Wildlife of the Celtic Routes

Wildlife of the Celtic Routes

From porpoise to puffins, seals to sandpipers, whales to wildfowl, the Celtic Routes has wildlife in abundance thanks to its unspoilt landscapes and crystal clear waters. Here’s a snapshot of the rich biodiversity that you could expect to encounter on your travels…

Dolphin Spotting off

New Quay, Ceredigion

Cardigan Bay is famous for its bottlenose dolphins, with a population of around 250. They’re drawn here by the abundant feeding grounds, the undisturbed habitat and the clean waters. It’s possible to see bottlenose dolphins all year round, but your prospects are best in the summer when there’s plenty of mackerel in the waters to be eaten. During these months New Quay is pretty much dolphin central, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot them from the harbour wall.

Improve the odds of seeing them further by taking a charter boat trip out into Cardigan Bay. It’s a great opportunity to see colonies of seabirds too. Bottlenose dolphins are highly intelligent and extremely sociable and will often leap alongside boats and ride the bow wave – which makes them great fun to observe up close. Before you set off, why not call in at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre – it’s free – where you can learn how to spot dolphins and the other members of Cardigan Bay’s Big 3 - harbour porpoises and Atlantic grey seals.

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Pembrokeshire Islands

Pembrokeshire

There are seven Pembrokeshire islands in total: Caldey Island, Grassholm, Middleholm, Ramsey Island, Skokholm, Skomer and St Margaret’s Island. It is believed all were inhabited in prehistoric times and most were farmed well into the 20th century. However, all except Caldey are uninhabited now, although many are nature reserves with wardens present. Skomer, Ramsey and Caldey are the most accessible islands, with daily boat trips from the mainland between Easter and October, but the others can be seen up close from a boat.

Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm are grouped together as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, for their populations of puffins, Manx shearwaters, and gannets.

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Kidwelly Quay and The Wetlands in Bynea

Llanelli, Carmarthenshire

The whole south coast of Carmarthenshire is a haven for migratory birds and the county holds many sites of scientific interest including Kidwelly Quay and The Wetlands in Bynea.

Kidwelly Quay, situated not so far away from the beautifully preserved Kidwelly Castle, is located on the north bank of Gwendraeth estuary. Its sandy and muddy banks attract large numbers of birds including waders and wildfowl. The WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre is the only Wildfowl and Wetland Trust centre in Wales, boasting 450 acres of breath-taking views and outstanding natural features, creating a haven for wildlife. Expect to find wetland and wildfowl birds including Black-tailed Godwit, Migrant Geese, Warblers, Lapwings, Sandpipers and if you’re lucky – Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers.

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Seal Spotting at Cemaes Head

Pembrokeshire

Autumn is the best time of year to spot one of Pembrokeshire’s best-loved mammals, the Atlantic grey seal. Not only is this the time of year the females come ashore to give birth, but there’s a very good chance you’ll get to see their cute, furry white pups too. Pups generally arrive between late August and November, starting life with a silky-soft white fur. Within the first month, a pup will triple its birthweight thanks to mum’s fat-rich milk. It then sheds its white baby fur, which is replaced with a thicker, darker, waterproof adult coat. The pup is then ready to hit the waves and learn to catch fish for itself.

Cemaes Head, in North Pembrokeshire, is the highest sea-cliff in Wales and an important breeding site, where many pups are born. The inaccessible pebbly beach below is the spot for the largest Atlantic grey ‘haul-out’ in Pembrokeshire, when up to 200 seals and pups can be ashore at any one time.

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Ystradffin

Carmarthenshire

Persecuted to near extinction in the UK, the Red Kite could at one point only be found in Central Wales. After a tremendous comeback, this is no longer the case. Red Kite reintroduction programmes have taken place across the UK, one of these most recent sites being in Carmarthenshire. With narrow valleys and high mountains, the Ystradffin area offers one of the best habitats for this magnificent bird of prey.

