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Monday 22 April 2019

300 Icelandic swans make themselves at home on midlands farm

Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Claire Mc Cormack

UP to 300 whooper swans, believed to be from Iceland, have been making themselves at home on the open pastures of a lush suckler farm in Emper, Co Westmeath.

The bevy of swans have been making the annual 1,400km trip across the North Atlantic, to Vincent Nally's farm for over a decade.

"They first landed 10 or 12 years ago but the numbers are bigger ever time, this year is the highest ever, I'd say there is 300 max."

The birds, measuring close to 7ft wide when their wings are fully extended, arrived last October and are expected to fly back next month.

Vincent Nally
Vincent Nally

"My take is that they like fresh new grass. They tend to make their way into fields where slurry was recently spread to spend the winter grazing," said Vincent (inset).

They generally spend their evenings flying in V formation in groups of five or 10 and drink water from flooded patches in the field.

Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Vincent, who has grown quite fond of the majestic creatures, said there is a social stratum to the group.

"It's like they have scouts above on the look out for better grass and they send the messages back. There is a hierarchy, the younger ones' plumage isn't as dark, but by the end of the winter they all look the same," he said.

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Vincent, who finds the swans are more threatened by humans than noisy machinery, said it's been a "huge advantage" having the birds on his farm.

"The frost tends to burn the grass so any cover is good as far as I'm concerned. They are great for picking up the liver fluke snail too. They don't interfere with me at all, I can still work beside them on my tractor and they don't pass any remarks," he said.

Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Swans fly over the land of Farmer Vincent Nally, Westmeath where hundreds of swans have congregated. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

An estimated 12,500 whooper swans spend the winter in Ireland. They come from western Iceland to the Emerald Isle and western Scotland.

Although Vincent will miss them when they leave, he said the build up to their exit is "always quite spectacular".

"They are like an orchestra, you can hear them for miles. It's like they're sending out signals to others that they're getting ready to fly back home. They will generally start calling a few days before leaving so I'll have a chance to wave goodbye."


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