WWT Castle Espie is a wetland reserve that has recently gone through a massive makeover costing millions and it looks as though the money has been well spent. In 2007 the Heritage Lottery Fund gave the WWT a grant of nearly £3 million pounds towards a restoration project to improve the intertidal and freshwater habitats at Castle Espie with the idea of encouraging greater numbers of waders and duck to roost and breed there. In addition they have also built a fabulous new visitor centre.
You park in the woodland carpark where you will find Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tit and Goldfinches in the Larches. You then make your way to the front of the building.
You enter the building and there is a very long room where at the lefthand end there is the Loughshore Cafe
and a reception area in the middle of the building and a shop leading to gallery space and a Theatre on the right hand end. The shop is excellent and in my opinion one of the best places in Northern Ireland to buy birdfeeders and birdfeeder accessories. They also have a good range of books and clothing.
The back of the building looks out onto the lough and the pools where the duck collection, which is the largest in Ireland, is found.
There is also a nice bronze of the WWT founder Sir Peter Scott.
Quite close to the building they have a feeding station on a platform where the local garden birds can be found. Robin,Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Bluetit, Great Tit.
At reception you can buy grain to feed the ducks which means of course that you can get extremely close to them to photograph. Over the last month or so I have started to build up a small collection of headshots of the various duck there.
Once you go past the initial ponds you come out into the area that has had the most amount of work done. Infact at present it doesn't look great with plants protected by bright orange protective fences and bare earth. However one will have to imagine what it will be like in a few years time when everything has started to grow.
In the middle of the central pond the WWT have built a Crannog, that is to say an artificial island and dwelling place. They were very prevalent in the medieval and prehistoric times and there are at least 2000 examples in Ireland.
This one is going to double up as a hide!!
As you walk around there are quite a few wild duck and geese that fly overhead. Here is a Greylag.
Out beyond the Crannog there is a beautiful new observation platform overlooking the Castle Espie Site and the top end of Strangford Lough.
It has stunning views.
The hides and viewing points overlook Strangford Lough, an area of international importance with its eelgrass beds and wide variety of wildfowl and waders including Shelduck, Shoveler, Redshank, Godwit, Lapwing, Golden Plover,Knot, Dunlin and the Brent Goose. Infact most of the worlds population of Brent Geese winter here on Strangford Lough.
I think in a few years time it is going to be brilliant and in the weektime its a great place to go and have lunch.
Sadly James Orr the center manager is leaving Castle Espie but I feel he has left a great legacy for the years to come for which he can be very proud.