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17 September 2014
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Freshwater | Lough Neagh

King of waterways

Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh is an amazing sight. It's Britain's biggest area of freshwater at 20 miles long and 12 miles wide.

The lough has an average depth of almost 40 feet, although this is relatively shallow for its enormous size.

Lough Neagh - the scale of the Lough is mind-blowing

Six major rivers flow into the Lough and they collectively drain more than 40% of Northern Ireland.

The loch holds approximately 3.5 million million litres of water, and is more like an inland sea, and its sheer size makes it a great place to see wildlife.

This large expanse of water is ice free during winter making it a number one holiday destination for wintering birds escaping the Arctic wastes of Greenland, Iceland and Norway.

Swan spectacle

Whooper SwanThe biggest and most majestic bird to be found at Lough Neagh in the winter is the Whooper Swan.

About 1,000 of these swans winter on Lough Neagh - the majority of birds from Iceland that visit the UK.

This is a great place to see them because this is where they fly into the Lough to feed after roosting elsewhere during the night.

There's a fly in and fly out each day but the dawn departure is better because the swans tend to fly in groups rather than in 'ones and twos' which they do when they're flying back.

The swans stay at Lough Neagh from October to late March when spring arrives, before making the journey back to Iceland to breed.

The best time to see them in significant numbers is late winter.

Underwater wonderland

DollaghanMillions of fish live under the waters of Lough Neagh including Eels and the Dollaghan, a fish which is a living relic from the Ice Age.

This species of Brown Trout is only found in the Lough and some of the rivers that feed into it, and, as a result, it has developed an unusual lifestyle, behaving more like a salmon than a trout.

Most Brown Trout live and spawn in rivers but the Dollaghan treats Lough Neagh as a sea and migrates to local rivers to spawn before coming back to the Lough.

It's the only trout in the world that behaves in this way.

The local hatchery at Ballinderry is doing its best to keep numbers high, and is a good place to see these fish in winter.

Heron spotting

HeronConey Island is a nature reserve located in the south west corner of Lough Neagh.

A boat ride out to the island is a must for lovers of the UK's largest predatory bird - the Grey Heron.

There's a good chance of seeing these birds in late winter when the males start to nest build ready for the breeding season.

The birds are doing well on the island with 57 pairs - there were only six when seven years ago.

But after getting rid of the island's rats, the Heron population mushroomed.

This is now the biggest heronry in Northern Ireland.

For most of the year it's hard to tell the male and female Herons apart, but during the mating season the female goes through a transformation.

Her bill turns from yellow to pink, her breast feathers turn into a powdery down and she grows an extra claw to preen her soft egg warming down feathers.



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