Ballygilgan Nature Reserve – The Goose Field
In summer an ordinary improved pasture grazed by cattle and sheep, managed by NPWS. In winter essential grazing site for a large flock of Barnacle Geese (c.3000), the winter freshwater pond also attracts other waterfowl and waders, and a cereal patch at the east end attracts wintering finches and buntings.
About 3000 Barnacle Geese arrive in October to spend the winter in North Sligo. The Ballygilgan Nature Reserve is one of the best sites in Ireland for seeing these geese in winter. The geese breed in Greenland in the summer and spend the winter in Ireland. They graze in the Lissadell – Maugherow area every winter until April, spending every night on the island of Inishmurray.
Where is the ‘Goosefield’?
Yeats’ Country’s remarkable Wildlife spectacular
The Goosefield or Seafield, as its known locally, is 30 hectares of improved pasture beside Lissadell, about 10 kilometres north-west of Sligo town. The Reserve is west of the village of Carney on the shore of Drumcliff Bay, Special Area of Conservation, between the road and Lissadell Strand.
“At dawn and dusk, large skeins (V shaped) of geese fly from and to Inishmurray”.
“One of the most spectacular sights imaginable on a fine winter’s evening”.
Barnacle Geese graze during the day, and return each evening about sunset to Inishmurray Island, a vital safe roosting place for the night. Inishmurray, a significant conservation site both for natural and archaeological heritage, is a small uninhabited island, 6km off the coast of North Sligo.
“Handsome black and white geese”.
The Ballygilgan Nature Reserve was created for the protection of Barnacle Geese which have wintered in the area for centuries, but whose numbers had dwindled. These strikingly handsome “black and white” geese breed in eastern Greenland and migrate each autumn (via Iceland) to winter in Ireland and Scotland, returning along the same route back to Greenland in the spring. Sometimes up to 100 Brent geese, usually coastal feeders, join their ‘cousins’ on the goosefield.
For a change – a wildlife success story!
The Barnacle geese which winter in north Sligo from October to April is Irelands biggest mainland flock. It increased from a vulnerable low of 250 around 1970 to over 3000 today, due to improved winter nutrition and protection from hunting, and possible climatic changes on the ecology of the breeding grounds in Greenland.
The Reserve is owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The improved pasture is grazed by cattle and sheep in the summer. Good grassland management ensures the sward is in optimal condition for the geese when they arrive. The grazing livestock are removed in autumn and the geese have the Reserve to themselves for the winter. There is a bird hide for viewing them in the Coillte Woodland at the west (Lissadell) end of the field.
The flock generally spends the early winter at the Goosefield and some of the later winter in the Balllyconnell/Ballintemple Special Protection Area for birds 6km to the west, north-east of Raghly Point.
Where are the other Barnacle Geese flocks?
Large flocks are also found in Inshkeel, Inishduff and Inishowen, Co. Donegal, Termoncarragh, on the Mullet Peninsula in Co. Mayo and on the uninhabited Inishkea Islands which are west of the Mullet.
Birds on the pond
There is a seasonal pond in the Goosefield Nature Reserve, which is used for bathing and drinking by the Barnacles. In addition, the pond attracts a large flock of Teal and Wigeon, as well as regular Shoveler and Pintail. A wide range of waders use the pond and field, such as Redshank, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin.
“A Giant Bird Table”
At the eastern end of the Goosefield, a small area has been planted with seed bearing crops for wild birds such as oats & linseed, as well as brassicas and wild flowers. Some years, excellent numbers of migrant finches have been attracted to this crop: One October, around 600 Chaffinches, 50 Bramlings, 100 Greenfinches and Goldfinches were counted.
Please remember that they are wild geese, and easily disturbed or flushed.
Contact: Miriam Crowley Conservation Ranger 087 6171377
National Parks & Wildlife Services