Where are the best bird-watching spots in Northern Ireland?

Where are the best bird-watching spots in Northern Ireland?

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There are so many great bird-watching locations across Northern Ireland! If you have a particular bird you want to see, for example, a nesting puffin, then it’s a good idea to plan ahead so you know exactly when and where is best to see it. Here’s a list of some of our favourite bird-watching spots: 

Castle Espie lies on the edge of Strangford Lough (the largest sea lough in the UK and Ireland) in County Down, and is part of the Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust visitor centre was strategically placed at the edge of this almost fully enclosed inlet, as milder temperatures here attract many migrating seabirds from more northerly locations – including the largest percentage of the world’s light-bellied Brent geese! Go on the woodland walk yourself, or check out Castle Espie’s upcoming events such as bird feeder workshops and bird-watching mornings.

On Castle Espie’s website, they detail which wildlife can be spotted in each season; spring is a great time for terns, black-headed gulls, black-tailed godwits and oystercatchers, and summer is perfect for swallows, and sedge warblers. Autumn is the time for light-bellied Brent geese, grey plover and jay, and winter is light-bellied Brent geese, wigeon, siskin, dunlin, long-tailed tit and shelduck.

What about bird-watching with a little bit of island hopping, too? Take a ferry across the Sea of Moyle to Rathlin Island, County Antrim. The island’s cliffs and rocky coastline make it a perfect bird habitat. It’s so good, in fact, that Rathlin Island is home to Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony – that’s probably why the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds decided to build a seabird centre here. The centre is located on the western coast of the island where the cliffs meet the Atlantic Ocean, and from late April to early June, a large gathering of puffins collect here. Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and corncrakes also flock here to nest. And, on the southern tip of the island, you’ll likely find lapwing, corncrake and snipe. Rathlin Island walking tours and a boat trip around Rathlin Island during the summer are a few tours operating here.

Portmore Lough in County Antrim is a small, inland lough to the right of the much larger Lough Neagh, and it’s a great place to see greylags, geese and whooper swans during the winter. There are two nature trails in the area. Along the main trail, you’ll find the boardwalk which takes you off to the hide with views of both the lough and reedbed. Things to note: this path can be mucky in the winter so wear strong footwear, guided tours for groups of eight people or more are available to book by calling the visitor centre, and you can hire binoculars from the visitor centre to make sure you don’t miss anything. 

You may have heard of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim for its incredible 40,000+ basalt columns dating back to the volcanic age, but did you know that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also a bird-watching haven? It’s popular with the northern gannet, northern fulmar, common guillemot, razorbill, black guillemot, common eider, northern wheatear, rock pipit, Eurasian curlew and Eurasian oystercatcher. In spring, watch out for ravens, and in winter you may catch snow buntings and skylarks in the fields behind the cliffs. 

Last but not least, autumn is a good time to head to Ramore Head in Portrush, County Antrim. Passing birds at this time of year include Leach’s storm petrel, skuas, shearwaters and Sabine’s gull. Migrating birds such as the barnacle goose and whooper swan can also be seen at this time. Ramore Head itself is beautiful: the headland stretches out into the North Atlantic Ocean and white sandy beaches lie on either side of this rocky outcrop. It’s right by the town of Portrush too, so you don’t have to travel far off the beaten track as a path takes you from the town straight out to the tip of the headland. 

Does our Community have any recommendations to make when it comes to bird-watching sites in Northern Ireland?

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