Ireland Wildlife Photography Guide: Explore These 7 Unmissable Locations
Ireland wildlife photography offers a myriad of exciting opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike.
With its lush landscapes and diverse ecosystems, from expansive national parks to isolated islands and vibrant estuaries, the Emerald Isle offers a treasure trove of chances to capture the beauty of its fauna in their natural habitats.
In this article, we will explore some of the best places for wildlife photography in Ireland, each location a testament to the country’s commitment to preserving its rich biodiversity.
1. Killarney National Park
The park is renowned for its stunning and diverse landscapes, which include mountains, lakes, woodlands, and grasslands. The three main lakes of Killarney – Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake – add to the park’s scenic beauty.
The park supports a diverse range of wildlife, including native and introduced species. Red deer, Ireland’s only native deer species, roam freely in the park and are often seen in open areas.
In the 19th Century, Sika deer were introduced to Killarney National Park. Since then, they have become the most common deer species in Ireland.
Overall, Killarney National Park is a haven for nature lovers, offering a mix of scenic landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and cultural attractions. It’s a place where visitors can appreciate Ireland’s natural heritage and immerse themselves in the beauty of the outdoors.
Read more: How to Photograph Red Squirrels
The Red Deer Rut at Killarney
Most photographers visit the park in Autumn to photograph the red deer rut. I highly recommend this opportunity!
October is the month to go, and the best places to visit include Knockreer Estate and Woodlands and the fields close to Mucross House in Killarney town (both in the lowlands). Look to the mountains around Killarney town like Torc, Mangerton, and Cores too.
Knockreer estate is the biggest area with the largest number of deer.
Over the years, the deer here have learned to coexist with humans and will accept human activity if it occurs on the designated footpaths. You can expect to see deer within a 50-100 meter range, which is perfect if you use a telephoto lens.
It is very important not to try to approach deer as this can stress them and disrupt the rut process.
To access Knockreer estate, you can leave your car at the public car park close to St. Mary Cathedral (GPS coordinates: 52.058883, -9.517143). The entrance to the Estate is opposite the Cathedral, passing Deenagh river bridge.
From the entrance, you have multiple choices of routes around the estate that lead to different fields and woodlands.
Read more: How to Improve Your Wildlife Action Shots
Recommended camera equipment
For this location, I recommend you take:
- Lenses from 300 mm onward with the best range between 500-800 mm.
- Monopod or tripod
- Camouflaged, warm, and waterproof clothing!
2. Great Saltee Island
Great and Little Saltee are situated approximately five kilometres off the coast of Kilmore Quay Co. Wexford in the Southeast of Ireland.
The larger island, Great Saltee, is the most famous bird sanctuary in Ireland and is very popular with both day-trippers, photographers, and birdwatchers alike. These Islands are privately owned by the Neale family and are one of the world’s major bird sanctuaries.
The Saltees are a haven for seabirds, nurturing an impressive array of birds, from gannets and gulls to puffins and Manx shearwaters. They also lie on an important migratory route and a popular stopping-off place for spring and autumn migrants.
The Great Saltee also has a breeding population of grey seals, one of the very few in eastern Ireland. Up to 120 animals are present in autumn and up to 20 pups are produced annually.
Breeding bird species found on the island include the chough, common guillemot, cormorant, fulmar, gannet, great black-backed gull, herring gull, hooded crow, kittiwake, lapwing, lesser black-backed gull, Manx shearwater, mallard, meadow pipit, oystercatcher, Peregrine falcon, puffin, raven, razorbill, rock pipit, shag, Shelduck, skylark, and snipe.
Most photographers come here to capture puffins, gannets, razorbills, kittiwakes, and guillemots.
Recommended camera equipment
For this location, I recommend you take a range of lenses, from wide-angle to long telephoto. The best will be lenses from 300-600 mm range for portrait shots and 100 to 400 mm for bird-in-flight shots. Most ideal would be a telephoto zoom like 150-600 mm.
A tripod or monopod will be useful but not necessary with hand-holdable lenses.
Some puffin burrows might also be under your feet close to the edge of the cliff. Please do not stay too long (the five-minute rule) in one place to let breeding birds land with food for partners or chicks.
Most bird species you will see on the south cliffs of the Island are about 5 to 10 minutes walk from the landing area.
Gannet colonies of a few thousand pairs are at the furthest end of the Island called Head and will require a 20-30-minute walk along the cliffs to get there from the landing site.
