Mícheál Casey 2007
This site consists of Ballygilgan Nature reserve ("the Goose Field"), a
large area of improved permanent pasture which is a traditional
wintering site for over 2,000 Barnacle geese, while freshwater ponds on
the site attract other waterfowl and waders, and a cereal patch at the
east end attracts wintering finches and buntings.
|Click on the links on the right for further details
and Location Map
Photo and Access
Lissadell is located around 10 Kilometres north-west of Sligo town
All year round
was created by ministerial order of the Irish Government
in 1986, but is still colloquially known as "Lissadell" or "the Goose
Field". The term "Lissadell" on this website
refers to the
Reserve, rather than to the adjacent historical mansion and estate that
bears the same name. The
Reserve was created for the
protection of Barnacle Geese which have wintered in the area for
centuries, but whose numbers had dwindled to a couple of hundred in the
1980s. These strikingly handsome small geese are part of a
populations that mostly breed in eastern Greenland and migrate each
autumn via Iceland to winter in Ireland and Scotland, returning along
the same route to breed in Greenland in the spring.
This reserve is west of the
village of Carney on the
shore of Drumcliff Bay, a significant site in its own right, and
bounded on its southern edge by Lissadell Strand.
The Lissadell goose field is a
large field of improved permanent pasture,
subdivided for grazing purposes in summer into two parts with a wire
The Reserve is owned and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife
Service, and the land is grazed by cattle in summer and autumn, and
good grassland management ensures the sward is in optimal condition for
the geese when they arrive. The grazing cattle are removed in
autumn and the geese
have the Reserve to themselves for the winter.
© Mícheál Casey 2007
Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis)
which winter in Ireland, together
with those in north-western and northern Scotland and the small
outlying flock in Wales, represent the entire breeding population from
north-east Greenland. The total population has been counted
least every five years from the 1950s to the present day, and with
conservation and protection has increased in numbers over that period
from just over 8,000 birds to 56,000 in 2003. The Sligo
population is Ireland's seconds largest flock, and has increased from a
low of 250 around 1970 to 800 in 1980, and to over 3,000 today, which
winter in north-west Sligo, from October to April,
generally spending most of the early part of this period
at Lissadell and the later part in the
the west, north-east of Raghly Point. It is considered that
the major factors involved in this population growth has been improved
winter nutrition at sites like Lissadell and protection from hunting in
Ireland and in Scotland. The effects of climate change on the ecology
of the breeding grounds in Greenland may also have played a role.
Lissadell is renowned as a superb site for seeing these geese in
winter, being both a reliable and highly accessible site, unlike many
of the other wintering sites favoured by Barnacle geese.
flocks are also found at Sheskinmore, Co. Donegal, Termoncarragh,
on the Mullet Peninsual in Co. Mayo and on the uninhabited Inishkea
Islands which are west of the Mullet. Small parties of
may be seen infrequently on passage anywhere in the north-west.
from Greenland is via Iceland, and the birds generally arrive at
Inishmurray in early October, and tend to spend the first couple of
weeks there, before appearing at Lissadell in mid-October.
Inishmurray provides important early season grazxing and
site throughout the winter.
The Barnacle geese tend to graze at Lissadell during the day, and fly
on Inishmurray in the evening, one of the most spectacular sights
imaginable on a fine winter's evening. A good proportion of
flock are ringed with Darvic rings, large lightweight plastic numbered
rings which can be read with a telescope, and have allowed many of the
birds using the reserve to be identified and followed from season to
season at Lissadell and in other Barnacle Goose sites on Inishkea
Islands, in Donegal and on Islay, off the coast of Scotland.
of these ringed birds have been captured and ringed while moulting and
flightless on their breeding grounds in Greenland, although a number
have also been ringed while wintering, on the Inishkeas or in Scotland.
These ringing studies have thrown valuable light on migration
and routes as well as on site fideliuty and movement between wwintering
sites within and between winters. Barnacle Geese normally
for life and there a number of ringed pairs in the flock which are
usually seen grazing within a couple of feet of each other.
a couple of small seasonal ponds in the Goose Field, which
used for bathing and drinking by the Barnacles. In addition,
ponds attract a large flock of Teal and Wigeon, as well
as regular Shoveler, Teal and Pintail. A wide range of waders use the
ponds, such as Redshank, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwits,
Lapwing, and Dunlin. At the eastern end of the goose field, a
small area has been sectioned off and planted with seed-bearing crops
for wild birds (oats, linseed, triticale), as well as brassicas and
wild flowers, which attract good numbers of finches in winter.
