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Putting Spring in your Step - Top Things to Spot on Spring Walks

Posted on April 23, 2013 @ 4:38 PM in Walking

With Spring finally in full swing, Conor McKInney from the Ulster Wildlife Trust has put together a fantastic blog on what everyone should be looking out for when it comes to wildlife this Spring....

Spring has finally arrived to Northern Ireland and the recent episodes of good weather have stimulated our resident wildlife into a flurry of activity. The term “spring” itself is deemed to have originated from the spikes of green shoots that appear in woodlands as our days begin to lengthen and I really can think of no better place to spend warm spring days than in some of the fine examples of woodland habitats that we have throughout Northern Ireland. 

By now the early weather has awoken some of the earlier rising woodland butterflies who will be frantically chasing potential mates and seeking out food sources. The orange tip butterfly is one of our earliest risers and can be seen flitting between patches of bluebells and red campion, two of our most common woodland flowers. The speckled wood is another early riser and can often be seen feeding on honeydew, dandelion and cuckooflower. For such a delicate looking butterfly they are actually highly territorial and can often be seen perching in prominent sunlit perches where they will try to entice passing females or chase off rival males.

Spring Walking Northern Ireland

Photo Courtesy of Les Binns

Another alluring aspect of our woodland habitats is the sheer volume of bird call. At this time a lot of our species are busy singing their little hearts out to advertise themselves to potential suitors as well as establishing and defending territories, in short our woodlands are full of the sounds of avian sex and violence. Now is a particularly good time to start to learn to identify particular species by their calls as foliage cover is patchy at best.  Among some of our best songsters is the little wren, which despite only weighing the same as a £1 coin can hammer out a song at 92 db – roughly equivalent to the noise from a passing lorry! Mainly the male wrens sing and interestingly each has several phrases in their repertoire that will change according to region, much like the change in local accents and sayings thoughout Northern Ireland.

Although any woodland is a pleasure at this time of the year there are a few that are real jewels in Northern Ireland’s crown. I am going to shamelessly plug 2 of Ulster Wildlife’s nature reserves at Straidkilly and Glenarm because of the importance of some of the flora and fauna there and the beauty of each site. Straidkilly in particular has some wonderful glades a little off the beaten track that host a phenomenal range of butterflies including the newly discovered cryptic wood white butterfly. Glenarm is one of only 2 different sites in Northern Ireland that has the stunning wood cranesbill, both sites also boast rarities such as toothwort, a rather fetching parasitic plant and of course the charismatic red squirrel which will be commonly seen ground feeding at this time of year as it enthusiastically tries to build up it’s fat stores. These sites also boast some of our common favourites such as wood anemone and bluebells which create sweeping blue and white carpets across the woodland floor.

Spring Walking Northern Ireland

Photo Courtesy of  Adam Cormack

Another excellent woodland walk, and one close to my heart, is NIEA’s Ness Country Park just outside of L/Derry. Right now the wood is alive with birdsong from our migrants such as willow warblers, black caps and chiff chaffs as well as our resident tits and thrushes, it is also a great spot to see the dipper dutifully bobbing away. Outside the allure of our songbirds it is also a great place to spot signs of secretive otters who leave regular signs along the banks of the Burntollet river. These include flattened bank-side vegetation that marks their regular haul out areas as well as scat in prominent areas that otters use to mark their territory. Badgers will also leave signs of excavation as they vigourously clear out communal setts after a period of relative inactivity over the winter. During the months of April and May badgers will also be introducing starry eyed cubs to their new woodland homes so secretive dusk watches can often herald remarkable sights of badger cubs playing and badger clans snuffling. Among the frantic match-making going on occurring between our “birds and bees” it is probably worth while mentioning that the Ness waterfall is believed to be the highest in Northern Ireland and has also been voted as one of the most romantic places in Britain, so why not take a picnic and join in the with the spring romanticising, it is well worth the trip.

Spring Walking Northern Ireland

Visit for route descriptions, maps, transport and facility information for over 230 quality walks including the ones mentioned above. 

Conor McKinney
Conor McKinney  Ulster Wildlife Trust - Living Landscapes Manager

Conor works to conserve Northern Irelands key habitats and species by restoring, recreating and reconnecting key habitats. He also works to reconnect people to the landscapes surrounding them. He believes that healthy fully functioning landscapes can play a key role in making us a healthier, wealthier society.

He is a keen outdoor enthusiast and regularly treks and camps in the outdoors and plays a wide range of sports. He is also an avid barn owl and merlin enthusiast and undertakes raptor conservation work in any available free time.

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