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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Northern Ireland,

Paul Tout

The following report first appeared as a response to a request for information on UKBN.

I'm unfortunate enough to spend every summer in N.I with my in-laws and I can tell you that it can be pretty grim for birding, at least in July and August.   As the best of a bad bunch you have to visit the seabird colonies at Rathlin Island (ferry from Ballycastle, County Antrim).

There are also good tern colonies in Larne Lough together with Black Guillemots near the ferry terminal. The best place to watch is at the mouth of the lough where the terns (including the odd Roseate Tern) fly in and out.  If it blows a SE hoolie then St. John's Point (Co. Down) is very good for petrels, auks and shearwater and has turned up a number of mid-summer dark "feae-type" petrels IIRR, while anything with a northerly element favours a visit to Ramore Head in the middle of Portrush which I prefer because you have a bit of height. The best spot to watch from Ramore Head is from the small lifebelt box... you'll see what I mean if you go.

The walk along the coastal path from Portballintrae (near Bushmills, where the Distillery is) east towards the Giant's Causeway and beyond to Dunserverick castle is lovely and there are still 1 or 2 choughs and the occasional Twite between The Giant's Causeway and Dunserverick, plus Water Pipits, Stonechat, Eiders, Peregrine and Buzzard. The beach at Portballintrae is sometimes good for waders (Ringed Plover, Dunlin) before the dog-walkers get out and about and there are Sand Martins in the dune cliffs. 

The walk across the Bushmills golf-course is good for whitethroats, sedge warblers and stonechats. There is a very good hotel / restaurant in Bushmills, called, imaginatively, the Bushmills Hotel.  Most other places I've eaten in NI have been expensive and naff.

Merlins, Peregrines and Hen Harriers are frequent on the moorland of the Antrim Glens around Glenarriff between Ballymena and Cushendall but the heather is largely in very poor condition and I've never seen a Grouse. There are also  LOTS of forestry plantations!

Nearer to Belfast there is the RSPB reserve at the Belfast Harbour Pools (out from Belfast on the road to Bangor, past Shorts and just past the City Airport - there is no sign for the reserve, you turn left onto an industrial estate (with a security guard in a gatehouse with a barrier. You just say you are going to the bird reserve... he'll give you directions) which turns up some good stuff, last summer there was a Long-billed Dowitcher in summer plumage plus lots of B-t Godwits, but that was in August. The viewing quality is very good even if the place is a bit crappy and incongrous with the Sea-Cats to Stranraer, IoM, and Heysham passing every few minutes. 

There is a large dump beside the motorway heading out north from Belfast at the extreme end of Belfast lough. I'm no gull fan but it turns up regular Yellow Legged Gulls and the odd claim of Smithsonianus Herring Gull.  I found it difficult to watch but the number of gulls is huge.

Finally, avoid Castle Espie (the WWT place), the collection is fine but the setting is dire apart from in the winter when the Brents arrive.   Lough Neagh is also disappointing, although I think the reserve there no longer exists.

There IS a free birdline number covering the province called "Flightline" - the number I have is 01247-467408, it carries the NI news and regularly updates on the mega-rarities in the Republic which I imagine pisses off the bloke that runs the Republic's rare bird alert.

Red-necked Phalaropes USED to nest at Belmullet, the very NW of Co. Mayo. I believe they are now gone. It's a HELL of a place to get to.  If you need corncrakes in the north (as opposed to the huge population in the Shannon Callows) I heard 4 and saw two in a day on Tory Island off the NW coast of Donegal when I went for a Black-headed Bunting.  Also saw Chough and Glaucous gull that day. Tory turns up good numbers of rarities - ferry (quite expensive, 14 rings a bell) from Meenlaragh.

Best bet for a map is the Ireland North Holiday Map, 1:250,000 by the Ordnance Survey.

Well there you go - I needed 10 years to put together a half-bearable itinerary in N.I - you got it in ten minutes. No-one should suffer as I did.  Good luck.

Paul Tout

Should any birders from Northern Ireland take exception to this report, I would be happy to publish an update

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