County Down is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland in the northeast of the island of Ireland. Along the southeast shore of Lough Neagh, it covers an area of 945 square miles and has a population of 531,665. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland and is within the province of Ulster. It borders County Antrim to the north, the Irish Sea to the east, County Armagh to the west, and County Louth across Carlingford Lough to the southwest.
In the east of the county is Strangford Lough and the Ards Peninsula. The county has a coastline along Belfast Lough to the north and Carlingford Lough to the south (both of which have access to the sea). Strangford Lough lies between the Ards Peninsula and the mainland. Down also contains part of the shore of Lough Neagh. Smaller loughs include Lough Island Reavy. The River Lagan forms most of the border with County Antrim. The River Bann also flows through the southwestern areas of the county. Other rivers include the Clanrye and Quoile.
There are several islands off the Down coast: Mew Island, Light House Island and the Copeland Islands, all of which lie to the north of the Ards Peninsula. Gunn Island lies off the Lecale coast. In addition there are a large number of small islets in Strangford Lough. County Down is where, in the words of the famous song by Percy French, The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea, and the granite Mourne Mountains continue to be renowned for their beauty. Slieve Donard, at 2,785 feet, is the highest peak in the Mournes, in Northern Ireland and in the province of Ulster. Another important peak is Slieve Croob, at 1,752 feet, the source of the River Lagan.
Much more diverse than neighbouring Antrim, Down contains part of Belfast Lough, the whole of perhaps the best of all (Strangford Lough) and part of Carlingford Lough – the other side of which is in Republic of Ireland. A lot of the landscape is composed of glacially formed drumlins, compared to a basket of eggs when seen from the air.
Arctic and Common Terns arrive in early spring to breed off Groomsport. Winter visitors include Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. Around Belfast Lough are significant populations of Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper. Black Guillemots numbers are on the up thanks to the provision of artificial nesting under Eisenhower Pier. Strangford Lough is of international importance for nature conservation and is one of only 3 Marine Nature Reserves in the UK. It affords great birdwatching opportunities at any time of year. Perhaps the top Autumn event is the arrival of light -bellied Brent Geese from High Arctic Canada attracted by the eelgrass on the nutrient rich mudflats at the northern end of the Lough. Wintering waterfowl and waders include Curlew, Greenshank, Golden Plover, Dunlin and Knot all viewable from the WWT Visitor Centre at Castle Espie. Other good spots are the Floodgates at Newtownards, the Strangford Lough Lookout at Mount Stewart and Horse Island near Kircubbin.
There is a BTO research and monitoring station on Lighthouse Island off the Irish Sea coast at Donaghadee, where a large breeding colony of Manx Shearwater are ringed and monitored. Boat trips are available to the other islands in the Copeland Islands group during the summer months. The Irish Sea coast of the Peninsula provides good seabird watching opportunities. The river estuaries flowing into the Lough near Comber have Kingfisher and the fertile farmland beneath Scrabo Hill is a good for Yellowhammer and Lapwing. The small patchwork fields around the Lough, with their varied and often ancient hedgerows, provide good opportunities to see many species of farmland birds. At the southern end of the Ards peninsula, Ballyquintin Nature Reserve is good for shoreline birds such as visiting whimbrel.
Belfast Lough RSPB Reserve
Waders, wildfowl and rarities…
Castle Espie WWT, Strangford Lough
An introduction to the wildfowl of Strangford Lough
Copeland Bird Observatory
9 Seabirds and migrants
Dundrum Bay and Inner Bay
Waders, wildfowl, divers
Has produced Dotterel and American Golden Plover with the flocks of Golden Plover. Quail has been noted.
Noted for scarce gulls
Quoile Pondage NNR
Wildfowl and waders. Good hide and information centre nearby on main road from Downpatrick to Strangford
2 Brooklyn Avenue, Bangor, Co. Down BT20 5RB
028 9145 5763
Fieldguides & Other Birding Books
For a full list of fieldguides and other books see the general UK or Republic of Ireland page
Where to Watch Birds in Ireland
by Paul Milne & Clive Hutchinson | Christopher Helm | 2009 | Paperback | 336 pages |
ISBN: 9781408105214Buy this book from NHBS.com
Belfast & Down Ringing Group
We catch wild birds in soft mist nets and put a unique light metal ring on their leg. We endeavour to retrap the birds again and log the data with the BTO.
