally been recorded (Wildlife Notes). Relatively few grebes overwinter.
Elaborate courtship rituals, including the “penguin dance” and “weed ceremony” can be observed from the hides around Oxford Island from late February to May. The prelude to these rituals is the common head-shaking display from two birds facing each other. Aggressive chases between neighbouring grebes are also common, as well as occasional fights. Loud calls accompany these aggressive encounters. Great crested grebe is an accomplished predator on a range of small fish and the species can sometimes be seen fishing at close range from the hides. From mid-summer stripy headed juveniles are carried around on the adults’ backs.
One was on Kinnego Bay in July 1990 (Wildlife Notes). Two probable birds of this species were present on 4th November 2010.
One was at Closet Bay on 6th September 2009 (Mark Killops). The bird landed briefly on the bay before flying north out over the Lough. The species was previously recorded at Oxford Island in the 1970s.
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus. Very rare visitor (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
One was recorded from the Waterside Hide on 2nd November 1990.
Leach’s Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa. Very rare visitor (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Up to 250 birds are regularly present, loafing on the rocks at Croaghan Island and on the trees at Raughlan. This is an increase from the early 1980s when 80+ were regular only in winter (Culbert et al. 1981). A remarkable count was that of over 320 birds at Raughlan on 25th August 2009, quite a few were “white-bellied” and thus probably immature.
Currently little egret is an unusual visitor to Oxford Island, but the distribution increase elsewhere indicates that the species may eventually become regular on the reserve. One was at the Raughlan heronry on 9th May 2007 (Mark Killops) and another was present at nearby Ardmore in August 2008. A few were present on the reserve late in the summer of 2010 and one flew over on 5th October of the same year.
The heronry at Raughlan held twenty-four pairs in 1980 (Culbert et al. 1981). Forty-six nests were counted in May 1988 (Wildlife Notes) but it was not recorded if these were all occupied. In early spring the nesting birds can (just about) be observed from the Closet Hide. A telescope will enable better views. “Hern-cran”, or sometimes simply “cran”, is a commonly used local name for the grey heron.
White-tailed (or Sea) eagle was formerly widespread around the wilder coasts of the British Isles. The species was driven to extinction by 1916 but was reintroduced to Scotland in 1975 (Cramp et al. 1977-1994) where there is now a viable breeding population. Recently it has been reintroduced to Co. Kerry in the Republic of Ireland.
A juvenile white-tailed eagle from the Co. Kerry reintroduction programme was seen at Oxford Island early on the morning of 20th June 2008. The bird was first spotted over the Bird’s Island peninsula before it crossed Kinnego Bay and landed in the trees near Waterside Hide. The same bird was also seen in the local area by a number of other observers on different dates.
Juveniles wander widely after dispersal and are not overly shy of human presence. If the eagles in the south breed successfully we might expect to see more occasional sightings of this magnificent species at Lough Neagh. Unfortunately the bird seen at Oxford Island was confirmed dead (shot) in summer 2009.
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus. Rare summer visitor.
Hen harrier is more common in winter at nearby Reedy Flat and Portmore Lough. A female was hunting over the Kinnego Bay reed-bed on 8th October 2005 (Mark Killops).
This raptor nests at Raughlan and in some years possibly at Silverwood Golf Course and Oxford Island proper. Males and females perform soaring display flights over the Raughlan tree tops in spring and can be observed at a distance from the Closet Hide.
In the 1950s this raptor re-colonised Co. Antrim from nearby Scotland establishing a healthy breeding population from where it has spread throughout Ulster. There seems to have been a dramatic increase in recent years although the bird remains uncommon over much of the south of Ireland. In 1981 the species was noted only as a rare winter visitor to Oxford Island (Culbert et al. 1981). Buzzard can now be seen soaring over Oxford Island in any month of the year. Two or three birds are common but occasionally four or more can be seen. At least one pair breeds annually either at Raughlan or Oxford Island proper.
Birds were seen in flight over Oxford Island on 22nd July 2000 and 9th June 2001 (Ed O’Hara). Throughout the summer of 2009 at Closet Bay there were a number of osprey sightings by various observers and these were presumably of a single bird that was resident in the vicinity. A single bird was certainly present for a month from 2nd August. It was regularly observed fishing and a number of intriguing aerial behaviours were noted. There were occasional osprey sightings in summer 2010 with the last coming on 2nd October. The species now summers regularly on Lough Neagh with two or three sometimes seen on Lough Beg to the north.