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Cors Caron

Ceredigion

Wander the boardwalks at Cors Caron National Nature Reserve, a 2,000-acre area of internationally important wetland near Tregaron. The reserve includes 3 raised bogs – areas of deep peat that have built up over 12,000 years. It’s one of the finest raised bog systems in Britain. The untamed reed-beds, wet grasslands, woodland, rivers, streams and ponds sustain a variety of wildlife and the ever-changing colour-scheme of reds, yellows and browns is in complete contrast to the surrounding green hills.

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Wexford Wildfowl Reserve

Wexford Wildfowl Reserve

The ancient Celtic tradition of living in harmony with nature carries on at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Celebrating its 50th birthday in 2019, the reserve was founded as a winter sanctuary for Greenland White-fronted Geese. Located on flat farmland that was reclaimed from the sea in the 1840s, it covers about 200 hectares of the North Slob and is part of the larger Wexford Slobs and Harbour Special Protected Area (SPA). 40% of the world’s population of Greenland White-fronted Geese find shelter and food here, along with thousands of wildfowl, waders and other birds. In fact, over 250 species of birds have been recorded here.

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Whales at Hook Head

Wexford

November marks the beginning of whale watching season off the Hook Peninsula. Back in the winter of 2010, there were reports of a number of Fin whales and a Humpback spotted off the coast at Hook Head. The whales have made a welcome return every year since, the Humpback becoming particularly associated with the area. The red balcony at the top of Hook Lighthouse makes an ideal viewing point with binoculars, or you can take a chartered whale watching boat trip.

Humpback whales are amongst the largest animals on earth, growing up to 16 metres in length and weighing up to 40 tons. Experts have recently located a breeding ground for the ‘Irish’ Humpback whales in the Cape Verde islands. This means they travel nearly 5,000km every year, through some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to get to these rich feeding grounds.

Hook Head is also a Special Protected Area for birds. Boasting an abundance of geodiversity, vegetated sea cliffs and fossils.

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Ardmore

Waterford

The whole south coast of Carmarthenshire is a haven for migratory birds and the county holds many sites of scientific interest including Kidwelly Quay and The Wetlands in Bynea.

Kidwelly Quay, situated not so far away from the beautifully preserved Kidwelly Castle, is located on the north bank of Gwendraeth estuary. Its sandy and muddy banks attract large numbers of birds including waders and wildfowl. The WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre is the only Wildfowl and Wetland Trust centre in Wales, boasting 450 acres of breath-taking views and outstanding natural features, creating a haven for wildlife. Expect to find wetland and wildfowl birds including Black-tailed Godwit, Migrant Geese, Warblers, Lapwings, Sandpipers and if you’re lucky – Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers.

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Avoca Valley

Wicklow

An area associated with the copper mining industry, the valley was immortalised by Thomas Moore in the song ‘The Meeting of the Waters’. The waters in question are the Avonmore and Avonbeg rivers, which meet about 2 miles from the village of Avoca. It also marks the start of a gentle walk along the valley bottom. As well as being famous for its hand-weaving, Avoca was the fictional village of ‘Ballykissangel’ in the late 90s BBC series of the same name.

The Red Kite walk will take you through some wonderful woodland and you can view the village from the forest walk that overlooks it, just follow the red way marking signs. Not only will walkers love this 2.5km trail, but birdwatchers are in for a real treat too! In 2009, The Golden Eagle Trust re-introduced a set of Red Kite birds into Kilmagig Forest. Now in 2014, there are 30 breeding pairs who have made their habitat around the Red Kite Walk, which is part of the forest.

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Bray Head

Wicklow

County Wicklow is known for its walking trails and the coastal path from Bray to Greystones is one of the best. The 7km cliff walk runs close to the Dublin-Wexford railway, built during the 19th century. The railway workers built the path in order to transport tools and materials to the line below. They also created one of the most picturesque cliff walks on the east coast into the bargain. Alternatively, take the path from Bray to the top of Bray Head, to get panoramic views of Bray, North East Wicklow and Dublin Bay, plus the neighbouring mountains of the Great and Little Sugar Loaf.

Along with the spectacular views, the dramatic cliffs at Bray Head are home to a variety of birds including Fulmars and birds of prey like Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels.

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