Read more: The Best Camera for Wildlife Photography
Getting to Great Saltee Island
Transport to the island is by ferry from April to the end of September, between 10 am to 4:30 pm. Usually, you will have 3.5 to 4 hours on the Island to enjoy it!
The best months to visit are May to July. In May, the Island looks spectacular with blooming sea flowers like Sea pink, Bluebells, and many others during the summer months. They add fantastic colour to your bird portraits!
3. Bull Island
Bull Island is a low-lying island in the northern part of Dublin Bay, County Dublin. It contains a range of natural habitats, including sand dunes and salt marshes. The island is popular for walking and birdwatching.
It was the first official bird sanctuary in the country in the 1930s. In 1981, it achieved status as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its rare and threatened habitats and species, along with its use by important numbers of overwintering birds.
As wintering birds depart for their breeding grounds in late February/March, spring migrants arrive from Africa. The first arrivals include wheatears, sand martins, and sandwich terns. Look for these birds in areas of scrub.
Willow warblers, chiffchaffs, and sedge warblers are commonly spotted in these areas, with occasional appearances of grasshopper warblers and whinchats.
Arctic and common terns nesting in Dublin Docks can be seen around the island from April onwards.
Several pairs of Shelduck attempt to nest annually, but disturbance and dogs pose challenges.
Wader numbers are relatively low in the summer, with several hundred present, including moulting/migratory oystercatchers, bar-tailed godwits, black-tailed godwits, curlews, and dunlins.
Ringed plovers and little terns once bred on the island but are now locally extinct due to excessive disturbance at their traditional nesting site.
Post-breeding waders arrive in July, with the main passage migration occurring from late August to October. During this migration, you may spot unusual but regular species like little stint, curlew sandpiper, and ruff.
Rare waders such as buff-breasted sandpipers and pectoral sandpipers, along with other North American species, occasionally make appearances.
Teal and wigeon flocks arrive in late August, followed by pintails. Brent geese are seen, with the first appearing in late September and the main arrival in late October.
Dublin Bay hosts over 30,000 waders, wildfowl, and gulls during the winter months, primarily roosting on North Bull Island at high tide.
Peregrines and merlins are drawn to the large bird concentrations on the saltmarshes and mudflats. Divers, grebes, common scoters, and goldeneyes feed in the deeper waters off the beach and Bull Wall.
In most years, snow buntings can be found feeding along the beach tide line and dunes closest to the Bull Wall.
Read more: How to Photograph Winter Wildlife
Getting to Bull Island
By Bus: Take Dublin Bus 130 from the city center to the Bull Wall (also known as the Wooden Bridge) on the mainland side of the south lagoon. You can check the timetable for this bus service.
By Train: Hop on the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) train from Dublin City to Raheny Station. From there, it’s just a 1-kilometer walk to the causeway, which is the primary access route to the island. You can find the train service timetable for your convenience.
By Car: You can access the island by car via either the Bull Bridge (also known as the Wooden Bridge) or the causeway. While parking is allowed on the causeway, a small section of the beach near the Bull Wall also permits parking. It is very important not to leave any valuables in the car, as there have been lots of theft incidents in the area.
Recommended camera equipment
For this location, I recommend you take any telephoto lens you have – the longer, the better!
Top Tip: Birds usually are closer to shore at high tide, so it is crucial to check tide tables for Dublin Bay. Do not try to walk among mudflats to avoid bird disturbance.
4. Wicklow Mountains National Park
Wicklow Mountains National Park is Ireland’s largest national park, covering nearly 23,000 hectares, and is located south of Dublin.
The park’s flora is diverse, with heathers, gorse, and bogland species like sundews. It hosts various habitat types, such as blanket bog, oak woodlands, and corrie lakes, with acidic, peaty soils.
Bird enthusiasts can find species like merlins, goosanders, red grouse, red kite, and peregrine falcons, the park’s symbol.
Mammals like rabbits, hares, foxes, and deer, including red-sika hybrids, inhabit the park. Nighttime brings out at least nine species of bats. For butterfly lovers, the park offers a perfect safari. Explore Glendalough to spot these delicate insects in various locations.
This national park is one of the best places in the country to watch and photograph Sika deer and Sika/Red deer hybrids all year. However, September and October will be the best times when the deer rut is taking place.
Wicklow Mountains National Park is a natural gem, and with its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife, the park promises an unforgettable experience for all who venture within.
Where to go?
