This holiday looks at the amazing natural history of the mountains, lakes and coast of Counties Antrim, Londonderry and Donegal. Our ‘Road to Tory Island’ begins in Belfast, takes us via the nine glens of Antrim to Rathlin Island and the UNESCO World Heritage Giant’s Causeway before crossing into the rugged Gaeltacht region of northwest Donegal to our ultimate destination, Tory Island, ten miles off the coast of Ireland.
We will travel through pristine habitats of sandy shores, blanket bogs, hanging oak woods, small estuaries, great sea loughs, shallow lagoons and towering headlands. These are the haunts of some of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most iconic birds such as Whooper Swan, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Red-throated Diver, Puffin and Black Guillemot. The remote Tory Island has been home to both pirates and saints. The sea crossing continues to ensure that the island's incomparable birdlife and Gaelic culture of the 140 islanders remains intact, while thankfully the modern ferry nowadays means it is a comfortable journey of no more than an hour or so. It is home to a thriving Corncrake population and thousands of breeding seabirds, Choughs and Peregrines.
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Présente le mardi et vendredi toute la journée
Fri 22nd May - Thu 28th May - 1618€
Fri 29th May - Thu 4th Jun - 1618€
-Accommodation: We will be staying in a range of comfortable hotels/guest houses with all rooms having private facilities. For our two nights on Tory Island we will stay at the island's only hotel, The Harbour View.
-Food: Breakfast and Dinner are included int the tour cost. Lunches are not included but we will stop at suitable/cafes/pubs along the way.
* These tours are operated by Naturetrek (ABTA Y6206) for which Nature et Terroir acts as agent.
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Originally from Liverpool, Chris now lives on the Lecale coast in County Down where the beam of St John's Point lighthouse sweeps over his garden. He crossed the sea in the 1980s to work for the RSPB, partly in penance for his Irish forefathers - dealers in game and poultry. He now combines running an ecology and travel consultancy with writing for the Irish News. A 12-month overland trip to India and Nepal culminated in meeting Doris, his future wife, on a fabulous sewage farm in Munich! Co-founder of more than a dozen nature conservation bodies including the Oriental Bird Club, Northern Ireland Bat Group and Lecale Conservationists, and a long-serving member of the NI Records Committee, Chris is a world authority on Irish woodpeckers. He leads trips to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Fly Belfast and transfer to the Antrim coast
Your leader, Chris Murphy, will meet you on arrival at Belfast City or International airport (to be confirmed) and the birding will begin. Belfast has a wonderful RSPB nature reserve in the shadow of two giant Harland and Wolf cranes, named Samson and Goliath, while the River Lagan is host to city-nesting terns and the Titanic Quarter (home of TV fantasy, ‘Game of Thrones’) is a great place for watching Black Guillemots and Grey Wagtails. After a brief tour of Victorian Belfast we’ll follow the Antrim coast road, considered one of the world’s most scenic drives, with occasional detours to look for upland birds along the way. Target species include Hen Harrier, Merlin and the Irish race of Dipper. Two nights on the north Antrim coast staying at the Marine Hotel, Ballycastle.
Giant’s Causeway and Rathlin Island
Before breakfast we’ll look for birds and plants along the coastal path leading to the 40,000 basalt columns that make up the Giant’s Causeway. Then it’s off to Ballycastle Harbour to catch the Rathlin Island ferry. The RSPB manages a fabulous viewing facility at the West Lighthouse overlooking tens of thousands of nesting seabirds. Walkers will delight in Rathlin’s car-free lanes that wind through carpets of wild flowers including the rare Limestone Bugle to secluded beaches and colonies of Grey and Harbour Seals. Back on the mainland there may be the option (weather and availability permitting) for those of an adventurous spirit to take an exhilarating RIB (rigid inflatable boat) excursion from nearby Cushendun to the RSPB island reserve of Ailsa Craig. It is a great island with much to see in addition to thousands of Gannets and would naturally have a special appeal to island lovers with the possibility of seeing Minke Whales, dolphins and porpoises on the journey. This trip would be at the additional cost of £60 per person, payable locally. For those preferring to stay on terra firma or if the weather prevents this excursion we will look for Twite at the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge before returning to our hotel in Ballycastle. Optional afterdinner excursion to look for Woodcock and Long-eared Owl.
