Urban Birding in Belfast
I'm not a stranger to Belfast as I had birded in the city some fifteen years previously. Back then the atmosphere was decidedly edgy. I remember visiting a mate who lived in a catholic area who went ballistic when he opened the door to see me in a green army birding jacket. He vociferously ordered me to take it off, as he was afraid that I would be mistaken for army personnel!
When I stepped off the plane at George Best Belfast City Airport for my two-day visit I was heavily laden with a list of sites, a freshly acquired cold and an insurmountable excitement. The next morning found me at my first destination, Ormeau ParkA — apparently the biggest and the most species rich park in the city. Strolling around this very pleasant wooded site resulted in plenty of Treecreepers and the common tit species whilst overhead, roving parties of Mistle Thrushes ‘chacked’ with smaller numbers of Song Thrushes and Redwings in their midst. I had never seen so many migrant Mistle Thrushes before and they were all over the place throughout my stay.
I journeyed east across the city to the once notorious Falls Road to visit the beautiful Belfast City CemeteryB and satisfy my curious fascination with burial places. I just love cemeteries. This one was huge, over 100 acres consisting of mixed woodland, scrub interspersed by some surprisingly ornate tombs and headstones. Although I did not see much other than hoards of roving Mistle Thrushes, I could see that the place had a lot of promise. In fact it is said to be the most bird rich area in terms of breeding species in the whole of the city. It was the sort of place that I would definitely adopt as a local patch if I lived in Belfast.
Literally adjoining the cemetery to the west was Falls ParkC, where there is the supposed possibility of seeing Grey Wagtails and Dipper frequenting the stream that runs through it. I never got that far because time necessitated a trip west across town to Belfast's jewel in its crown, the RSPB's Harbour Reserve. This site on the shores of Belfast LoughD is a surprisingly small square-shaped lagoon sandwiched in the middle of a dockland industrial estate and beneath the flight path of the nearby airport.
Despite this, it has garnered an amazing tally of rarities. Nearctic waders like Pectoral and Semi-palmated Sandpipers are practically annual and as for gulls and terns, it was more a case of what hasn't turned up. I was particularly impressed with the tern rafts that during the summer are populated by both Common and Arctic Terns. The past two years have seen a couple pairs of ultra rare Roseate Terns prospecting.
The following day I discovered KinnegarE just down the road (and down the shore) from the RSPB reserve. Here I counted Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes, a few lingering Sandwich Terns and a sole pale-bellied Brent Goose. For the rest of the day I checked out a few other sites, ending up at Belvoir Forest ParkF on the southern edge of the city. Belvoir, (pronounced ‘Beever’) was a glorious tract of mixed woodland that seemed to be stuffed full of Jays. Apparently it holds breeding Goshawk, but my day was crowned by seeing a Red Squirrel taking nuts from a feeding station.
Belfast today is a very different place. It's cool, it's home to the delightful Christine Bleakley from BBC1's The One Show and its people are unbelievably friendly and courteous. But perhaps most importantly, it is a surprisingly good urban birding venue.
Dunlin (D. Charles)
Dark-bellied Brant (D. Charles)
Glaucous Gull — 2nd winter (D. Charles)
Iceland Gull (D. Charles)
Common Redshank (D. Charles)
Ring-billed Gull — winter (D. Charles)