The ultimate guide to wildlife spotting from Discover NI
Over the past year, everyone from city slickers to countryside dwellers have been getting closer to nature and learning to love their environment, discovering the creatures that cohabit our locales.
Home to a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a multitude of areas of ecological interest, you need to look no further than Northern Ireland to find lush landscapes, inspiring islands and beautiful seas teaming with fascinating wildlife and creatures to spot.
You don’t have to be an avid birdwatcher, eager ecologist or even ‘the next David Attenborough’ to get friendly with fabulous fauna and wild fowl in Northern Ireland. All you have to do is visit any of the amazing parks and forests for access to wonderful wildlife or have a fun-filled day out at one of Northern Ireland’s great zoos, farms, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries.
Discover Northern Ireland has rounded up some top places to go wildlife spotting this summer. How many creatures can you spot on your next giant adventure?
Puffin watching on Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim
- Hop on the ferry to Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. Home to the largest breeding seabird colonies in Europe and RSPB Seabird Centre, birdwatchers and nature lovers will delight in a trip with a special viewing platform with binoculars and telescopes available. Or for something different, head for Rathlin West Light which is known locally as the ‘upside down’ lighthouse. From April to July is puffin season, but you can also spot gannets, dolphins or seals basking on the rocks. End your visit by watching seabird chicks perch precariously on cliff edges as well as guillemots, kittiwakes, and razorbills. www.rspb.org.uk
Bring your cheeky little monkeys to Belfast Zoo
- At Belfast Zoo, you have 55 acres to roam around and over 130 species to see. Get up close with Asian elephants, Rothschild’s giraffes, Barbary lions and Sumatran tigers, California sea lions as well as an array of sifakas, gorillas, chimps and gibbons. You’ll have the opportunity to see native red squirrels, barn owls and Irish black honeybees along the way. www.belfastzoo.co.uk
Dive in at Exploris Aquarium, Co. Down
- You’ll find this awesome aquarium at the foot of the Ards Peninsula in Portaferry where you’ll get a diver’s view of marine life from around the world. Meet the new waddle of penguins settling into their home and watch how they frolic and jump on the water. Ever tickle a shark’s belly or feel a sea urchin’s spikes? Well now is the perfect time to give it a go. Visit the Seal Sanctuary, the Tropical Ocean – home to over 100 species – and meet a family of Asian Short Clawed Otters. You can even adopt one of the seal pups whilst they are going through their rehabilitation. www.explorisni.com
Wing it to Belfast Lough for wildlife
- If it’s birds you’re after, then Belfast’s ‘Window on Wildlife’ (WOW) has got all you need. This RSPB-managed collection of mudflats, watermeadow and river lough is right in the heart of Belfast Lough and is home to more than 100 species of birds. Alongside the countless waders, dibbers and sedge warblers, are konik ponies, a walking trail and a pair of hides from which the birds and other wildlife can be closely observed. Expert staff will help you spot and identify every animal you see as you learn more about this unique project. www.rspb.org.uk
WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down
- Three times award-winning Castle Espie is a tranquil and friendly centre set on the shores of Strangford Lough where almost the entire world’s population of Brent Geese resides during the winter months. Hides and nature walks allow you to get close to the wild birds and collection of endangered birds from around the world. A picnic area, an indoor soft play area, Loughshore Café and well stocked gift shop are also available. Recent additions include a free to visit Sensory Garden and an arctic themed Brent Play Barn soft playroom. www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/castle-espie
Fermanagh Fun Farm for families
- Fermanagh Fun Farm, at Slate Quarry Lane, Lisbellaw, is a great place for families to make lasting memories. Offering a real hands-on experience and a range of activities including: Feeding a range of animals, cuddle time in pets corner, train ride to the cow patch and pony walking and grooming, there is something for everyone to enjoy. There is also an indoor play barn, outdoor play area, picnic area and a tearoom/gift shop. Fermanagh Fun Farm is home to many rescued and adopted animals. All animals are pets and will live at the farm for the rest of their life. For more information visit www.fermanaghfunfarm.com
Salmon run at Roe Valley Country Park, Co. Londonderry
- As late summer signals the start of the salmon migration from the sea to upstream, Roe Valley Country Park at Dogleap Road, Limavady offers a great vantage point to watch this giant adventure. The river plunges through spectacular gorges and its banks are clothed in mature woodland. This picturesque park is also the main habitat to a number of animals which include foxes, badgers and otters. There is a disabled angler’s jetty by the river and a specially designed trail emphasising the wildlife of the park. This includes an audio guide for blind and partially sighted visitors. Paths provide access throughout much of Roe Valley and seating is available at various points, including special benches for the less able-bodied. Also worth a visit is the newly refurbished ‘Ritters Tea Room’ which opens daily and is located on the left bank upriver of the Dogleap Centre from which a mobility scooter may also be borrowed. For more visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/roe-valley-country-park-p675641
Bird watching at Boorin Nature Reserve, Co. Tyrone
- The small, pointed hills which are synonymous with Boorin Nature Reserve were formed when the melting ice sheets of the last Ice Age left behind huge amounts of sand and gravel. These hills at Glenpark Road, Gortin are now covered in heather and are surrounded by peat bog. The small loughs found here are deep and are known as kettle-hole lakes. During summertime the air is filled with the beautiful sounds of birdsong from skylarks. Visitors may be able to spot buzzards circling above them lazily overhead. Also, if they are very lucky, they may be able to catch a glimpse of a red grouse amongst the heather or a green hairstreak butterfly basking on bilberry in the sunshine. The steep slope which is located at the northern end of the reserve is a rare surviving fragment of mature oak woodland and is famous for its great variety of lichens, ferns and mosses. Visit www.discovernorthernireland.com/things-to-do/boorin-nature-reserve-p674171
Time for some fun on the farm
- You’ll also find Open Farms dotted all around Northern Ireland which make for a great family day out. Like Antrim’s Laganvale Farm near Lisburn or Kilcreggan Urban Farm in Carrickfergus. At Rosepark Farm outside Ballymoney, don’t miss the beautiful blue lagoon which has been transformed into Northern Ireland’s first inland beach. Streamvale Open Farm outside Belfast allows your kids to cuddle puppies, rabbits and baby chicks. The Ark Open Farm in Newtownards is perfect for some family farm fun, or why not try something out of the ordinary and meet and greet the gentle alpacas at Cranfield Alpacas in Kilkeel.
To help make your trip as run as smoothly as possible, Discover Northern Ireland has put together 5 top tips for visitors to be aware of:
- It is essential to pre-book and to check availability directly with each provider and to be aware of each venue’s cancellation policy when booking.
- When planning a trip, consider how to avoid traffic congestion by travelling at quieter times such as weekdays, be sure to check traffic ahead of time or consider taking public transport.
- To ensure you get the most out of your day-trip or staycation, and to avoid busier spaces, consider booking a mid-week break, or explore lesser known destinations.
- Embrace a Giant Spirit safely and take care of yourself, local business and the environment around you by signing the Visitor Charter Pledge on Discover Northern Ireland’s website. Visit: https://discovernorthernireland.com/know-before-you-go/giantdifference.
- Always follow current COVID-19 travel advice and guidelines before planning and while visiting. Visit nidirect.gov.uk and check that the provider has been accredited with the “We’re Good to Go” industry standard.
For more information on great places to visit and for things to see and do – check out www.discovernorthernireland.com.