Kestrel may have declined locally in recent years. However an occasional individual is still often seen hovering over rough grassland at Oxford Island on the hunt for wood mice. This raptor formerly bred at Raughlan (Culbert et al. 1981) and may still do so in some years.
Like hen harrier, this species is more commonly seen at nearby Reedy Flat and Portmore Lough.
This charismatic raptor is attracted to the Lough in winter by the large numbers of waders and wildfowl. Occasional individuals are seen from the Croaghan Hide, circling high over the Croaghan Island rocks, usually with thousands of lapwing and golden plover wheeling in panic beneath them.
A very elusive species, water rail is more often heard than seen. The call is often likened to piglets squealing and can be heard from the reed-beds around Oxford Island.
Corncrake Crex crex. Former breeding summer visitor, now effectively extinct locally. UK Red-List Species. Irish Breeding Red-List Species. Corncrake bred on the reserve until 1990 with eight to ten pairs present in the early 1980s (Culbert et al. 1981).
Moorhen is common around the Oxford Island shoreline and on the Discovery Centre pond, where at least one pair usually breeds annually.
Breeds around Oxford Island, including two or three pairs annually on the Discovery Centre pond.
One was present at nearby Portmore Lough RSPB Reserve for a few days from 23rd April 2005 (Pat Flowerday). It was later seen flying in the direction of Oxford Island.
A pair was seen irregularly over the reserve during spring 2008, suggesting it may have attempted to breed in the local area. A pair attempted breeding on the reserve in 1976 (Culbert et al. 1981) and ten were at Kinnego Marina on 30th July 1990 (Wildlife Notes).
Ringed plover is perhaps overlooked occasionally on the Croaghan Island rocks. It formerly bred at Oxford Island in small numbers (Culbert et al. 1981) and nested adjacent to Craigavon Balancing Lakes soon after their initial excavation (Michael Hayes).
In winter large flocks of golden plover, sometimes exceeding 2000 birds, reside around Croaghan Island or on the Closet Meadows. These flocks often associate with lapwing.
Like golden plover there are enormous lapwing flocks around the reserve in winter. Croaghan Island rocks and the Closet Meadows are their usual haunts. Wintering flocks of lapwing can also be seen at close quarters on the mown grassy roundabout by Rushmere Shopping Centre in central Craigavon. There is an ongoing project to encourage lapwings to breed at Portmore Lough RSPB Reserve and a number of pairs now do so annually. The species formerly bred at Oxford Island but extensive tree cover now discourages any wader breeding attempts.
Knot Calidris canutus. Unusual winter visitor (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Little Stint Calidris minuta. Rare autumn passage migrant (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Very rare spring and autumn passage migrant. On 3rd September 1990, one was present at the tip of Oxford Island near the paddling pool (Wildlife Notes).
Rare spring and autumn passage migrant and winter visitor. UK Red-List Species. Likely to be occasionally overlooked on the Croaghan Rocks.
One was at Croaghan Island on 23rd August 1990 (Wildlife Notes). Ruff is likely to have occurred many times since then but, like other waders, it was more regular along the shoreline in the past when there was less tree cover. There were many records in the 1970s.
Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus. Rare winter visitor. Secretive habits mean it is perhaps often overlooked.
This small long-billed wader feeds on the wetter meadow areas throughout the year, with numbers increasing in winter. “Drumming” is rare at Oxford Island but can be heard at Reedy Flat and Portmore Lough.
On 21st November 1988 one was seen in flight over the woodland at the reserve entrance (Wildlife Notes).
Spring and autumn passage migrant. UK Red-List Species. Recorded almost annually at Oxford Island. Over forty were on the Closet Meadows on 22nd August 2008 and again around forty were on the Croaghan rocks on 17th August 2010.
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa laponica. Rare spring and autumn passage migrant.
Recorded almost annually at Oxford Island. About forty were on a recently ploughed field south of the Closet River on 4th May 2005. A single bird flew over on 22nd April 2006 (Mark Killops).
Curlew Numenius arquata. Spring and autumn passage migrant and irregular visitor. Irish Breeding Red-List Species. Throughout the year an occasional curlew can be seen flying over the reserve, or sometimes feeding on the Closet Meadows. Over fifty flew past the Closet River mouth on 2nd May 2007. Flocks of up to eighty birds wintered in the past (Culbert et al. 1981).
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus. Very rare passage migrant. Three were by the Waterside Hide on 17th August 1989 (Wildlife Notes).
