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Belfast Lough - BirdForum Opus

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Not surprisingly this large sea-lough, with the city of Belfast at its head, is heavily industrialised in parts with much of the original mudflats reduced by land reclamation. Despite this there are several excellent birding sites along both the northern and southern shores.

Close to Belfast there are artificial lagoons and mudflats remain over large areas of the inner lough with rockier shores and sandy bays towards the mouth of the lough.

The coastal path on the southern shore from Holywood to Bangor passes grassland and scrub with a few woodland patches.

A link to some images taken at the Belfast harbour RSPB reserve is available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronaldsurgenor/sets/72157623314612852/


Notable Species

The lough holds nationally important wintering numbers of various species with more than 20,000 regularly present. Waders are the most numerous but the area has good numbers of divers, grebes and seaduck. Although best known for its wintering passage birds there is always something of birding interest in the area.

Closest to the city of Belfast is Victoria Park where waders roost, in particular, Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank.

All these species and more can be seen in larger numbers a little further from the city at the Belfast Lough RSPB reserve which is located within the Belfast Harbour Estate.

Covering the remaining mudflats between Whitehouse and Holywood and a large artificial lagoon, in recent years this has become the best birding spot on the entire lough with a number of rarities recorded as well as the more regular waders and waterfowl. In all around 100 species are recorded annually.

Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler occur on passage and in winter as well as a small flock of Pale-bellied Brent Goose. Garganey is annual in spring and American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal have also been recorded.

Waders include all the regular species of northern Europe in good numbers with the scarcer Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank recorded in autumn. The Icelandic race of Black-tailed Godwit occurs on passage in numbers which can reach 1,000. Rare waders have included Black-winged Stilt in spring and a range of North American vagrants in autumn such as Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and White-rumped Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitcher.

The five commoner gulls can be seen all year and these can include rarer species at any time. Ring-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Little Gull, Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull are all annually seen and Laughing Gull has also been recorded.

Breeding birds include Common Shelduck and Northern Shoveler, Northern Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Common Redshank and Common Snipe.

There is a very comfortable heated observation room here with toilets, information and telescopes for public use as well as two further hides.

Continuing outwards from Belfast the muddy and sandy shore becomes more accessible from Holywood onwards with rockier parts towards the mouth of the lough at Bangor. Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone can be seen here as well as Shag and Black Guillemot can be seen at Bangor Pier.

In winter Great Northern Diver and Red-throated Diver can be seen out on the lough itself as well as the largest wintering flock of Great Crested Grebe in the British Isles. Seaduck such as Common Eider, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Common Goldeneye and sawbills.

Other birds present include Great Cormorant and Shag, Water Rail, Grey Heron and Mute Swan all year and Peregrine Falcon, Common Kestrel and Eurasian Sparrowhawk hunt the area.


Birds you can see here include:

Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Slavonian Grebe, Great Cormorant, European Shag, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Goosander, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Common Coot, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian or European Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Ruff, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Common Wood Pigeon, Eurasian Skylark, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Northern House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Common Wren, Dunnock, European Robin, European Stonechat, Eurasian Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Magpie, Eurasian Jackdaw, Hooded Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch, Eurasian Linnet, Reed Bunting

Other Wildlife

To do

Site Information

History and Use

To do

Areas of Interest

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Access and Facilities

Victoria Park is situated between the Sydenham bypass and Belfast Lough and can be reached following the signs from Holywood Road to Connsbrook Avenue, left into Park Avenue and under the bypass.

The RSPB reserve (closed Mondays) is signposted from the A2 Belfast to Bangor road and the Belfast Estate can be entered via Dee Street from the Belfast side or Tillysburn on the Holywood side.

There are several good viewing points between Holywood and Bangor and similarly the northern shore of the lough can be viewed from various points between Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.

For the northern shore leave Belfast on the M2 then the M5 for Carrickfergus. Macedon Point and Fisherman's Quay, beyond Carrickfergus Castle, provide excellent points for viewing the northern part of the lough. The area is now a Ramsar Site, a Special Protection Area and an Area of Special Scientific Interest.

The combination of careful habitat creation and management and the provision of excellent viewing facilities has led to the RSPB reserve being one of their most successful in the comparatively short time it has been open.

Grid Ref: NW488307

Contact Details

Tel: 02891 479009 (RSPB)

External Links

Content and images originally posted by Steve