Because, at this time of year, such a high proportion of the flyway population are present at Strangford Lough, County Down, in Northern Ireland, the Group's efforts are concentrated in trying to regularly assess numbers, and ring-read there, before birds pass on to other places.
The most recent count was on last Friday (26th), and Kerry Mackie of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Castle Espie, who co-ordinates these counts, reports the presence of at least 16,000, during tricky counting conditions. This represents a large influx, probably on recent northerly winds, as a number of us, who have been conducting constant-effort ring-reading sessions at the site, had conjectured that overall numbers had already been dropping. Kerry also reports that many birds seemed to be using fresh water inlets, which could also indicate birds recovering from their inward flights.
By co-incidence, I was up ring-reading on Lough Foyle, with Christine Cassidy and Theo Campbell on the same day, and it appeared that, without a detailed total co-ordinated count, there could well have been 2,000 - 2,500 in the area, located at Bell's Point, Ballykelly and Faughanvale.
Martin Benson, on Skye, reports small numbers still passing through the Scottish Islands on Saturday (including 3 ringed birds), and today there is a report from Steve Williams from the Hilbre Bird Observatory on Merseyside, England that a bird I read on Strangford Lough on Thursday (25th) has since relocated there. This is the first 2014/2015 season outward movement from Ireland to elsewhere (and, indeed, Strangford Lough to elsewhere in Ireland!).
At the risk of repetition, the message from the last sentence is that many of these early birds on Strangford Lough may move on rapidly, so, if you can get there to ring-read just now, PLEASE do so!! To give some indication of the numbers of ringed birds out there at the moment, my maximum peak "read" to date this winter involves 100+ ringed birds, so it's well worth-while!
As a final comment, it currently seems that this may be a third season in a row when breeding success for the population is low, although not as bad as last year's total disaster.