Birdwatchers flock to coast as rare avocet wades into view
Keen twitcher Frances Burscough goes in search of the rare avocet in Islandmagee
A strip of land situated between two of Northern Ireland's biggest power stations is not a place you would expect to see one of the UK's rarest birds.
But in the shallows of Larne Lough on the Islandmagee peninsular, a sharp-eyed ornithologist spotted an avocet - an extremely rare and beautiful wading bird that has been on record only twice before in Ireland.
Within hours the word had spread far and wide via birwatching forums on the internet.
In no time the bridge at Ballycarry was heaving with twitchers from all over Northern Ireland brandishing telescopes, binoculars and zoom lens cameras, all clicking away at the amazing sight.
The avocet is a protected bird, included in the RSPB's Amber List of birds of conservation concern. It is normally only seen along the south east coast of England - mainly within the carefully maintained environment of coastal bird reserves and even there they are a rarity.
Occasionally they have been known to nest within reserves, where the management of brackish lagoons is tailored to the birds' requirements, and where they are safe from human disturbance.
The avocet also happens to be one of the most fascinating and distinctive birds of the British Isles, with zig-zagged black and white plumage, long bright blue legs and a stunning, sharply up-curved beak.
It is believed to have reached the Antrim coast after veering off-course while migrating northwards towards its breeding ground.
Neal Warnock, from RSPB NI, said: "When I heard an avocet had been found, I jumped in the car to see if I could catch a glimpse. I was lucky to spot it at Ballycarry bridge - the first one I've ever seen in Ireland.
"Being a tidal estuary with extensive mudflats and deep channels, Larne Lough is an ideal place as avocets like deeper water than most other waders. They mainly eat aquatic insects and have a unique feeding style. It was amazing to watch it swishing its beak back and forth through the water."
Neal added: "It's always great to see an unusual visitor to our shores but, being the symbol of the RSPB, seeing an avocet here was extra special for me."
Where to see them: Coastal lagoons on the east coast of England in summer and the Exe estuary in winter.
When to see them: Along the east coast of England in summer and in the South-West in winter. Larne can now be added to the list!
What they eat: Aquatic insects and their larvae, crustaceans and worms.