There are many reasons that we love to flock to the Emerald Isle ; the outstanding natural beauty, the rugged coastlines, the friendly people and bustling towns and cities, but one of the draws for many wildlife enthusiasts is the bird watching.
Ireland is of great interest to keen bird spotters because of its position on the migration routes of many passerines and seabirds, which find the isle a perfect stopping point on their Atlantic journeys.
So where and when should you head to on the island to go bird watching?
North Bull Island
North Bull Island, located in Dublin Bay is connected to the mainland by Bull Bridge. It was the first National Bird Sanctuary of Ireland and is not both a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation.
The island has an intertidal mudflat, sand dunes, and a saltmarsh that encourages interesting species to feed and nest here.
In this area you could spot shoveler, shelduck, pintail and teal geese on the causeway, and plenty of wader birds on the saltmarsh where short-eared owls also roost.
The beautiful sand dunes attract peregrine falcons and merlin to hunt, and on the mudflats you may find grey plover, dunlins, sandpipers, and the American golden plover.
East Coast Nature Reserve, County Wicklow
Opening up its doors in 2009, this is one of Ireland’s newest nature reserves and is also the largest forming part of the Murrough Wetlands, a Special Protection Area.
The abundance of insects and flowers within the reserve attracts a vast array of birds that can be seen from either of the two observation hides or boardwalks.
The woodland glades attract finches, swallows, and swifts, and the wet grasslands are home to wigeon, whooper swans, hen harriers, and little egrets. Short-eared owls, great spotted woodpeckers and kingfishers have also been spotted on the reserve so keep your eyes peeled.
Little Skellig, County Kerry
If you head off the coast of County Kerry you will find the beautiful Little Skellig, a BirdWatch Ireland nature reserve and seabird breeding colony.
Little Skellig is a fantastic place to see spot puffins, northern gannets, storm petrels, Manx shearwaters, razorbills, and many other birds visiting from the Atlantic Ocean.
To reach the island you’ll need to hop on a boat so be sure to pack your binoculars to get a close up view of the birds. You can’t actually get off on this small island but being on a boat will give you a great view of the winged-wildlife.
Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow
The Kilcoole Reserve in County Wicklow is an area of wet grassland that lies behind a shingle beach. It has a marshy pools that flood during the winter months which attractive Teal. These small dabbling ducks are often heard giving a clear ringing whistle by the males to attract females.
Deep in the marshy vegetation you’ll find Water Rails whilst Reed Buntings perch on the taller stems with their black heads and white collars. Stonechats are frequently spotted sat along the fence lines making their sharp, loud call that sounds a bit like two stones being taped together.
Further south in the reserve during the winter months you’ll find Light-bellied Brent Geese feeding on the short grasslands and during the summer months the largest Little Tern colony in the country gathers to breed on the beach.
Capel Island & Knockadoon Head, Co. Cork
Capel Island lies just offshore of Youghal Bay on the East Cork Coast and you’ll find Knockadoon on the very western tip of the bay.
The headland and its short cropped heathland vegetation attract Choughs to feed during the autumn and winter months and the cliffs can attarad Peregrines too.
Over on Capel Island there is a colony of breeding Cormorants and a wild population of Irish Goats. During clearer days the headland itself is a good sea-watching point , especially when birds are in migration.
This is a remote location though and has a rugged and wild feel. At times there maybe grazing animals present so take care to keep dogs on a lead if you are visiting with your four-legged friend.