The flocks of White-fronted geese are setting off on their way North Upwards of 9,500 were counted in late February . Counts are highest in the last few weeks as they feed up in the Southern parts of their winter range. They graze on the spring grass to fatten up for the flight home to their breeding grounds in the remote Arctic tundra of Western Greenland (where it actually is green in the summertime). March and early April is the last time you can be confident of seeing them before they judge the time to be right (good body condition, favourable winds) to head back north en masse. Many will embark on their first breeding season.
Large numbers of Brent geese are also helping themselves to our fields to fatten up (for them, it's healthy). Over 3,000 were counted in February. Like the White-fronts, they will soon be making their way to their own breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic. Swarms of linnets make their way from patch to patch. Another species of goose that occasionally visits and in only small numbers is the Pink-Footed goose. Breeding in eastern Greenland, this bird winters in the UK and Denmark, only a few individuals visiting Ireland. But in mid March, a flock of 13 were seen from the Visitor Centre tower feeding in the fields. It took a long lens with good magnicification to tell them apart from the large flocks of White-fronts. Look for the very dark head (no white band around the bill) and paler un-barred breast.
A couple of interesting and unusual visitors were sighted in Wexford Wildfowl Reserve over the winter, large and small.
On Monday 19th September last, a rare vagrant, the Common Crane (Grus grus) was seen in the channel from the Pat Walsh hide. An elegant giant normally found in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Spain, where many spend the winter, the crane visits Ireland occasionally and was last seen on the Slob in 2003. It is a very shy bird of open country and can only be seen from a distance. It is not a heron, which is a familiar and widespread Irish native, and feeds not on fish but on roots, seeds and insects in open fields. The mating dance of the crane is known for its spectacular elegance. This individual was seen again throughout the winter. Most likely it was resting and feeding on a break from migrating south to its wintering grounds in Spain or Africa. Most recently seen on the Reserve on Thursday October 6th, it was since spotted around Tacumshin (photo by Alyn walsh).
Another notable visitor on the opposite end of the size scale is the Little Stint (Chalidris minuta), a tiny wader -the size of a sparrow- that breeds in the Northern tip of Norway and Siberia and winters in Africa or India. .Little stint are sometimes seen feeding alongside Dunlins, who dwarf their smaller cousins (photo by Alyn Walsh).
Another spectacular sighting reported on October 20th was a pair of Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) seen feeding nonchalantly in Lady's Island. Looking at first glance like large very dark curlews, these birds with shiny brown bodies and glossy green wings live around the Mediterranian, wintering further south in Central Africa. The nearest part of their usual range to us is Southern Spain and the Camargue of France, but they can turn up anywhere in Western Europe. This pair looked well set to be around for some time.