Every autumn, thousands of wading birds arrive on the Iveragh. Curlew, lapwing, black-tailed godwit (guilbneach earrdhubh), plovers (feadóg) and many more species return to favourite wetland sites to spend their winters here.
Often coming from northern latitudes like Greenland or Iceland, these birds form large flocks in areas such as Cromane, Rossbeigh and Ballinskelligs Bay. Birdwatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service survey these bird numbers every year, an important way to monitor species numbers and you can help too.
Wading birds follow the tides, searching for sand-dwelling invertebrates. Many have long probing beaks - like these black-tailed godwit - to search for food. At high tide they move to 'roost' sites together or onto nearby grasslands to continue probing for food. Travelling in flocks provides safety in numbers, many eyes will hopefully alert the others if a predator, such as a peregrine falcon (fabhcún gorm), is spotted nearby.
A number of species of goose make their way to Ireland each autumn and the light-bellied brent is the most common on the Iveragh. They can form flocks of hundreds of birds which move together searching for algae, grasses and other plant based foods. If you find some brent, make sure to search the flock for a stray 'barnie', the barnacle goose (gé ghiúrainnor) which is similar but with a white face, or a dark-bellied brent.
A small group of light-bellied brent geese foraging by McCarthy's Castle, Ballinskelligs.
Birds of the feather
Coal tits are a familiar sight in woodlands and even our garden bird feeders. The white cheeked birds (left) are the main species from the UK & mainland Europe while the Irish sub-species has a yellow cheek (right).
Several bird species that are resident in Ireland have their numbers bolstered by incoming visitors each autumn. Irish breeding curlew numbers are in continuing rapid decline due to changes in habitat so they are increasingly difficult to see during the summer. In the winter, the sight and sound of a curlew is more easily experienced. Hopefully, with the help of work such as the Curlew Conservation Programme, some of these winter individuals may stay in spring-time to boost the Irish population.
Smaller bird species, such as some which we find at our garden feeders, are also joined by a cohort of newcomers in the autumn. Coal tits (meantándubh), goldcrests (cíor bhuí), and even robins (spideog) migrate from other parts of Europe. With ground vegetation lower and branches free from leaves, it is a great time of year to observe these tiny but mighty travelers. We also receive many birds that are similar to those that already reside here. Often arriving at night, redwing (deargán sneachta) and fieldfare (sacán) are in the same family as song thrush (smólach ceoil) and blackbirds (lon dubh). Flocks are more easily seen during cold autumnal weather when they gather at food sources such as rowan (caorthann) or holly (cuilinn) berries.
With so much going on, autumn is the perfect time to pop on an extra layer, fill a flask of tea and head for somewhere on the Iveragh you've never been before. Take a wildlife walk, somewhere you are familiar with in summer may feel like a new destination in autumn - you never know what you might find!