In west Donegal, wind and water have sculpted the landscape we see today. It’s one of the windiest places in the country and on average we get rainfall two days in every three. These ingredients make for breathtaking scenery when they are combined with a coastal location and an ancient and varied geology.
The area around Maghery has a mosaic of coastal habitats. Beaches, sea cliffs, marram dunes, fixed dunes and saltmarsh graduate north east from the main beach. The south west wind has covered the fields behind the beach in a layer of blown sand which result in a species rich floral display in summer. The grass verges along the roadside going towards the pier display an attractive sequence of colourful wildflowers throughout the summer months.
North of the Strand there is the rocky shore around Termon, interspersed with pockets of sandy grassland and dry heath. South of the Strand the coast rises dramatically to form Crohy Cliffs which are backed by a dense carpet of beautiful coastal heath that rises to a height of 245 metres at Croaghegly. Inland, is a mixture of blanket bog, heath and farmland.
Maghery Lough is part of a Special Area of Conservation on account of the lake being a lagoon. It receives both fresh and salt water and is home to a specialised plant and animal community that can tolerate such conditions.
Between Maghery Strand and Arranmore Island lie the low islands of Illancrone and Inishkeeragh, both of which are part of a Special Protection Area for wild birds. Dungloe Bay is scattered with exposed rocky outcrops at low tide and these provide a welcome haul out for Common Seals.
The resident birds are joined by a variety of visitors from remote and far flung locations like Greenland (Barnacle Geese), Iceland (Whooper Swan), Siberia and Scandinavia (Wigeon). These birds spend the winter with us while their breeding grounds are frozen, dark and cold. Our mild maritime climate enables them to feed on lakes or ground that seldom freezes. When our winter visitors are heading north, the summer visitors are coming up from western and southern Africa.
Wheatear are noticeable and plentiful from April to September, Swallows and Sand Martins feed in flight and the other summer visitors, which are easier to hear then to see, are the Cuckoo, the Grasshopper, Willow and Sedge Warblers and the Common Sandpiper. During the summer, female Eider ducks with a crèche of ducklings, swim close to the beach at Maghery. The Distinctive call of the Chough can be heard all year round. They reside on the cliffs at Crohy and flocks feed around Maghery in the winter. The Cliffs are also home to breeding Fulmar, Shag and Peregrine. Herons nest in Termon and Saltpans.
Maghery Lough is inhabited by Otter and a family is normally raised here, so at times, two or three otters can be seen together in the lake. Dungloe Bay has visiting Grey Seals and a resident Common Seal population which like to haul out on the many rocky outcrops exposed at low tide. When the pups are born in early summer the population can rise to over 200. Other resident wild animals include, Fox, Badger, Mountain Hare, Pipistrelle Bat. and American Mink.
Along the roadside heading north from Maghery towards Crohy it is easy to find, sea plantain, yarrow, mountain everlasting, sheep’s bit, common butterwort, common twayblade, and heath spotted orchid, harebells, and wood sage. The common heather species, ling, bell heather. and cross leaved heath are interspersed in places with the less common crowberry. From the beach heading towards the pier some of the flowering plants include coltsfoot, eyebright, ladys mantle, meadowsweet, wild carrot, harebells, scentless mayweed, red bartsia. and greater butterfly, early marsh, common spotted and pyramidal orchid species. These can be seen best during the summer months.
The rarest plant is the area, is a small underwater species living in Maghery Lough called Foxtail Stonewort. This is protected under the Flora Order (1999) and is found at only a handful of other locations nationally, being also rare internationally.
The wind direction has sculpted the resident trees to grow away from the prevailing wind, in places it is quite noticeable the way the branches lean to the east. The exposed location and the combination of wind, rain and salt air has affected how plants have adapted to survive in these conditions. This is most noticeable along the cliffs at Falmore where oak trees grow like shrubs, spread prostrate across the rocks none more than a metre in height.