2003 spectacular numbers of migrant finches were attracted to this
crop; around 600 Chaffinches, 50 Brambling, 100
Greenfinches and Goldfinches were counted there in
October of that year. In winter, Redwing and Fieldfare can
seen on these fields, and at high tide Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover,
Redshank and Oystercatcher forage on the pasture.
In summer, the nearby broadleaf woodland surrounding
House holds Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Spotted
Flycatcher. South of Lissadell House, a sandspit stretches north of
Rosses Point for around 2 kilometres. Most of the waders and
terns occurring in Drumcliff Estuary roost here and occasionally
attract a Peregrine Falcon. The dunes themselves can hold up
to 50 Snow Buntings in winter. A few Sanderling feed along the
surf at the seaward side of the sand spit.
October - March
Lissadell - the species that use the site
Barnacle Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing, Curlew, Redshank,
Dunlin, Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher
(Cereal patch: Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting)
Greenshank, Whooper Swan, Shoveler, Pintail, Black-tailed Godwit,
Light-bellied Brent Geese
(Cereal Patch: Tree Sparrow)
The arrival of 3,000 plus migrating geese from arctic Greenland each
year brings the
prospect of vagrants travelling with the flock, and they rarely
disappoint. Most years bring some geese seldom seen in the
north-west of Ireland, which have included Snow Geese, Bean Geese,
Dark-bellied Brent, Black Brant, Greylag Geese, Pink-footed Geese, Greenland White-fronted Geese
In most cases these "strays winter with the Barnacle flock,
with patience excellent views of these birds can be achieved over a few
Other rarities seen on the reserve include Green-winged Teal, Brambling
(in the wild-bird seed patch at the east end of the field).
|Greenland White-fronted Goose
||Richardson's Cackling Goose
||Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Mícheál Casey 2007
Take the N15 north towards Bundoran, pass through
at Drumcliff (4.6 miles/7.4 km from Sligo), turn left just
Yeats Tavern (opposite medical centre) onto by-road signposted for
Carney, Lissadell House, follow road through Carney village (keeping
left at end of village), the "Goose Field" is on left approx 300 m past
Take the N18 south towards Bundoran, pass through Tullaghan, Cliffoney,
Grange, at Drumcliff (16.9 miles/27.2 km) from Sligo, turn right
just before Yeats Tavern (opposite medical centre) onto by-road
signposted for Carney, Lissadell House, follow road through Carney
village (keeping left at end of village), the "Goose Field" is on left
300 m past Carney village.
Access by Public Transport
are two daily
bus services on weekdays to Lissadell. See Bus Eireann's
for departure times. Several daily buses serve Drumcliff and it is
around 3 kilometres on foot to Lissadell from here.
Access, Viewing and Parking
Every inch of the field can be
without entering it, so please do not enter the field.
Furthermore, any attempt to view the field from the exposed
seaward (strand) side is very visible and will disturb/flush the geese
and the birds on the ponds.
are good viewing opportunities, depending on where the geese are in the
- from the road along the side
of the field
- there is very restricted parking and visibility and viewing from this
road is not recommended
- from the BirdWatch Sligo
hide at the western end of the field. This is approached by a
path through the woods
- from the end of the
unsurfaced lane at the eastern end of the field
Barnacles are more approachable
than those at other sites, please remember that they are wild geese,
and easily disturbed or flushed. If there is excessive
disturbance they will desert the site for the remainder of the day, or
for seceral days.
It is essential to use good field craft when viewing the
especially by avoiding sudden movements and loud noise, and by using
the terrain and the hedges to remain out of sight. When
approaching the hide, try to keep out of sight of the flock, and try
not to make any noise when entering the hide, closing the door etc.
park with due consideration for your own safety and with consideration
for other visitors and road users, i.e. do not park on corners,
blocking access or views for other drivers or obstructing roads.
See access map below: