The swallows have gone back to where they came from

COUNTRYFILE

WELL, our swallows have gone back to where they came from. We had a discussion about their ethnicity – they get here mid-April and are gone by the end of September, which gives them about five and a half months in this country.

If we give them a week to get back to South Africa and another one for the return journey next spring, that means they are African birds for six months and Irish ones for only five and a half.

That said, they breed here and not there, just as they always have done, so every swallow would qualify as properly Irish under the good old granny rule. That settles it, then.

The swallow rightly belongs on the list of Irish birds, as do many others that spend the winters under sunny skies and only make their way here for a short breeding season.

I generally like to see the swallows off, or at least get to watch them circling restlessly overhead in the days before they finally depart. This year I didn't see them gathering.

I guess they left as soon as they politely could. Now we must wait for their return.

Just as they have flown south, so some of the birds that nest further to the north are flying in to visit for the winter.

Already the first flocks of whooper swans are starting to appear.

The earlier they get here, says a neighbour, the worse the winter will be. While that might sound discouraging, it isn't necessarily true.

I think it more likely that bad weather in their breeding grounds has encouraged them to make a run for it.

Pink-footed geese have been arriving as well – a flock of about 100 birds was spotted on Achill toward the end of September.

Barnacle geese are also putting in an early appearance. We don't see too many of either of these in Mayo.

For us, the real sign of summer's end is the light-bellied brent goose. I don't think there's any here yet, at least I haven't heard of them.

Now is the time to get to the coast or into the woods and see what is about, for the way things are going we shall be back under some kind of lockdown soon enough, and then, thus shackled, we'll be sorry we didn't take our chances.

Besides, the days are closing in quickly and it won't be long before the hours of darkness are far greater then those of daylight. (We should call it greylight, I suppose.)

These shortening days are the trigger for starlings to congregate into what can sometimes be extremely large flocks.

This colourful and chirpy creature was once one of the more common bird species in Ireland.

Unfortunately, it is going the way of too many other forms of life and now the Irish starling population appears to be rapidly dwindling.

Close to home, just a few years ago, we had a summer starling roost of well over a thousand birds.

This year there have been a hundred or so coming into the reed beds each night.

No doubt other starlings will soon begin to arrive from Britain and even further afield, and the number of these birds will doubtless increase as winter progresses.

The colder the weather they get on the continent, the more starlings we shall see.

There appears little evidence that a faltering Irish population might be augmented by visiting migrants, most if not all of which will leave again in spring.

These visiting starlings won't qualify as Irish under any granny rule, but we should probably look after them while they are here.

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