Author Aiveen Cooper arrives at Lough Derg on her journey down the Shannon — and introduces us to some of the wildlife she finds there.
The river disappears as a broad expanse of water opens up before us. We have arrived onto the largest of the Shannon lakes – Lough Derg. A Great-crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) with its distinctive plume of black feathers on its head, is diving for fish just outside the harbour (a bird that breeds here in numbers of national importance), and we can see Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) in the distance. I know there is a large colony on one of the islands just off shore here. The Cormorant is a familiar sight on this journey. We have passed many of them along the river, perched on marker signs waiting to catch a passing fish or two. It is a large, dark seabird with a long hooked beak and is often spotted with its wings outstretched to dry. The inland birds tend to nest in trees, where as the coastal birds nest on cliffs.
I was expecting to see an abundance of wildlife on Lough Derg as the whole lake, its shoreline and islands are of huge ecological importance. This is reflected in the designations of Special Area of Conservation (SAC), proposed Natural Heritage Area (pNHA) and Special Protection Area (SPA) to the entire lake. These designations are designed to protect the variety of important habitats and species found in and around the lake. As I step off the boat at Castle Harbour in Portumna the first thing I hear is the distinctive call of a Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), coming from the direction of Portumna Forest Park, which lies just behind the harbour.
Despite the lure of the forest park, where I know our elusive native Red Squirrel resides, I leave the exploration of the forest park for now, and head for Portumna town instead. Not far from the harbour there is a loud cracking and rustling, and acting on instinct I jump into the hedge and swing my camera around in preparation. My instincts prove to be spot on, when two young Fallow Deer leap from the trees onto the road ahead of me. They take one look in my direction and are gone again as quickly as they appeared. I am delighted but not all that surprised. There is a herd of Fallow Deer (Dama dama) in the forest park, and seeing these two as well as hearing the cuckoo earlier makes me determined to visit the forest park properly as soon as my exploration of the town is over.