Londonderry coast and Inch Island
The coast of County Londonderry is not as spectacular as that of County Antrim, however, from a naturalist’s or historian’s point of view it is no less interesting. Downhill and Benevenagh provide rich and varied scenery while the National Trust’s nature reserve at the mouth of the River Bann is an important resting place for shorebirds and the PortrushPortstewart coast is home to Eiders, Purple Sandpipers and Iceland Gulls, a few of which regularly over-summer. By early afternoon we should have reached Inch Island in Lough Swilly, where a wide range of waterbirds nest in the extensive marshes that surround Inch Lake. Three species of swan breed including one or two pairs of Whoopers, as well as Greylag Goose, Teal, Shoveler, Red-breasted Merganser and Water Rail. There is a large ternery on one island in the lake and a rare colony of Mute Swans on another. Our next destination is Dunfanaghy where we’ll freshen up in our hotel before taking an optional drive around Sheephaven Bay to Horn Head, the highest and most spectacular precipice on the north coast, home to thousands of seabirds including Ireland’s premier colony of Razorbills. The sea pink- and heather-topped cliffs are classic Chough country and we should have an excellent chance of encountering a party of these corvid cavaliers. Overnight in Dunfanaghy with another optional outing after dinner followed by some traditional music in the bar. Overnight at Arnold’s Hotel, Dunfanaghy.
We start with a walk through flower-rich machair to a series of dune slacks that attract breeding and passage wildfowl and waders. Later we’ll sail from either Bunbeg or Magheraroarty (depending on time and tide) to Tory Island with the chance of divers, shearwaters, petrels, skuas and auks. Arriving into West Town harbour we might hear our first Corncrakes, even before disembarking; Tory remains a stronghold for this globally endangered bird. While we can look forward to hearing the male’s distinctive song by day and by night, seeing one is another matter though perseverance has a habit of paying off. It helps that we stay for two nights in the comfortable and lively Harbour View Hotel close to several traditional Corncrake territories and we will try hard to get one in the 'scope. The craic on this Gaelic-speaking island can be rather special, too, with summer nights in West Town frequently filled with the rhythm of traditional music.
Tory is a little over two miles long and half a mile wide. In many places the coast is bounded by high cliffs and isolated tors. The remains of St Columcille’s 6th century monastery in West Town includes a Round Tower - housing a colony of Tree Sparrows - and there are also portions of a sculptured high cross, a plain T-shaped stone cross and two “cursing stones” said to have been used to effect in 1884 when the gunboat Wasp tried to land police and troops to collect taxes from the islanders; the Wasp was wrecked with loss of life.
Looking out to sea from the boulder strewn beach below Tory’s historic lighthouse – next parish St John’s, Newfoundland – a steady stream of Fulmars, Gannets Kittiwakes and Puffins provides a taste of the island’s sea-watching potential. Golden Eagle and Red-necked Phalarope have passed here though we’ve a greater chance of spotting a couple of Basking Sharks or a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins, regular summer visitors to Atlantic Donegal. Behind the towering lighthouse Dunlin, Redshank and Snipe hide their nests in the cover of heather and sedges. Apart from an occasional Otter there is an absence of ground predators on Tory and the shores of Lough Ayes and Lough Ahooey support an exceptionally high density of nesting birds including colonies of Common and Black-headed Gulls, Arctic and Little Terns and Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover. At the east end of the island, beyond the ancient fortifications of a mythological Fomorian, Balar of the Evil Eye, thousands of Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills occupy red, granite cliff ledges, crevices, and rabbit burrows and there is a fantastic backdrop of arches, blow-holes and caves with a 300ft knife-edged pinnacle, called The Anvil. We have two nights on Tory.
Glenveagh National Park
Departing on the mid-day ferry we’ll take the scenic road via Errigal Mountain (2466ft) and Glenveagh National Park, where the Golden Eagle now flies again after an absence of 100 years. Here we’ll be looking out for Red-throated Diver, Curlew, Common Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Whinchat, Crossbill and Siskin before crossing the River Foyle back into County Londonderry. If time and interest permit we might pause awhile to admire the many fine buildings within Derry/Londonderry’s 400 year-old Plantation Walls. From the Sperrin Mountain’s Glenshane Pass we drop down to Lough Beg where Sand Martins and Kingfishers dart between eel traps and a glass of Guinness beckons on our arrival at the Creeve House Country Inn near Randalstown.
Lough Beg & fly to London
There will be an optional pre-breakfast walk by the River Moyola looking for Irish Dippers followed by an exploration of Lough Beg - wellies provided if needed! The location of one of the RSPB’s newest reserves, this is probably the finest freshwater lake for birds in Ireland. We’ll learn about the natural and cultural heritage of an ancient and bucolic landscape, the childhood playground and inspiration of poet laureate, Seamus Heaney. Long threatened by Government plans to build a road through wet meadows that are among the most important in Ireland and the UK for wild swans and geese, the fight is being waged through the courts and seems destined to reach Brussels. It is hoped by next summer the future of this internationally important wetland (Ramsar, SPA, NNR, ASSI, etc) will have been secured. Lunch in Heaney’s Bellaghy Homeplace or somewhere of equal interest before we return to our hotel to freshen up, collect our bags and make the short drive to the airport for our flight home.