The grass may be rimed with frost – but Hawaiian geese living on the shores of Strangford Lough are already laying their eggs.
The Nene geese, the rarest species of goose in the world, have been breeding at Castle Espie Wetland Centre for more than 23 years now – but the birds are still on Hawaiian time.
They still keep their natural behaviours and lay their eggs in January and February every year without fail, despite the subzero temperatures. Grounds and Reserve Manager Kerry Mackie said: "It is great to see that they still adhere to nearly all of their natural behaviours as they would in the wild in Hawaii.
"After their goslings hatch there is still quite a window before most of the other ducklings and goslings make an appearance, but when the Nene start laying their eggs it's always a nice sign that spring is just around the corner."
Nene geese were saved from extinction by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's founder Sir Peter Scott and the population in the wild and in collections across the world is now stable.
There are currently four nests in the grounds at Castle Espie, and the birds are given shelter in case temperatures plummet.
Flocks of goslings, chicks and cygnets of many species are reared every year at WWT Castle Espie and from mid-March visitors will start to spot them in the grounds.
Kerry said: "The Hawaiian geese are one of the species that families can commonly hand-feed in the grounds, and as a result they really are very popular.
"Nene show real love and devotion to their partners, and stick with their young right up until the point that the breeding season begins all over again.
"Interestingly, they also have the shortest webbing between their toes of any goose species, and while this makes them adept climbers back in their native Hawaiian landscape, it means that they are always managing to get over fences and into places they shouldn't be when they explore the grounds here."
Hawaiian geese are found only in the Hawaiian Islands and are the only species of goose not occurring naturally in continental areas. It formerly bred on all or most of the Hawaiian Islands, but currently is restricted to Hawaii, Kauai and Maui. Hawaiian geese have a black face and crown and cream-coloured cheeks. Females typically nest on the ground and lay an average of three eggs. It is the sixth most endangered waterfowl species worldwide.