Overview of County Mayo

This section provides an overview of the diverse habitats found in County Mayo, details of its Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and information on Birding Sites in County Mayo.

County Mayo – An Introduction

Mayo has an extremely long coastline of nearly 1,200km that stretches from Killala Bay in the northeast of the county to just north of Leenane in the southwest.

The shoreline provides many varied habitats for birds, including machair grassland, high cliffs, sheltered bays, inlets, saltmarshes and estuaries. There is also approximately 300km of island coastal shore. Many of the islands off the Mullet Peninsula are designated Special Protection Areas, e.g. Illanmaistir, Inishglora & Inishkeeragh, the Inishkeas and the Stags of Broadhaven.

There are several major lakes (part of the system often referred to as the Great Western Lakes) extending from Lough Mask in the southwest, through Lough Carra, Lough Cullin and Lough Conn, up towards the northwest of the county.

Lough Carra © Barry Murphy

Turloughs are common throughout the county, providing another habitat for the wintering wildfowl and wetland birds, e.g. Greaghan’s Turlough near Ballinrobe and those around Balla.

Offshore, especially from mid-August to October, passage migration provides an ideal opportunity to see thousands of birds that pass just off Mayo’s coast. With a north-westerly wind, birds are pushed close to the shore and there are many headlands suitable for watching the passage migration, e.g. Kilcummin Head, Downpatrick Head, Erris Head and Annagh Head. Birds passing include shearwaters, skuas, petrels, gulls, gannets, auks, phalarope and terns.

Erris Head (Ceann Iorrais) © Barry Murphy

Uplands in County Mayo include the Owenduff bog and Nephin Begs mountain range (SPAs) comprising Atlantic blanket bog, heath, low mountains, lakes and rivers, providing ideal habitat for species of birds such as Red Grouse and Golden Plover.

Much of County Mayo is covered in Atlantic blanket bog, both lowland and upland, especially the northwest of the county. While species poor, when compared to coastline, woodland or unimproved field systems, nevertheless blanket bog affords opportunities to see Merlin, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Cuckoo, Snipe, Woodcock, Red Grouse and more.

Nice native and mixed species woodlands can be visited at Cong, Belleek in Ballina, Drummin (near Pontoon), Enniscoe House, Old Head and Brackloon (near Westport).

Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Special Protection Areas are sites that are important for birds, which are designated under the EU Birds Directives (79/409/EEC and 2009/147/EC). This Directive provides protection or endangered birds and their habitats.

In Mayo, the birds include Whooper Swan, Peregrine Falcon and Corncrake. It also provides for regular occurring migratory species, such as geese and waders, as well as wetlands of international importance for migratory birds.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in Mayo include the following:

In the northwest of the County: Blacksod and Broadhaven Bays, Termoncarragh Lake and Cross Lough on the Mullet Peninsula, Carrowmore Lake (near Bangor), as well as the islands of Illanmaistir, Inishglora & Inishkeeragh, the Inishkeas and the Stags of Broadhaven.

Other sites include: the Owendiff / Nephin Complex, Lough Carra, Lough Conn and Lough Cullin.

The full list of 18 SPAs in Co Mayo can be searched on the National Parks & Wildlife Service website: https://www.npws.ie/protected-sites/spa