A variety of geese and swans have returned to sunny Donegal for the winter!
According to BirdWatch Ireland, most people think of ‘birds flying south’, for warmer climes.
However, it also means an influx of over 50 waterbird species from northerly latitudes into Ireland.
“Over the past few weeks, our wintering goose and swan species have been filtering in, one of the main reasons why we here in BirdWatch Ireland love this time of year,” a spokesperson said.
See below some of the details about our Goose and Swan species that have arrived in the north west in recent weeks:
In the last few days there have been multiple reports of large flocks of Greylag Geese at coastal sites in Donegal.
Greylags are a tricky one – we have a resident population that breeds here, but we also get migrants from Iceland for the winter too.
And there’s no way to tell which is which in the field as they look the exact same! Donegal has many feral/naturalised Greylag Geese, but some of those recent large flocks probably have some Icelandic-migrants mixed in too.
The first ‘Barnies’ of the season touched down in Donegal at the start of this week.
This species prefers coastal grasslands and offshore islands in the west and north-west.
Because of the remote locations they use, the NPWS recently carried out a Barnacle Goose census by plane!
Whooper Swan (main pic)
The first definite migrants have only appeared in recent days – in Donegal, Derry and Wexford.
In the last census, there were nearly 12,000 Whooper Swans in ROI and >3,500 in NI.
The I-WeBS office in BirdWatch Ireland, together with their colleagues in Northern Ireland and further afield, will be coordinating another census of Whooper Swans in January, so please keep an eye on your local flock as the winter progresses!
Light-bellied Brent Goose
The first Brent records came at the end of August, which isn’t actually unusual, though the bulk of birds arrived several weeks later (and are still coming!).
When they first arrive in Ireland they head en masse for Strangford Lough.
After refueling there, they gradually disperse around the Irish coast as the winter goes on.
Many Brent have already returned to their usual haunts in Donegal, Derry, Louth and Dublin, where they’ll feed on eelgrass and algae in the sea, before turning to terrestrial grasslands for a few months before making the return journey back to Canada!
One of the first records in Ireland this year was via the WWT’s Kane Brides who informed reported a satellite-tagged bird that arrived from Iceland on the 4th of September, spending a couple of hours in Roscommon before heading to Carlingford Lough on the east coast that night.
Small numbers of Pink-footed Geese winter in Ireland, but hundreds of thousands winter in the UK and stop in Ireland en route from their Icelandic breeding grounds.
Since the start of September there have been loads of Pink-foots (Pink-feets?!) spotted in Donegal and smaller flocks in Wexford, Louth and Dublin.
So there you have it – thousands of geese and swans are currently migrating from Iceland, Greenland and Canada to spend the winter in Ireland!
Many of these species are of conservation concern and we’re lucky to have the wetlands to support them, so do keep an eye out for them in your area as the winter goes on!
The I-WeBS office is interested in any records of Greylag or Pink-footed Geese this winter – please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org with numbers, locations and dates.