It may not quite be a jungle out there, but there’s a lot of wildlife in Ireland worth watching. Things with wings, fins, tails and talons, from the seas to the skies to all the grass, forest, bog and woodland in between. Erica Reed grabs her binoculars…
When I think of whales, I always end up thinking of Michael Jackson.
…let me explain. See, whales always bring to my mind the movie Free Willy, which makes me start to hum (not well) the main theme song, which was sung by… yep, Michael Jackson. This has been the path of my brain to and from whales ever since my early years. Lately, though, whales have sparked a newer, and might I say more exciting, connection; a connection with Ireland.
I say this with joy (and no small amount of relief to finally be rid of a, let’s be honest, totally weird Jackson/whale connection). Ireland is quite the hot spot for , as well as dolphin, porpoise, seal, turtle and basking shark viewing, not to mention (deep breath) , , deer, and goat glimpsing.
To surmise, if wildlife is your thing, you’re going to be busy. Here’s just a sample of what to keep an eye out for.
Sea far and wide
Whales, (sans Jackson), dolphins, and all manner of other sea life, can be spotted from Ireland’s shores. Every August, Whale Watch Ireland in Cork encourage everyone to head out on the water and catch a glimpse of silvery grey backs breaking, and the one-flipper waves that humpbacks seem so fond of.
The give the opportunity to not only spot sea life, but listen to whale song as well. Eerily beautiful. East of Donegal, in Northern Ireland’s Ballylumford Harbour, you can catch a ride from the North Irish Diver and be guaranteed a sighting of playful porpoises against epic scenery.
Of course, you also can grab your binoculars and trek the coastline yourself – just check the IWDG website for the latest sea life sightings.
If Ireland had a mascot, it would have to be Fungie. The wild bottlenose dolphin took up residence in Dingle Harbour in the 80s, and since then has become a beloved member of the Dingle community. Fungie loves a show and has been flipping, splashing and showing off to thousands of visitors and locals who go out on the water to see him ever since he arrived. Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours will even give you your money back if Fungie doesn’t show.
Word to the wise: don’t just limit yourself to the west coast. Even Dublin Bay has resident dolphins – how many cities can say that!
Eye a bird’s view
Of course, we have our birds. Several species in Ireland are in danger of local extinction, so I’d personally start acquainting myself with them pronto.
Begin at the where 35 species of bird can be found in some of the most important European cliff-nesting colonies.
For talon-inspired awe, the has a Burren Bird of Prey centre, home to eagles, falcons, hawks and owls. Their Hawk Walk lets you handle, fly and feed your own hawk, under the careful eyes of a handler.
Both and have been the release sites for eagles reintroduced to Ireland, and breeding pairs of Golden eagles and White-Tailed eagles have taken up residence in the parks, those with an eagle eye (har!) just might spot them. Back in the east, Brian McCann is bird man extraordinaire and will help you get your hands on falcons, eagles and owls. Antrim’s also offers glimpses of flocking feathered delights, most especially on , where you can gaze at guillemots, razorbills, puffins and kittiwakes to your heart’s deepest content.
Float like a…
We have other winged creatures worth watching, too. In , over 330 species of butterflies and moths have been identified. Patrick Lynch, warden for the reserve, said most of the visitors come to see the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, as its numbers are in decline across Europe.
“Seeing the more rare and colourful butterflies would excite most people,” Lynch says.
The estate of in Fermanagh is also home to rare butterflies, and the eight native bat species of Ireland (slight shudder!). The summer months are the only times to properly see butterflies, and to really get eye to eye with them, visit the in Kildare.
Where the wild things go
The in County Clare is a region of karst limestone landscape. It might look barren at first glance, but rare plants, flowers, butterflies and animals abound, the oddest of which must be the slow-worm. It looks like a snake, moves like a snake, is called a worm, and is actually a reptile devoid of limbs – poor chap! Feral goats are also found across the Burren – adorable due to their vast likenesses to wizened old men (I always think). Brigid Barry, the coordinator for the Burrenbeo Trust, said “Before I came to the Burren, I’d never heard a cuckoo, seen a Marsh Fritillary, swum with a dolphin, or watched a hare graze, among other things – these are all quite common here”.
So in total, that’s a lifetime of wildlife to watch! And an opportunity for me to get a much more appropriate soundtrack. “Wild thing, ba da da da, you make my heart sing…”.