Redshank Tringa totanus. Uncommon visitor. Irish Breeding Red-List Species. This species is occasional on Croaghan Island rocks throughout the year. The piping call often betrays its presence.
Greenshank Tringa nebularia. Rare passage migrant.
Occasionally seen on the rocky shoreline around the reserve. Two were on the shoreline behind the Discovery Centre on 5th August 2008.
Turnstone Arenaria interpres. Rare spring and autumn passage migrant.
Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius. Rare autumn passage migrant (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Great Skua Stercorarius skua. Very rare winter visitor (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus. Rare winter visitor (Dempsey & O’Cleary, 2007).
Black-headed gull Larus ridibundus. Resident, breeding on off-shore islands. Irish Breeding
This small gull regularly commutes over Oxford Island on its way to and from roosts and breeding sites on the Lough Neagh islands, where over 30,000 may nest in summer (NIEA 2008).
Common Gull Larus canus. Uncommon visitor.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus. Resident, breeding on off-shore islands. These gulls are more common in summer when a few pairs nest on Croaghan and the other Lough Neagh islands.
Herring Gull Larus argentatus. Uncommon winter visitor. UK Red-List Species; Irish Breeding Red-List Species.
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus. Very rare winter vagrant.
One was present in Kinnego Bay on a number of occasions in December 1990 (Wildlife Notes). Another was recorded on 10th February 1996 (Ed O’Hara).
Up to ten are seen throughout the year on Croaghan Island rocks. A few pairs breed but they are greatly outnumbered by black-headed gull and lesser black-backed gull.
Little Gull Larus minutus. Very rare passage migrant. One was at Kinnego Bay on 1st August 1989.
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis. Rare spring and autumn passage migrant.
One was over Closet Bay on 6th May 2006 (Mark Killops). One was also present on 12th July 1994 (Ed O’Hara).
Two were present at Owen Roe Flat on 30th July 1990. Fourteen was a remarkably high count on 26th September 1977 (Warden’s Report: Sept 1977).
Very rare spring and autumn passage migrant. What was presumably the same individual was present in Kinnego Bay on a number of dates in July and August 1990.
Summer visitor, breeding on off-shore islands. The hovering and plunging of fishing common terns is a regular sight over the bays in summer.
This tern is an irregular breeder with the other terns and gulls. It formerly bred on the Padgin Island rocks (Warden’s Report: May 1973) and may still do so occasionally.
In the 1970s a few were recorded roosting at Raughlan with woodpigeon (Warden’s Report: Nov 1973).
Three or four pairs breed annually in the woods at Oxford Island. On winter evenings a large number flock to roost at Raughlan. Over 500 were estimated at the roost on 28th November 2006 and 13th November 2008 and over 400 were present on 24th October 2007. This roost seems to have been fairly stable since at least the winter of 1978 when 500 birds were recorded (Culbert et al. 1981).
One or two pairs nest, usually in the vicinity of Waterside House.
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur. Very rare summer vagrant. UK Red-List Species.
Cuckoo is present at Oxford Island in most springs but it is not always heard singing. Cuckoo formerly bred at Raughlan (Culbert et al. 1981) and may do so still. Individuals are heard most years at Derryinver and Derryadd Mosses to the west of Oxford Island and Peatlands Park is an excellent spot for them, with up to four singing birds present in some years.
Now very scarce in Northern Ireland, a pair once bred on the west-shore of the reserve (Culbert et al. 1981).
Potential breeding habitat for this species exists at Raughlan. It has bred in the past at Brackagh Moss, south of Portadown. In 2009 a pair bred successfully at Craigavon Lakes.
Formerly a regular winter visitor and autumn and spring passage migrant but now rarely seen.
Enormous flocks of this species feed over Oxford Island from May until August. Swift nest-boxes have been erected at Waterside House by the Craigavon Borough Council Conservation Service.
Kingfisher can sometimes be seen scooting along the Oxford Island shoreline. In 2009 a pair may have bred in the vicinity of the Kinnego Pond.
Formerly bred on the reserve but increased cover of trees, rank grasses, rushes and scrub have limited the amount of suitable grassland habitat. Still breeds at Portmore Lough and Reedy Flat.
At Oxford Island sand martin does not currently breed but it often associates with the reserve’s other hirundines.
This species nests under the eaves of the Discovery Centre in a large colony. It also nests at the Kinnego Hide and occasionally inside the other hides!
Nests colonially at the Discovery Centre. In flight the white rump is a good distinguishing feature. This species also formerly nested at Waterside House (Wildlife Notes).
