Taking flight in Malin Head

Barnacle Geese fly over Malin Head.Photo: Ronan McLaughlin.
Barnacle Geese fly over Malin Head.Photo: Ronan McLaughlin.

Malin Head is celebrated for its abundance of scenery, landscape and its location as Ireland’s most northerly point.

In recent times, it has enjoyed increased publicity due to the ‘dancing dolphins’ who have been appearing off the coast with regularity.

A peregrine falcon. All photographs by Ronan McLaughlin.

A peregrine falcon. All photographs by Ronan McLaughlin.

But, the area is also a mecca for bird enthusiasts or ‘birders’ due to its rich and varied birdlife.

In 1961, a Bird Observatory was set up at Malin Head to study the passage of seabirds and movements of other birds off the coast.

While it has since closed, the area’s importance as a bird haven has continued to gain momentum.

One ‘birder’ is Malin Head man Ronan McLaughlin, who has been promoting his home nationally and internationally through his stunning photographs of birds and wildlife.

A sparrow at Malin Head.Photo: Ronan McLaughlin.

A sparrow at Malin Head.Photo: Ronan McLaughlin.

Ronan told the ‘Journal’ he became interested in studying birds when he was just 12-years-old and he has now passed that interest to his own children.

He explained how the habitat of the area made it a prime attraction and breeding ground for all forms of wildlife and birdlife.

Bird species prevalent at Malin Head, according to Ronan, are the red-listed Twite and Whinchat, Chuffs, Corncrakes and even Peregrine Falcons, of which there are believed to be six breeding pairs.

The Eider Duck, which first bred in Ireland in 1912 on the nearby Inishtrahull Island, is the most common duck in the area. I

A wheatear. Photograph by Ronan McLaughlin.

A wheatear. Photograph by Ronan McLaughlin.

Recent surveys have also suggested there are 25 pairs of choughs breeding in Malin Head, out of just 900 across the country.

In the harsh days of winter, birds such as Barnacle Geese, Snow Bunting and Purple Sandpiper can be spotted.

Of course, birders can also spot more common birds such as the Wren, the Blackbird, Skylarks and Swallows.

The area of Banba’s Crown, where there are plans to build a visitor’s centre, is a good vantage point for spotting migration species such as Lapland Buntings and Northern Thrushes.

“Imagine sitting in a cafe at the visitors’ centre and watching these wonderful birds fly above you,” said Ronan.

He added that rare birds, such as the Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler have also been found at this location.

The seastacks off Malin Head are also important for breeding birds. Birds such as the Lesser Black back, Herring and Common gulls have been found at Scheildren Mor and Scheildren beag, as well as large rafts of post breeding Eider Ducks in autumn. Puffins have also been seen in these locations.

Other prime sites in the local area include a walk between the ‘Wee House of Malin’ and

Stookarudden, with small, scattered colonies of Razorbill and Common Guillemot.

There are hundreds of other bird species prevalent in the Malin Head and Malin areas, but one which cannot be overlooked is the corncrake.

It was recently announced that Donegal recorded the largest number of corncrakes in Ireland this summer, with 230 in Donegal.

Ronan explained how the habitat of the area was prime for corncrakes, whose conservation has become so important in recent years.

While Ronan is particularly interested in birds, he is also an enthusiast of all wildlife and its habitat.

Ronan recently identified a rare Great Yellow Bumblebee at Malin Head.

The last of these recorded in Ireland was in 1972 and they are now on the verge of extinction here.

There is currently a mammoth effort underway in the UK to conserve the species, which is clinging to survival in Orkney and the Western Isles.

Ronan told the Journal how Malin Head has also enjoyed regular sightings of bottle-nosed dolphins, common dolphins, Orca Whales - which he has personally witnessed - harbour porpoises and humpback whales.

Malin Head is also recognised across the world as one of the top European hotspots for Basking Sharks

With this in mind, Ronan will host National Whale Watch Day at Malin Head on August 24th at 2pm. This event is being held countrywide to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the declaration of Irish waters as a whale and dolphin sanctuary.

Attendees are asked to bring binoculars and dress appropriately.

All photographs by Ronan McLaughlin.