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NEW! Wild Northern Ireland

The Giant's Causeway & wildlife of Rathlin Island - a natural history tour of Northern Ireland.

2025 Dates
  • 26 Apr - 03 May 2025
Duration8 Days
2025 Price
£2495 pp
£250 single supplement. Deposit £400

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

Max Group Size12

This new holiday is a lovely introduction to the wildlife of Northern Ireland with, of course, a large chunk of geology when we visit the world famous basalt columns at the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim. We’ve timed our visit to greet the arriving spring migrants and be on hand to view the spectacular seabird colonies on remote Rathlin Ireland.

This is a two centre tour with three nights spent near Portrush, Co. Antrim on the northern coast and four nights near Newcastle, Co Down where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. We’ve a flexible itinerary and our site visits will include the majestic Causeway Coast, Rathlin Island, the lakes of Fermanagh and the UK’s largest lake of Lough Neagh. The mountains and coast of Co. Down are spectacular as are the well known birding sites around Strangford Lough.

An exciting aspect of this tour is our visit to Rathlin Island. It has Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony and we expect great views of the breeding Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins at the RSPB’s West Light Seabird Centre. Kittiwakes add to the clamour, Fulmars patrol the cliffs and there’s always the chance of Chough as we walk the nature trails looking out for Corncrake, breeding Snipe and Irish Hare. It’s a grand day out.

Lough Neagh and the lakes of Co. Fermanagh provide us with some splendid birding opportunities. At Lough Neagh we plan to visit the nature reserves at Oxford Island for breeding wildfowl and Tree Sparrows and Portmore Lough for its Common Terns, breeding Lapwings and the amazing courtship ritual of Great Crested Grebes.

We’ll find time to take an upland walk in the mountains of Mourne, the most extensive area of heathland in Northern Ireland, and look for species including Red Grouse and Ring Ouzel, with Peregrine and Raven nearby. We should encounter Whinchat and Wheatear and will also spend some time botanising — rare Irish lady’s Tresses and Alpine Clubmoss occur here. The coast of Co. Down is very beautiful and has some great birding spots. Dundrum Bay is great for waders and Stranford Lough is well known for its wildfowl and geese.

Although the two centres are fixed, the day itineraries are flexible and at the discretion of the guides as we work around any weather complications.

The holiday starts and ends at Belfast City Airport/Belfast International Aldergrove, with a number of regional departures available.

Day 1:
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly to Belfast, expecting to arrive in the early afternoon, allowing us to enjoy a few hours birding in County Antrim before checking into our accommodation near Portrush on the north Antrim Coast. Overnight for three nights in Co. Antrim

Day 2:
After a delicious breakfast, we plan to visit the wonderful Causeway Coast of Co Antrim for a delightful blend of easy birding, spectacular landscape and interesting geology. We should encounter Peregrine on the cliffs, seabirds and maybe cetaceans offshore, plus, of course, a range of passerines including Wheatear and Whinchat as well as Grasshopper Warbler in suitable habitats. A highlight of our day will be a visit to the Giant’s Causeway — spectacular formations of columnar basalt — and we’ll learn more about the geology of this remarkable area.

Day 3:
Today is set to be one of the highlights of the tour as our ferry to Rathlin Island sails from Ballycastle. The voyage takes just 40 minutes and we’ll no doubt see some seabirds on the way. We plan to visit the seabird centre at the western tip of the island and enjoy the largest seabird colony in Northern Island. Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake and Gannet provide us with a wonderful, if noisy, spectacle. If time allows we’ll visit the southern section of the island where Corncrake has recently returned to breed, oh and there’s always a chance of Chough, too.

Day 4:
Although technically a travelling day today, we can expect to see some spectacular sites on route. We leave Co. Antrim and head southwards to Co. Down via the great lakes of Co. Fermanagh. Both Upper and Lower Lough Erne contain some ornithological treasures including breeding Redshank, Curlew, Lapwing, Common Snipe and in the case of Lower Lough Erne a colony of Sandwich Terns. Both Otter and Red Squirrel occur in the area as well. We’ll stroll through some woodlands at the lakeside and no doubt encounter a wide selection of breeding passerines before reaching our hotel near Newcastle, Co Down.