If you’re traveling from Dublin, it’s worth going via the Old Military Road (Dublin-Glendalough), not only to enjoy scenic views but also because there is a good chance that some Sika deer will be close to the road, especially in the early morning and late evening.
There’s also a good chance of seeing red grouse, merlins, and peregrine falcons.
Once you arrive at Glendalough car park (GPS coordinates 53.007458, -6.344782), take the route heading to Spinc and Glenealo Valley. It’s an approximately 9.5 km circular route, which will suit those with a moderate fitness level.
The boardwalk skirts the top of the cliffs before descending through blanket bog and heath into the picturesque Glenealo Valley, home to a large herd of deer.
From the middle of September until the end of October, you can hear truly spectacular sika deer calls echoing with surrounding mountains.
A rough track then leads you back down into Glendalough Valley.
Peregrine falcons and merlins are frequently spotted, and herds of feral goats can be seen too.
Read more: How to Photograph Birds in Flight
Recommended camera equipment
For this location, I recommend you go as light as possible, with a focal length of at least 200-300 mm on a full-frame camera. Good lenses might be 100-500mm, 150-600mm, or similar paired with a monopod or tripod.
Top tip: Some of the deer are very familiar with people close to the track, so it is possible to sometimes still get great images with a smaller lens! Please do not feed the deer.
5. Lough Boora Discovery Park
Capture the enchanting transformation of Lough Boora Discovery Park, where nature’s regenerative power has turned an industrial landscape into a vibrant sanctuary for diverse wildlife.
Delve into the thriving world of Irish wildlife, featuring the native grey partridge, elusive Irish hare, and lapwings gracefully navigating the restored wetlands.
Many ponds and lakes in the area are a haven for birds like little grebes or moorhens, coots, or for very shy water rails.
Read more: How to Harness Light in Bird Photography
Amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates
Capture the subtle movements of amphibians and reptiles in the park’s lakes and wetlands.
Conveniently located in County Offaly, Lough Boora Discovery Park is easily accessible from Tullamore, Birr, and Clonmacnoise. Use coordinates (N 53°13’24.9”, W 007°43’44.5”) and Google Maps integration for seamless navigation.
There are multiple tracks around lakes and through boglands and a few birdwatching hides. Appropriate camouflage clothing is always welcome.
It is best to go early in the morning or late in the evening not only because of the wildlife activity but also because the place is very crowded during the day.
Read more: How to Photograph Wildlife at Golden Hour
When to go
March until June is the best time to visit Lough Boora as you can see very active breeding Irish hares, but also lots of migrating birds who stop there mostly on green fields around the discovery parks.
However, the place offers a great variety of species all year round.
6. Rogerstown Estuary and Turvey Nature Reserve
Rogerstown Estuary, a sea inlet located just north of the Donabate-Portrane Peninsula and south of Rush on Ireland’s East coast, stands as a testament to the country’s rich biodiversity.
This designated nature reserve, Special Area of Conservation, and Ramsar site, cover an area of 3.63 km2 and play a crucial role in supporting various ecosystems.
The estuary’s diverse water network showcases a complex landscape of saltwater marshes, raised salt marsh, wet meadows, and riverine shallows and creeks.
Internationally recognized as one of the most important sites on Ireland’s east coast, Rogerstown Estuary is a vital habitat for wintering wildfowl, waders, and migratory birds.
Birds, including those from the Arctic, flock here, making it a critical location for their passage and wintering. Notably, it hosts an internationally significant population of Brent geese and 14 other bird species of national importance.
The Estuary is divided by a causeway and bridge built in the 1840s to carry the main Dublin–Belfast railway line, so there is an ‘outer estuary’ and ‘inner estuary.’ Both are great in winter for birdwatchers and photographers.
Read more: 7 Top Tips for Coastal Wildlife Photography
How to access the outer estuary
Use the GPS coordinates 53.513045, -6.129348 in satellite navigation and it will get you to the estuary road from which you might see, for example, Brent geese, pintails, shovelers, goldeneyes, golden plovers, lapwings, knots, curlews, dunlins, little egrets, and many more.
Grey seals and otters can also be seen.
Read more: How to Photograph Animals in Their Habitat
How to access the inner estuary
Drive to GPS coordinates 53.507031, -6.173927, where you’ll find a small car park and a sign saying “Rogerstown Estuary hide.” Follow the track for about 700 meters, which leads you to a spacious birdwatching hide.
