It might be winter, but there’s still plenty of wildlife to see right across Northern Ireland. In the bottom of your garden, in the fields and woods, even on the mountaintops animals are living through the ice and snow. See if you can spot these birds and animals against the stunning winter landscapes at a National Trust place near you…
Divis & the Black Mountain
Feeling adventurous? Grab a grown-up and take them on a trek to the top of Divis and the Black Mountain. You’ll see all of Belfast spread out before you, the River Lagan winding inland and the Mourne Mountains in the distance. Along the way, you can spot horses grazing on the last of the grass and birds of prey hunting for food. If you’re lucky you might spot a badger or Irish hare hiding in the grass.
Be prepared! Remember to wrap up warm, wear sturdy shoes and stay close to your friends and family.
Hibernation – sleeping until spring
Many animals hibernate in the winter. That means that they fall into a long sleep, often underground or high in trees. Bees and bats hibernate. Badgers and Irish hares however stay awake through winter.
Insects hate the cold, so they hide inside the branches of trees or just beneath the soil. Can you spot the birds and hedgehogs digging them out as you walk around Rowallane Garden?
Venture out for a walk along the shores of Strangford Lough at Castle Ward. Keep your eyes peeled for harbour seals basking in the shallows and Brent geese who have flown from North Canada to spend winter here. Waders and ducks are other common visitors.
It’s all about the blubber!
Most people wouldn’t even think about going for a swim in winter. It’s much too cold! But harbour seals are only too happy to take a dip. They have a thick layer of fat, called blubber, that helps to keep them warm.
You might also see seals on shoreline near Mount Stewart. Be on the lookout for red squirrels, redwings, and finches as you walk through the gardens.
Red squirrel vs grey squirrel
Red squirrels are native to the island of Ireland but grey squirrels were brought here over 100 years ago from America. Grey squirrels outcompete red squirrels for food and carry a disease that can kill the red squirrel. The woodlands at Mount Stewart provide a good source of food for the red squirrel and their population here is growing thanks to the conservation work of National Trust rangers.
Blend into the forest at Crom by staying quiet in the bird hide. The local birds will feel brave enough to come up close. You might even see the secretive pine marten—a cute, but shy, relative of otters and badgers.
Pine martens – a success story
Pine martens were once hunted for their beautiful fur. People used to wear them as fashion accessories. There were only a very few pine martens left when hunting them was banned in 1981. Their numbers have increased since then.
The Giant’s Causeway
Are you brave enough to take a winter walk on the north coast cliffs? You’ll be well rewarded if you are. The waves are bigger, mist swirls in the air and seals and dolphins play in the waters below the cliffs.
Don’t Miss These Cool Winter Events!
Get Stuck in at Murlough
Invasive species are plants and animals from other countries. People may have brought them here to plant in their gardens, but they have long ago escaped into nature. Invasive species compete with local plants and animals for space and food, so they can be a big problem. Help the rangers to clear out some of the invasive plants at Murlough, on January 28 from 10.30am to 3.30pm. It’s a great way to help take care of this special place.
Nest Fest at Springhill
Animals need food and shelter to survive the winter months. A bird box is great way to give wintering birds a place to stay in your garden. Come to Nest Fest at Springhill on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 February, 12 noon to 5pm. Learn all about building bird boxes that provide warm, safe homes for our feathered friends.