Formerly Oxford Island held up to seventeen breeding pairs (Culbert et al. 1981) but this species, like skylark, has greatly declined on the reserve. One or two pairs still breed on the Closet Meadows and perhaps at nearby Turmoyra Marsh.
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis. Very rare spring and autumn passage migrant.
One or two are present most winters. Seen around rocky shoreline and (once) at the children’s paddling pool near the Discovery Centre.
Two to three pairs breed near the Discovery Centre. Juveniles can be seen around the car parks from June. Larger numbers build up in the same area in late summer, when the odd white wagtail (Motacilla alba alba) may also be irregularly seen.
The wren breeds in Oxford Island’s woods and scrub in large numbers. There were an estimated thirty-four pairs in spring 2008.
Three were at the Waterside car-park on 1st March 2009 (Mark Killops).
At Oxford Island the dunnock nests mainly in areas of hawthorn and blackthorn scrub. At least six pairs bred in 2008.
In 2008 twenty-one pairs of this popular species were estimated to be breeding in the woods and scrub. Numbers rise in winter and some birds on the west-shore path become very tame, even taking food from an outstretched hand.
In summer 2009 a pair were present at Craigavon Lakes on the rough grassland south of the railway line.
A pair or two breeds on the reserve sporadically, usually around the Closet Meadows. A few birds also often overwinter. Stonechat also breeds at nearby Turmoyra Marsh and Craigavon Lakes.
Four wheatear were seen on the Closet Meadows on 21st April 2008, and one was still present the next day. One bird was seen at Portmore Lough in September 2006.
Around twenty-five pairs bred at Oxford Island in spring 2008. Birds with unusual plumage markings (usually white feathers) are occasionally seen on the reserve.
UK Red-List Species. Flocks of over 100 are sometimes seen over the reserve in winter, often in the evening.
Song thrush can be heard singing on the reserve from March onwards. At least four pairs regularly breed while numbers increase in winter when there is an influx from continental Europe. The reserves’ hawthorn and blackthorn scrub- an often overlooked habitat- is ideal for both breeding and wintering populations of this red-listed species.
Flocks, sometimes consisting of over 100 birds, sometimes of considerably less, feed on the reserve’s meadows, woodland and scrub in winter.
One or two pairs breed annually. Large congregations were thirty-four and thirty at nearby Silverwood Golf Course on the 4th and 5th August 2008 respectively. These were most likely post-breeding flocks.
In summer the distinctive “reeling” song of this species can be heard from areas of rushy meadow and scrub throughout the reserve. The song is likened to the sound of a fly-fishing reel or that of a bicycle freewheeling down a hill. Grasshopper warbler usually returns to Oxford Island in late April or early May. Around three pairs are estimated to breed annually but this figure represents a decline from the early 1980’s when up to five pairs bred and up to ten individuals were heard singing (Culbert et al. 1981).
The manic scratchy song of the sedge warbler is an almost constant background sound on the reserve in spring. Sedge warbler usually returns to the reserve in late April or early May. Optimum sedge warbler habitats are reed bed, wet scrub and tall rushy grassland but the high breeding density at Oxford Island means that birds are often heard singing from drier areas in the centre of the peninsula. The Kinnego Bay reed-beds hold a large population. A tally of twenty pairs in 2008 was probably a great underestimate and an annual population of forty pairs might be nearer the mark. The 1989 Common Bird Census revealed seventy-two pairs on the reserve!
One or two pairs now breed annually in the Kinnego Bay reed-beds. The song is (apparently!) like a slowed down sedge warbler. Reed warbler is scarce in Northern Ireland but also occasionally breeds at Portmore Lough.
Blackcap was uncommon at Oxford Island proper until the 1990s although pairs did nest at Raughlan. The maturing planted woodlands at Oxford Island have no doubt helped the blackcap’s expansion and increase. Twelve breeding pairs were recorded in the 2002 CBC (Rosemary Mulholland) and a minimum of nine pairs bred in 2008. At least fifteen singing males were counted across the reserve in 2009 and the number of pairs could possibly be as high as twenty in some years.
One bird seen on the west-shore scrub on 4th May 2005 is the author’s only record of this species at the reserve. Seems always to have been scarce at Oxford Island but breeding has occurred at nearby Ballymackeonan Wildlife Site [Magheralin] (Marcus Malley), Craigavon Lakes and Selshion Moss [Portadown]. Peatlands Park also holds a number of breeding pairs. The lack of gorse scrub could limit the breeding habitat for whitethroat at Oxford Island but the mature hedgerows around Waterside House might be a good place to look for the species.
