Saturday was for the birds, literally. We did the major attractions of Belfast years ago and have visited many others during our nearly six months here. So what’s left to do?
With Marilynn at a Fulbright conference in Edinburgh, the weekend belonged to Declan and me. The nice folks at the Visit Belfast Visitor Centre suggested a day at Castle Espie Wetland Center in Comber, which none of us had heard of. But our road-trip friend Eileen and bird-watching friend Joanna both said it was great, so away we went.
First off, you have to want to get there. We rode into city centre (bypassing the close-by Europa Bus Centre), then walked 15 minutes to the Laganside Bus Terminal near the Titanic Quarter. A 25-minute bus ride landed us in Comber, where we had to find a taxi office and wait 15 minutes for a ride. Fortunately, on the way back, we could pre-book the taxi to arrive minutes before the bus. And, for some reason, the bus delivered us back to Europa, from where we could walk home.
Hides to seek birds
Although it sounds like another big house, Castle Espie has no house—although it once did. Its most significant history was as a limestone quarry and brickmaking works. A recently constructed visitor centre helps set the stage for the wetland centre on Strangford Lough.
After paying for admission and an additional 75 pence for a bag of bird food, off we went. Declan tried to feed the mostly ducks and geese in the captive bird area, but they weren’t having any of it–again, literally. We spent several minutes there before moving into the conservation area, where no bird feeding is allowed.
The meandering waterside pathway through the conservation area is dotted with observation areas and indoor hides where you can watch the birds unobserved while (given the Belfast weather) keeping dry. The first hide looked across the lough. Others looked across the saline lagoon and the limestone lake. The impressive Limekin observatory featured a large standing telescope where Declan could watch the cars on the nearby road.
Former home to limestone works
But from the raised observatory, you could see both across the wildlife centre and across the lough to nearby Scrabo Tower, built on a hill in 1857 to honor “Fighting Charlie,” the third marquess of Londonderry, Charles Stewart. These are the same Londonderrys that built and lived in Mount Stewart, an actual big house we visited last month.
From the observatory, the focus changed from birds to the limestone works, including water inlets, the remains of the brickworks and a pump house. Finally, the path wound through grassland and woods, with lots of areas for young’uns to play and explore.
Since the path through the conservation area begins and ends at the visitor centre, Declan had another opportunity at bird feeding, which was more successful this time. Declan said it tickles when birds feed out of your hand. I’ll take his word for it.
While waiting for the cab back to Comber, we enjoyed snacks in the Kingfisher Kitchen, which looks out over a pond and the lough. Ducks and geese roam freely and even come up to the windows.
I’m not a bird person, per se, so I have no idea what we saw. But I did enjoy them nesting and flying in a place I know is protected.