Day 5:
It’s a short journey from our hotel into the uplands of Mourne and a chance to explore what is arguably the most scenic part of Northern Ireland. In addition to upland bird species such as Red Grouse and Ring Ouzel we’ll look for plants including Irish Lady’s Tresses and Alpine Clubmoss. Peregrine and Raven patrol the high ground and if the visibility allows we’ll see the Isle of Man across the Irish Sea. We plan an upland walk of around two miles along the Glen River but for the less energetic there’s the chance to explore the woodlands of Donard Forest. Later we’ll travel southwards along the coast to Annalong for the chance of some seabirds offshore and late migrating waders including Whimbrel along the coast.

Day 6:
Lough Neagh is the largest lake in Britain and Ireland and the wildlife rich wetlands surrounding the lough are internationally renowned. Our journey takes us through Banbridge and Lurgan to our first stop on the lough at Oxford Island. There’s maybe time for a coffee at the nature centre before exploring the national nature reserve on foot. We’ll encounter familiar species such as Great Crested and Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and Teal and less familiar species including Tree Sparrow and Kingfisher. Further North at the RSPB’s reserve of Portmore Lough we’ll look across to the breeding Common Terns and enjoy the courtship display of Lapwing. The area is also very good for butterflies and dragonflies.

Day 7:
It’s Strangford Lough today — one of Northern Ireland’s well known birding hotspots. The wintering Brent Geese  have departed but the area, one of only three designated marine nature reserves in the UK, is immensely important ecologically. Both Atlantic Grey and Common seals occur and we’ll no doubt encounter several different wader species with perhaps some late migrants such as Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit as well. We’ll visit both Gibbs Island and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Castle Espie. On our return we will visit the dune habitats of Murlough and enjoy the wonderful coastline of Co. Down.

Day 8:
After a leisurely breakfast we travel to Belfast Airport for our return flight(s)

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

  • scheduled return flights between London and Belfast, airport taxes.
  • ground transportation as outlined including all transportation in Northern Ireland in a modern air-conditioned vehicle. All tolls.
  • accommodation and all meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • the services of your leaders.
  • ferry tickets to Rathlin Island and any reserve passes.
  • The Heatherlea Pre-Flight Service offers everything you need at the airport, including hotels, car parking, airport lounges, regional flights, and upgrades. Let Heatherlea take the strain! Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included subject to terms and conditions. Read more..

What's not included in your holiday price:

  • personal insurance, drinks and other personal expenses, and any other costs not specified as 'included'.

More holiday information:

Accommodation: Four nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation near Portrush Co. Antrim, and three nights comfortable en-suite hotel accommodation near Newcastle Co. Down.
Food and drink: A full cooked breakfast will be offered every morning and we will have packed lunches from our hotels for the field. When an opportunity arises we will make a stop for coffee, though this cannot be guaranteed every day.
Transport: Will be a 9 seater minibus driven by your Heatherlea guide, with two minibuses if over 7 guests.
Weather and Clothing: The temperature in Northern Ireland is usually between 10-15°C, though both warmer or cooler weather are possible at this time of year. Rain and strong winds are possible here at any time and we shall probably have a mixture of weather, as is typical in the British Isles. Exposed headlands and boat trips are often chilly in the wind, please ensure you have full waterproofs, a hat and gloves. Good footwear is also important and waterproof walking boots or shoes are recommended. 
Walking: Moderate, 3-5 miles per day. There will also be some uphill track and road walking so an average level of fitness is required.
Biting Insects are unlikely to a problem, though midges and mosquitoes do occur in typically small numbers.
Telescope: Your guide(s) will have telescopes for your use, but due to the number of waders, terns and seabirds we thoroughly recommend bringing a scope if you have one to maximise your viewing time.
Group size: Maximum 12 with 2 guides; or maximum 7 with 1 guide.
Flights are by scheduled airline, from London. We may be able to offer flight arrangements from another location and/or or quote without flights so you can make your own arrangements. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.

Your Leader

Andy Jones

Andy is an experienced guide both in the UK and overseas and is known to many as 'The Iceland Naturalist', after having led wildlife trips to Iceland for more than thirty years and to the Azores for almost as long. 

Andy was a warden on Skomer Island, a ranger with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the RSPB's senior investigations officer and a Wildlife Trust director. He studied geology and is an enthusiastic field naturalist. He is very much looking forward to your company on our Wild Northern Island tour!

Why choose Heatherlea for your birding and wildlife holiday in Europe?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: +44(0)1479 821248