Like blackcap, chiffchaff is usually a species of mature woodland. Up to four pairs now breed annually at Oxford Island with a few individuals probably overwintering. Although birds of this species are not thought to maintain winter territories the repetitive “chiff-chaff” song can be given throughout the year. Chiffchaff returns earlier than other warblers, usually in late March.
This species’ wistful down-the-scale song is heard on the reserve from the first week of April. At Oxford Island willow warbler prefers areas of hawthorn, blackthorn and willow scrub where an estimated thirty-one pairs bred in spring 2008. Birds sometimes sing from the exact same perches in consecutive springs; whether or not they are the same individuals is unknown, but perhaps likely.
The smallest British species can be elusive but is usually surprisingly approachable when seen. Territoriality is difficult to distinguish, but goldcrest is sometimes heard singing and probably breeds every year at Oxford Island.
Spotted flycatcher has probably bred in the past at Oxford Island. In spring 2008 one was resident at nearby Derryinver Moss (by Reedy Flat).
Long-tailed tit probably breeds on the reserve in most years. Up to four pairs have bred in the past. From late summer family groups forage across the reserve’s woodland and scrub. By mid-winter these small flocks can be comprised of anything up to twenty-five birds.
A figure of six breeding pairs in 2008 was probably an underestimate and the true tally could easily be twice this number. Nest-boxes have been erected in the woods primarily for the benefit of tit species.
Compared to the other tit species great tit prefers mature woodland. As the planted woodlands have matured at Oxford Island over the past thirty years, great tit breeding numbers have increased. At least eleven pairs were on territory in spring 2008 and this figure is very probably an underestimate. Perhaps surprisingly there were no breeding records at Oxford Island until after 1981 (Culbert et al. 1981).
The coal tit is recorded sporadically across the reserve in all seasons. This species shows a preference for conifers. An easy way to see the species is to scatter seed at the top of the west-shore path in winter. The birds will soon appear along with dunnock, robin, blackbird, chaffinch and the other tit species.
Like goldcrest, a very unobtrusive species. In 2008 a pair nested in the wooden fence by the Kinnego Hide, but it is not thought that the breeding attempt was successful. Recorded only as a “Scarce winter visitor” in 1981 (Culbert et al. 1981).
The jay’s striking plumage makes it one of the most attractive birds at Oxford Island. Its generally shy habits make getting a sighting even more worthwhile. Foraging birds are most obvious in autumn when they more regularly cross open habitats to cache their favourite food of acorns. Often when one is seen in flight, another will not be far behind. Five were recorded together on 4th September and 24th October 2007. Jay had not been recorded on the reserve at all by 1981 (Culbert et al. 1981), and has thus shown an increase in line with that of the other mature woodland species such as blackcap, chiffchaff, great tit and treecreeper.
Common at Oxford Island. An intelligent yet oft complained-about species, magpie shows a wide range of interesting behaviours and would repay close observation.
On winter evenings large numbers of jackdaw gather on the Closet Meadows before flying to roost at Raughlan. Their numbers are difficult to estimate but in October 2010 a dense and deep corvid flock stretched from the house at Raughlan to beyond the tip of the peninsula. Many rooks are involved but seem to be outnumbered by the jackdaws. This roost was noted in the 1981 Wildlife Report (Culbert et al. 1981).
In the winter months a large number sometimes roost in the trees at Raughlan. This roost has occurred since at least 1981 but the number of birds involved may have declined. There were formerly an estimated 6000 rooks present! (Culbert et al. 1981).
Carrion Crow Corvus corone. Rare winter visitor.
At least one pair nests annually at Oxford Island proper and there are probably more at Raughlan. In winter over thirty hooded crow roost at Raughlan along with woodpigeon, jackdaw, rook and raven.
One of the most intelligent animal species in the world (Heinrich 1999) a single pair of raven has been resident at Raughlan for a number of years. Until 2007 three birds were occasionally seen. In July 2009 four birds (possibly some were immature) were observed in flight just to the west of Raughlan (Michael Hayes). At Oxford Island the species is quite shy and the aerial displays so characteristic in other areas are rarely seen. The birds here are also comparatively quiet; only occasionally are their deep croaking calls heard over the reserve. The birds sometimes forage around Oxford Island proper but are most often seen flying over from west to east or vice-versa. Scanning the coniferous trees at Raughlan from the Closet Hide sometimes brings a distant sighting. Raven was not recorded at all at Oxford Island by 1981 (Culbert et al. 1981). The species is, however, also present at Peatlands Park.
