Avid twitchers have travelled overnight from as far away as Dublin and Cork to catch a glimpse of a rare bird that has taken up residence in the Belfast Hills.
A rare sighting of a great grey shrike — the first in Ireland since the 1980s — has sparked a stampede in the bird-watching community, luring flocks of twitchers armed with binoculars and telescopes to Slievenacloy Nature Reserve.
Up to 25 bird-watchers were camped out along the Flowbog Road in the Belfast Hills yesterday hoping to catch sight of the elusive passerine, or perching bird, in what were wet and windy conditions — far from ideal for birding.
Only four of these shrikes have been recorded in Ulster in the last 100 years.
The great grey shrike is only the size of a blackbird but is a rapacious predator, preying on beetles and even small birds and mammals.
It’s also known as the ‘butcher bird’ or ‘larder bird’ because of its habit of impaling insects on hawthorn bushes and storing them for a ready source of nutrition.
The bird is equipped with a powerful hooked beak and can feed on meadow pipits, small mammals, rats and mice — and on a site like Slievenacloy it may even make a meal of lizards basking on rocks on a sunny day.
This particular bird was first sighted on a hawthorn bush on Wednesday afternoon.
Belfast Hills Partnership director Jim Bradley said: “It’s the first time it’s been seen in Ireland since the 1980s, so it’s quite a rarity.
“You get bird-watchers who try to get as many sightings as possible on their annual lists, so this was a big find for them.
“We had a couple of dozen birders, with some travelling overnight from Cork and Dublin.
“The fact that it’s right in the middle of Slievenacloy shows how diverse a place it is for wildlife.”