RSPB Belfast Harbour
Belfast’s flagship reserve hosts breeding common and Arctic terns and flocks of waders in winter, including redshank (above), black-tailed godwit and oystercatcher. The visitor centre will re-open in early 2015.
This wetland oasis beside the M1 is one of the few places in West Belfast to enjoy wildlife. It has reed buntings and (in summer) dragonflies, sedge warblers and sand martins nesting in an artificial bank. Corncrakes were reported until the 1980s.
Thousands of starlings roost on this bridge over the River Lagan in winter: one of the largest murmurations in Northern Ireland.
The Hills provide a stunning backdrop to the city. The nationally scarce lesser butterfly orchid appears in great swaths on the unimproved wet grassland here each June and July. Skylarks and buzzards abound, and there are also breeding snipe, with dippers along the Colin River.
Slievenacloy Nature Reserve
Within the Belfast Hills, this is one of the most important surviving unimproved grasslands in Northern Ireland, with spectacular displays of orchids in summer, and fungi such as waxcaps in autumn.
River Lagan towpath
At the river mouth, you can spot seabirds such as shags and common seals, which venture as far as the weir. There are kingfishers, too – especially further south, in and around the pretty Lagan Valley Regional Park.
There are badgers in the grounds of Queen’s University, a breeding pair of peregrines, a decent winter starlings roost and good numbers of swifts, near the western edge of their global range here. Belfast’s ‘Swift City’ project is planning several eye-catching initiatives to help these aerobatic summer visitors.