In mid-summer adults are sometimes seen feeding young juveniles, often on the reserve’s amenity grassland. From late summer flocks of immature birds gather around the reserve. On early winter evenings large flocks of several thousand starlings are occasional over Kinnego Bay where the birds perform dramatic aerial formation manoeuvres before settling down to roost in the reed-bed. In October 2010 perhaps more than 3000 birds were involved and up to six hunting sparrowhawks were attracted to the congregation. Smaller flocks sometimes roost in the reed-beds at Raughlan.
House sparrow is common around the nearby farms and sometimes at Waterside House although it is rarely seen at the Discovery Centre. As has been widely documented, in recent decades the species has suffered a serious decline across the British Isles.
Although the Lough Neagh basin has long been a tree sparrow stronghold (D’Arcy 1978) this species is relatively uncommon at Oxford Island. At least one pair bred in 2008 (CBC) and 2009 (Michael Hayes). Tree sparrow is more common at Portmore Lough where large flocks can be observed at close quarters.
Chaffinch is the most abundant breeding species at Oxford Island, with over fifty pairs regularly nesting each year. The song is ubiquitous in the woodlands in spring.
Careful searching through any winter gatherings of chaffinch may be repaid with a view of this north European species.
In recent years this finch seems to have been surprisingly scarce at Oxford Island where the “wheezing” spring song is rarely heard. Greenfinch formerly occurred in large numbers of over 1000 at a nine acre cereal crop (mixed oats, mustard and flax) that was planted on the reserve in the 1970s (Warden’s Report: Dec 1976).
Regular visitor, probable breeding resident in small numbers. Tinkling calls from small flocks are regularly heard over the reserve especially in autumn. The birds feed primarily on plant seeds, including those of thistles.
Small siskin flocks are occasional in winter, often feeding on alder cones with redpoll.
Uncommon, probable breeding resident in small numbers. UK Red-List Species. Linnet breeds at Craigavon Lakes where small flocks are also present from late summer. At Oxford Island the species is surprisingly elusive but has been seen feeding at the Kinnego car-park (Pat Flowerday). In the late 1970s flocks of over 1000 visited the cereal crop on the reserve (Warden’s Report: Dec 1976).
Winter visitor and possible breeding resident in small numbers. UK Red-List Species. Winter redpoll flocks feed mainly on alder but at Oxford Island they have also been seen feeding on the seeds of rosebay willow-herb. Flocks of forty are regular. On 30th January 2007 one redpoll fed on seed scattered on the west-shore path. A sighting of a single bird at the Kinnego Meadows on 15th August 2008 raises the possibility that redpoll breeds on site. The species probably breeds at Peatlands Park where the display flight has been observed.
Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni. Rare winter visitor.
Five (2 juveniles, 3 adult females) were caught and ringed at the reserve on 17th June 1990. One was seen flying over the reserve a few weeks later on 10th July (Wildlife Notes).
Pairs are seen together at Oxford Island throughout the year. At least one or two pairs breed, with the hawthorn and blackthorn scrub at the west shore being especially important for this formerly (2007) UK red-listed species. Eight (four males and four females) were seen together on 28th November 2007 and nine (six males and three females) were seen together on 19th January 2009.
In the 1970s snow bunting occasionally visited the cereal crop on the reserve. Three were recorded on 13th October 1990 (Wildlife Notes).
Rare winter visitor. UK Red-List Species; Irish Breeding Red-List Species. Yellowhammer is scarce at Oxford Island but breeds at the nearby Ballymackeonan Wildlife Site. An ominous but accurate prediction was made in a 1972 Warden’s Report, “Yellow-hammer seem, up to date to be very scarce at Oxford Island. I have recorded good-sized wintering flocks here, as from 1959, almost annually. I wonder is this species decreasing?” (Warden’s Report: Oct 1972).
This UK red-listed species has declined at Oxford Island in line with the national population trends. Nineteen pairs were recorded in spring 2008 and although this is probably a slight underestimate it still represents a dramatic decline from the 53 pairs recorded in 1989. In 2008 most pairs held territories in scrub with some in marginal scrub/reed-beds.
Feral and Escaped Species
This non-native swan species is sometimes seen feeding with the other swans at the Closet Meadows. Black swan may establish a breeding population in the UK in the near future.
Flocks of what are probably racing birds are regular over the reserve.