Donegals Secret Lagoon

There’s a secret lagoon in northwest Donegal which I’ve recently discovered. Standing on the
pier you can see Bloody Foreland, Errigal, Horn Head and Tory Island. So many iconic landmarks
surrounding one little bay. Not as famous as its larger neighbours to the east, Lough Swilly, Mulroy
and Sheep Haven, Ballyness Bay is just as beautiful. It’s a lovely spot to stop for lunch, even on a
bracing mid-February day like today when the wind is barely catching its breath between Storms
Ciara and Dennis.
A stiff westerly breeze pushed fast moving wintery showers of hail, snow and sleet ahead of
it. A spectacularly angry looking grey squall swept along just off the coast. On the horizon Tory was
underlined white with breaking waves.
Back in the car I appreciated the faint heat in the bright between-shower sunshine through
the windscreen as spring protested that it was time for winter to retreat northwards. The battle
produced a patchwork of sun spots chasing dark cloudy shadows across the dune system at
Magheroarty that separates Ballyness Bay from the Atlantic. The tide was low and falling rapidly.
Through my binoculars I tracked large patches of sunlight sweeping across the bay. They were like
spotlights illuminating characters on an unspoilt natural stage.
At the western end of the bay a seal was hauled out on a sand bar. Basking. Head and tail
turned upwards like a smile. With all that blubber it probably considered the weather positively
On a rippled sand bar an oystercatcher was looking for lunch, long orange bill probing the
golden grains for a snack. A gull a couple metres away was pretending not to be watching carefully. I
often see gulls lurking with intent near waders, sometimes one gull per wader as if they were
I watched the oystercatcher tug a hard earned snack from the sand. The gull lunged for the
morsel. Flicking its head sideways, whether by luck or skill, the oystercatcher grabbed the gull by the
neck. The gull flapped wildly in a hover as it frantically tried to pull away. The oystercatcher gripped
tightly. The gull screamed in panic. I’ve never seen anything like this battle before. It took a few
seconds of hectic struggle to break free. The gull settled on the sand several metres away trying to
look nonplussed. However within a minute, feeling it had shown that it was still the tough kid on the
bar, it flew off as if it had somewhere else important to be.
Another sunbeam lit up more black and white birds feeding on a patch of dark shore opposite.

Larger and rounder than oystercatchers, twenty pale bellied brent geese were enjoying the
eel grass growing on the rocky shore. A family party grunted loudly as they skimmed the water
before gliding in for a perfect landing. Marram grass on the dunes behind them shimmered in the
The tidal stream between the sandbars sparkled wherever the sun touched it. A shag leapt
into the air scattering sparkles as it plunged into the current after a fish. A curlew collecting worms
nearby was lit up revealing the detail of every delicate brown and cream feather. It wandered into a
pool of water and appeared to be kissing its own long legged reflection.
I was so enjoying watching the wildlife hunt their lunch that I almost forgot to eat my own.
Placing my binoculars on the dashboard I ate my sandwiches and enjoyed the calming effect of my
surroundings. Reluctantly as the clock counted towards two, I left timeless Ballyness Bay to return to