Illustration by Dawn Cooper

1. Whooper swan, Inch Wildfowl Reserve

WELNEY, UNITED KINGDOM: Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus, in flight and coming in to land with wings and feathers spread wide at Welney Wetland Centre, Norfolk, England. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Whooper swan © Tim Graham / Getty

More than 6,000 whooper swans have been recorded here in early winter, along with other seasonal visitors.

2. Irish hare, Ards Peninsula

Many people believe the Irish hare should have full species status (rather than being classified as a subspecies of the mountain hare). On the Ards Peninsula, try the National Trust’s Ballyquintin Farm.

3. Fin whale, Off the coast of Cork

Fin whale emerging from water

Fin whale © Cultura George Karbus Photography / Getty

The world’s second largest animal is regularly seen off the south coast of Ireland, with sightings peaking from September to December. Other marine species to spot include humpback whales, Risso’s dolphins and basking sharks.

4. White-tailed eagle, Killarney NP


White-tailed eagle © Blackpool College/Getty

This raptor was reintroduced to Killarney in 2007 and is now breeding here. Also try the Mountshannon eagle-watching hut on Lough Derg or take a boat trip out of Glengarriff.

5. Bottlenose dolphin, Shannon Estuary

Bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) one jumping the other surfacing, Moray Firth, Nr Inverness, Scotland, May 2008, Sequence 2/4

Bottlenose dolphin © Campbell Nature Picture Library / Getty

The Shannon has one of the largest populations of bottlenose dolphins in the British Isles, and sightings are virtually guaranteed. Present in the estuary from May–September.

6. Narrow-leaved marsh orchid, The Burren

Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza traunsteineri. (Photo by FlowerPhotos/UIG via Getty Images)

Narrow-leaved marsh orchid © Getty

Unique is an over-used word, but The Burren – some 250km2 of karst limestone landscape – is surely deserving. Narrow-leaved marsh orchids thrive in the thin soils and grikes of this Irish treasure.