Guest blog by Brad Robson, RSPB NI Site Manager (West)

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. If there was any heat in the summer, it has now gone. As the greens fade to warm orange, light yellows and rustic brown, the cooler air carries the sounds of nature across the lough.

This is the time for birds to be on the wing travelling across the expanse of land and sea to winter destinations, mild climates and abundant food.

I am standing on the shores of Lower Lough Erne looking out over the islands of the reserve where the river is channelled to the sea.  It is early morning and sounds lift from the still water. Teals whistle from the reeds and the deep “cronk” of ravens carries through the stillness; as the sun rises the variety of sounds increases. 
Birds arrive in Fermanagh for the winter from all points. As the wind swings into the northwest, families of whooper swans loudly trumpet their arrival from Iceland. Grey youngsters follow their brilliant white parents, having crossed 800 miles of open ocean; they don’t land but beat on to the Upper Lough.

I walk along the shoreline path past trees heavy with berries bright red, yellow and purple. The high-pitched calls from treecreepers are persistent and strident. Goldcrests are similarly high but thinner and cyclical, while a gang of busy long-tailed tits chatter and dash through the trees. To calm it all down, a robin sings its melancholic simple tune. Robins are present and sing all year round and Fermanagh reputedly has the highest density of breeding robins in the world. In winter their numbers increase hugely as numbers arrive from continental Europe to take advantage of our relatively mild climate. 

There are periods of silence in the forest, mostly where the tall rows of spruce grow and there is less light; a harsh hoarse screech accompanied with a flash of blue and a disappearing white rump gives away a jay (pictured, above). 

Very rarely you can hear the quiet “glipp glipp” of crossbills in the forests of Belmore, Ballintempo and Magho (Magho viewpoint, pictured at bottom); it is easy to miss them but when they are found they are a treat: red males,  green females - both with large bills designed to prise open spruce cones to access the seeds.

There is another distant arrival as chattering flocks of fieldfares (above) from the east fly high overhead, their harshness softened by the fine “siif siif” sounds of co-travelling redwings, which come from both Iceland and various parts of northern Europe; they are looking for hawthorns and all of the fruit and invertebrates that they can find.

Finally, there's a distinctive “weeooo” whistle as a flight of wigeons zooms in at speed and skids on to the water.  There is so much to see and hear around Fermanagh at this time of year as large numbers of birds arrive from so many places near and far. 

Come and see and hear it for yourself!

Photo credits: Brad Robson, Chris Gomersall, Ben Andrew