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Inishowen's 'Magnificent Seven' touch down 24.04.15

A group devoted to the observation and conservation of wildlife in the peninsula - Wild Inishowen - has sent us this informative feature. The article highlights the hardy little birds that make, what are often perilous, journeys through Africa to grace our peninsula in the spring and summer months. The feature was compiled by Christine Cassidy and Lindsay Hodges with photos by Christine Cassidy and Anthony McGeehan.

At this time of year, Inishowen suddenly comes alive with the sight and sound of a rich variety of migrant birds visiting our shores. There are few experiences more thrilling than the first appearance of these special birds that enrich our landscape and our lives with their arrival here from Africa.
Swallow – We all know the phrase, “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”, but already there are enough of these glorious visitors to make us believe summer is round the corner. They are stunning birds, with royal blue upperparts and breast band, cream-buff underparts and a russet forehead, chin and throat. The tail has white markings along the inside edges of the fork. They have long wings and long tail streamers and are often found circling gracefully overhead or swooping low over water and ground. They feed on the wing by catching insects in their large gapes.
Wheatear – A small, mainly ground-dwelling bird that arrives with us in Inishowen in numbers that can often astonish. The male is blue-grey, with black wings and white below, with an orange flush to the breast and also sports a black eye mask. The female lacks the blue and black colouring, but makes up for it with wonderful tones of sandy-brown that always remind us of their wintering in Africa and the incredible solo journeys they make to come home again to us in Inishowen. In flight the birds show a white rump and a black 'T'. Once seen, loved forever.
Sand Martin – These delightful little birds have sand-brown upperparts and the underparts are white except for a brown breast band. The tail is forked but shorter than that of the Swallow. The bill and legs are black-brown. Their diet comprises of insects, such as flies and spiders that it catches in flight. Sand Martins nest in colonies, burrowing into banks, quarries and cliffs, and usually near water. Both sexes construct the nest burrow and line the nest chamber with plant material and feathers.
Chiffchaff – Most of you will probably have already heard the distinctive call song of this wonderful little bird, as they suddenly seem to be everywhere! They are among the first migrant songbirds to arrive in the spring, having wintered in the Mediterranean and western Africa. In spring and summer, they have brownish-green upper parts and buff underparts. There is a dark eye stripe through the eye, a pale eyebrow and a thin pale eye ring. They tend to be found towards the tops of trees and bushes, in woodland areas. The song sounds like its name - "chiff chaff".
Willow Warbler – This bird is almost indistinguishable from the Chiffchaff, other than in song. Where the Chiffchaff proudly declares its name repeatedly, the Willow Warbler has one of the most beautiful songs of Spring, always cheerful and a joy to hear. This tiny warbler has greenish-brown upper parts, buff underparts and with a pale stripe above the eye. It is more yellow, and sometimes has paler legs than the Chiffchaff. Closer inspection and a keen eye reveal that Willow Warblers also have longer wings and no eye-ring. Willow Warblers are more often lower down in trees and bushes and in more open, scrub areas, and can seem nervous, constantly flicking their tail downwards.
Cuckoo – There are few more distinctive sounds in Spring and into Summer than the calling of this most unusual of birds. The Cuckoo is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in other birds' nests and leaving the host birds to incubate and rear its young. Dunnocks, Robins and Meadow Pipits are frequent host birds. Each female Cuckoo specialises in using a particular host species and will lay eggs with similar markings to the host bird's eggs, and the young Cuckoo will imitate the begging calls of the host's chicks. The best places to see the Cuckoo are grassland, reed beds, and edges of woodland.
Grasshopper Warbler – This superb warbler spends the winter in the warmer climates of Africa and India and is a very special bird to see and one of our rarer visitors. It is plain brownish in colour and can be very difficult to view. It is usually distinguished by its song, a high-pitched reeling performed at dawn and dusk. Normally, they stay hidden from sight, creeping through dense vegetation and laying their eggs in nests on the ground or tussocks of grass and undergrowth. Dramatic population declines have made this a Red List species.
So what is the best way to see and hear the Magnificent Seven in Inishowen? Just get out there, watch, listen and have a great time!
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