It’s a very good place to photograph birds in flight, especially large flocks, and birds of prey like peregrine falcons, buzzards, kestrels, hen harriers, red kites, and sparrow hawks. Kingfisher can be seen here too!
Access to the South inner estuary can be achieved via Turvey Nature Reserve.
Read more: 10 Top Tips for Taking Better Bird Photos
Turvey Nature Reserve
Situated along the Rogerstown Estuary, this reserve features allotments, walkways, hedgerows, hay meadows, and Fingal Forest planted by local volunteers and schoolchildren.
It was once a grazing pasture on reclaimed land. Now, it is in the process of being restored to salt marsh, creating crucial habitats for birds.
During high tides, the inundation of the salt marsh with seawater becomes a significant event, providing safe roosting sites for wintering wildfowl and waders.
The brackish grasslands and inter-tidal creeks become vital feeding areas, particularly during the winter months.
The diverse bird species, including golden plover, grey plover, lapwing, curlew, black-tailed godwit, dunlin, red knot, sanderling, common redshank, oystercatcher, grey heron, greylag goose, and many species of ducks, make this area their home.
In the summer, Turvey Nature Reserve is a breeding ground for lapwings, while the surrounding trees attract a variety of summer visitors, such as willow warbler, chiffchaff, and blackcap.
Managed by Fingal County Council and Fingal Birdwatch Ireland, the Turvey Parklands feature two bird hides, offering enthusiasts the opportunity to observe and appreciate the diverse avian population.
To access Turvey car park, use GPS coordinates 53.493116, -6.181285
The south hide location can be found using GPS coordinates 53.499173, -6.164249
7. Phoenix Park
As one of Europe’s largest enclosed public parks, Phoenix Park seamlessly blends historical charm with natural wonders, providing a sanctuary for diverse wildlife and offering a tranquil escape within the city.
Read more: How to Take Creative Urban Wildlife Photos
At the heart of Phoenix Park lies a majestic herd of fallow deer, descendants of those introduced in the 1660s. This captivating spectacle, featuring approximately 600 deer, adds a touch of wilderness to the cityscape.
Read more: How to Take Impacting Portraits of Wildlife
Phoenix Park emerges as a very good location for birdwatchers, boasting around 72 bird species throughout the year. As you stroll along the park’s various trails, you’ll encounter a rich tapestry of avian life.
Keep an eye out for conservation-worthy species like the shoveller, golden plover, black-headed Gull, and herring gull. The presence of kestrels and skylarks, especially near the city centre, adds a touch of the extraordinary to this urban oasis.
Bats in the twilight sky
As dusk descends, witness the ballet of bats over the park’s lakes and woodlands. Six of Ireland’s ten bat species call Phoenix Park home, including Pipistrelle varieties not previously recorded in Dublin City.
Discover evidence of large roosts, such as the chimney in St Mary’s Hospital Complex, providing a unique glimpse into the park’s nocturnal life.
Phoenix Park’s wetlands, including lakes, ponds, streams, and drainage ditches, support a diverse range of wildlife. Rare species find refuge in these watery havens, making them a critical component of Dublin’s ecological landscape.
Coarse fish, and amphibians like frogs have made these wetlands their home. The emergent vegetation around Glen Lake and the Fish Pond in Dublin Zoo enhances both the aesthetic appeal and ecological significance of these wetlands.
For photographers seeking to capture these moments, the park offers an abundance of opportunities. From the timeless beauty of fallow deer against historical backdrops to the dynamic avian life and the serene charm of wetland landscapes, there is so much to see!
Planning Your Visit
Conveniently located, Phoenix Park is open 24/7, allowing you to tailor your visit to your schedule; however, dawn and dusk time are always the best as the park is not crowded.
The optimal time to experience the magic of Phoenix Park is during September and October when the Fallow deer rut takes place.
Early mornings, especially cold, foggy ones, offer a unique opportunity for stunning shots of rutting bucks engaged in their natural behaviours.
In every corner of Ireland, from the rocky islands to the heart of its bustling cities, the country’s commitment to environmental conservation is evident.
Each of these wildlife photography destinations not only showcases the incredible diversity of Ireland’s flora and fauna but also underscores the importance of preserving these habitats for future generations.
It’s worth noting that the list presented here is by no means complete; Ireland’s natural beauty extends far beyond these highlighted locations.
As you venture into the world of wildlife photography, consider it an invitation to explore the countless other hidden gems that await discovery across the Irish landscape.