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17 September 2014
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Rathlin Island

Bird watchers' paradise

Puffin c/o Chris Packham

Rathlin Island is a small island with a population of around 80 people.

This wildlife paradise is a rugged outcrop just six miles off the North Antrim coast. Two hundred thousand birds pack onto its cliffs and sea stacks in spring.

Puffin paradise - Rathlin Island.
Photo c/o Chris Packham.

Rathlin is renowned for its geology, being made up of layers of basalt on limestone.

It is also surrounded by limestone and basalt sea cliffs which are 470 feet at their highest point.

It's a strong hold for the Irish Hare and a great place to see stunning displays of spring flowers.

The island has a rich history - it's where Robert the Bruce was said to have been inspired by meeting a spider in a cave.

It's also where Marconi made his first commercial radio broadcast.

Rathlin is also a bird watchers' paradise with tens of thousands of seabirds.

Bird island

Razorbill c/o Chris PackhamThe western end of the island boasts impressive basalt cliffs - in fact the island shares the same volcanic heritage with the Giant's Causeway and Staffa.

These cliffs are home to Northern Ireland's most impressive bird spectacles with an amazing number of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Puffins.

The birds come to Rathlin to breed - its remoteness means that it's a safe environment with a plentiful supply of food.

The black Guillemot is a frequent visitor - it's the rarest member of the Auk family and you'll only find them on the western fringes of the UK.

They're often amongst the easiest birds to see and are often spotted hanging around harbours and piers.

Spot them by looking for their scarlet legs and the intense red on the insides of their mouths.

The one thing that sets them apart is the white flashing on the upper and underside of their wings.

Irish Hare haven

Hare c/o PA ImagesThe island has no hedges and few walls to interrupt your views so there's a great chance of seeing one of Northern Ireland's special mammals.

The distinctive Irish Hare is a species of hare you'll only find in Ireland.

Experts say that the hares are probably an off-shoot from Mountain Hares that were stranded in Ireland when the Ice Age ended.

They are very different from the hares on the mainland - they have smaller ears than a normal Brown Hare together with a white tail and a russet coloured coat.

You can find the Irish Hare anywhere from the mountain top to grazing in sand dunes by the sea.

In the rest of the UK Brown Hares are found on farmland whilst the Mountain Hares tend to be up in the hills.

Rathlin is an island relatively untouched by intensive farming and hunting so the hares have been left alone and have flourished.

Also look out for a genetic mutation - the Golden Hare of Rathlin which is a lighter, rusty colour.

 

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