Castle Espie Birdwatching Club
Dot Blakely - firstname.lastname@example.org WWT Castle Espie Centre, Ballydrain Road, Comber, Co Down,
Mourne Game and Wildfowl Conservation Association
Mourne Game and Wildfowl was set-up to facilitate and to enhance the area of Mill Bay, and surrounding areas which is just out side Kilkeel, Co.Down, Northern Ireland. This is where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. The Club is affiliated to BASC [The British Association for Shooting and Conservation] and that the mandatory Duck Stamp is supported by all members. And we gladly accept the emphasis being put on habitat protection.
RSPB Bangor Local Group
The group's aim is to support actively the work of the RSPB in the local community and to involve RSPB members and the wider public in the Society's conservation, public affairs, education, fundraising and other activities. We have regular monthly indoor meetings locally throughout the year and have occasional day-trips to local nature reserves. Contact Fulton Somerville - email@example.com
LNR Quoile Pondage Nature Reserve and Countryside Centre
There are plenty of excellent opportunities for bird watching for visitors both from the riverside path and at the bird hide overlooking the brackish pondage, which was created from the formerly known marine estuary in 1957. This was created by the building of a tidal barrage to provide a place for floodwaters to gather until the tide turned and subsequently colonised naturally with grassland, scrub and trees.
NNR North Strangford Lough
Strangford's rich marine life attracts a vast variety of birdlife. The area is a wetland of international importance supporting some 25,000 wildfowl and 50,000 waders. The Lough is a bird sanctuary and wildlife preserve, now designated a Marine Nature Reserve under the protection of the Department of the Environment. Thousands of Brent geese winter here and Greylag and White-fronted geese visit from the Downpatrick marshes. Oystercatchers, Curlews and other waders throng the saltmarshes…
NT Strangford Lough
Strangford Lough is a unique place to visit at any time of the year, and in spring there's a wide variety of wildlife to be found by the shore or in the wider countryside.
RSPB Belfast Lough Reserve
Belfast Lough Reserve is made up of four sites, Belfast’s Window on Wildlife, Harbour Meadows, Holywood Banks and Whitehouse Lagoon, all of which are special places for nature. We work hard to maintain or improve them to provide homes for some locally and globally threatened species.
WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre
Set on the banks of the stunning Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland where almost the entire population of Light-bellied Brent Geese reside during the winter months. For this reason the Castle Espie foreshore is part of the Strangford Lough Ramsar site. Throughout the year this tranquil and friendly centre is a real delight and a must for the whole family…
Guides & Tour Operators
Kilhorne Bay Boats
Kilhorne Bay Boat Charter has been launched to provide a range of family fun cruises, marine sightseeing and wildlife watching. It’s something different and is a welcome addition to the range of leisure opportunities in the Province – not just for tourists but also for local people as well…
Gerard Young - Bird watching boat charter available strangford lough from Feb 2011 large boat local skipper, contact 07889761493 - call for enquiries or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
Places to Stay
The Old Schoolhouse Inn
Situated at Castle Espie, beside the beautiful scenery of Strangford Lough the Old Schoolhouse Inn is a superb place to stay, relax and enjoy your stay in Northern Ireland…
Copeland Bird Observatory
Welcome to the web site of the Copeland Bird Observatory. We hope you find the contents interesting and useful. We would like to attract new visitors. Whether you are a birdwatcher or bird ringer, someone with an interest in other plants or animals, a fan of islands or you'd just like to visit and see the place, we'd be delighted to welcome you to the Observatory and give you a tour of the Island…
Margaret Adamson - Birding For Pleasure
I have retired from a medical background, from teaching a 3 year City and Guilds; and also running a Bed and Breakfast. I have taken up bird watching later in life however I became very enthusiastic from the beginning and was greatly encouraged by other bird watchers. For the past 8 years I have led a bird group in my town and have become a guest speaker on cruise ships talking about Birds around the world.
Birdwatching in County Down
List of sites: The sea loughs of County Down - Belfast, Strangford and Carlingford - are fine spots for studying water birds in winter. The rocky east Ards sea coast is good for waders. The Mourne Mountains have red grouse and there are a variety of raptors to be seen above reed-fringed lakes and over forest parks…