Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

Welcome to the third installment of The Hen Harrier Diaries.

Since our last update the majority of our six pairs are still going strong, Our pairs have been extremely busy providing food for their young nestlings.

Pair 1. Heather's Mom and Dad. This pair chose to nest in close proximity to a young sitka spruce plantation, it really is a precarious location with lots of predators in the vicinity. Last week one of our volunteers witnessed the Male attempt to expel two Ravens for a full hour, the Ravens  were dangerously close to his nest, in the end the persistent Male won the day. Lets hope this pair have fledged chicks for the next update.

Pair 2. The Neighbours. Unfortunately the pair decided not to nest in the area this year, we hope they are safe and have a successful breeding attempt.

Pair 3. Both Male and Female are now busy providing food for their young nestlings.The variety of prey the Female has been returning with has just been amazing, from Lizards to small Mammals, Frogs and small Birds it has been remarkable to watch.They have also had the company of a young Female over the last few days, she is also keeping a close eye on the chicks.Their nest is also in a hazardous location, hopefully they can be successful rearing their young nestlings

Pair 4. This pair are also safe and sound. The Male and Female are working vigorously providing for their young. The Male is especially diligent in his hunting, hunting from dawn till dusk, one evening returning with food so late he was guided by the light of a beautiful full moon.

Pair 5. The glen nesters. The professionals have yet again been impressive in their breeding attempt , they have two beautiful chicks, Mom and Dad are now encouraging their chicks to fly, they are no longer dropping food into the nest but are forcing the chicks to fly to receive the food, it was incredible to witness these young Birds take their first flight.While they are nearly fledged they are still not out of danger, fingers crossed they remain safe over the next couple of weeks.

Pair 6. New Kids on the block. Penny and her charming Male have been kept extremely busy over the last few weeks, they have three nearly fledged chicks,some of the chicks are now dispersed around the surrounding area of the nest, only returning when Mom or Dad return with food, Penny really is an adoring Mom tending the chicks every need, returning the other day with a big Rat to the delight of her young chicks. Hopefully all her chicks will  fledge soon and take their first flight. The world is their oyster.

                                                       Stay tuned for further updates

                                                                     Bye for now
                                                             Hen Harrier Ireland


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

This is the second installment of The Hen Harrier Diaries.

Over the past few weeks our small team of volunteers have been working diligently to establish the exact location of our six breeding pairs. Have they settled down to nesting and if so, where are their nests?

Here are the latest updates on our six pairs.

Pair 1. Heather's Mom and Dad. This pair have been kept busy entertaining their energetic guest, they have been accompanied by a juvenile Female for the last couple of weeks, hopefully they will settle down soon and choose a nest location.

Pair 2. The Neighbours. While we still have not confirmed this pair yet. In the last couple of weeks
we have had both a Male and Female sky dancing near last year's nest, we even had a juvenile Male showing us his dance moves.
Fingers crossed we will have an established pair for the next update

Pair 3. This pair are now well established they have chosen their preferred nesting spot of previous years. Pair 3 have got off to a difficult start, a fire destroyed most of their territory, but hopefully they recover from this set back and have a successful breeding attempt.

Pair 4. They have carefully selected a nest location very close to where they nested last year. The Male has worked relentlessly, providing his Female with food. Hopefully they will be as successful as last year.

Pair 5. The glen nesters. The assertive Female has kept her devoted Male busy tending her every need. The pair have chosen a ridge of bramble and heather as their nest location in the secluded glen they have nested in previous years.

Pair 6. New Kids on the block. As you might have seen in a previous post, we named this Female Penny. Well Penny and her Male companion have chosen a hidden glen as their nest location.The Male has been looking after his girl with great care, bringing her plenty of prey to feed on, we wish them well.

                                                                         Bye for now
                                                                     Hen Harrier Ireland

Friday, 1 May 2015


To All Primary Schools and Secondary Schools:

Hen Harrier Ireland is organising a competition entitled "Celebrating our Hen Harriers".

Hen Harriers have been found in the Irish countryside for thousands of years and they are one of the most spectacular birds in nature, with their acrobatic sky dances and awesome food passes! It is time to celebrate the Hen Harrier as a special bird, that represents a living countryside, with farming, Grouse, Curlew, Skylarks and much more.

We have lots of great prizes, including the following:

  • A pair of excellent Minox 10x25 binoculars (first prize Secondary Schools)

  • A digital camera (first prize Primary Schools)

  • The opportunity for students and an accompanying adult to watch Hen Harriers in the wild (first prize Primary and Secondary Schools)

  • Collins Bird Guides (runner up prizes Primary and Secondary Schools)

  • All entries will receive a colourful glossy A3 Hen Harrier poster.

What you have to do:

Through your school teacher or parent, send a short story (limit 2000 words), poem or original artwork about Hen Harriers in Ireland to or post to before 01 June 2015 and include your name, class/year and school address. Feel free to look through for inspiration!

Good luck to all entrants!

Hen Harrier Ireland 01 May 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

13 - 19 April 2015 Is this a Special Protection Area?

Sun in the blue sky, light winds, hardly a cloud to be seen - what a week it was for watching the six pairs of Hen Harriers in the Stacks to the Mullaghareirk Mountains Special Protection Area that we have singled out for reporting to you through the Hen Harrier diaries. Lots of circling, soaring, dancing and loving by our birds this week! The young pair, pair 6, were especially energetic with both male and female giving as good as they could on the dance floor! We couldn't help but christen the female of this pair as Penny - she is like a shiny new penny!

Last week was made all the more enjoyable by a realisation of just how many Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have now come to the area from Africa and the Mediterranean. These very welcome visitors add great sound to the locality, and when they breed in numbers, can be a very important part of the local Hen Harriers' diet. Like many birds of prey, Hen Harriers chicks don't hatch or fledge until later than most of their prey species, giving their prey ample opportunity to rear lots of young in advance, meaning that there is more food (prey) available when the harriers need it most (when there are hungry mouths in the nest!).

Willow Warbler - a very welcome summer visitor

Right now is also a very important time in the breeding season as regards food supply - when the adults are pairing off and selecting their territories. The harriers will look for an area with good habitat and food supply for the season ahead - a very important call at such an early stage. Also, the amount of food the females take in at this time will determine how many eggs they will lay - an ecological adaptation to adjust for the amount fo food available. If its looking like a good year ahead for the female, she will lay a good amount of eggs, maybe 5 or 6. If its not looking so great, she may limit this to 3 or 4 eggs. Obviously this has implications for how many young the pair can possibly rear this season. So its great that there has been a good influx of migratory prey species at this important point in the season. We haven't yet seen any food passes this season, but expect to soon, as well as nest building! We have seen all pairs 1-6 show particular interest in particular patches within their territories, such as patches of bramble or gorse, heather or failed patches within forestry.

Has anyone seen any food passes or nest building yet??

There were a couple of things that made us wonder if we were in an SPA for these birds.

Firstly, there was lots of habitat being cleared out - especially the bright yellow furze bushes that add such colour and aroma to the countryside at this time of year. Diggers from the celtic tiger era have certainly found a new home in the uplands - it is clear that much of this is being forced on the farmers by threats of reduced farm payments for having scrub on the land.

Secondly, the amount of fires this week (as in the last few weeks) was horrific. Massive fires that blazed their way through the heather moorland and scrub for hours and hours - one was seen to start at noon on Saturday and was still blazing when the sun came up on Sunday - 19 hours of a fire and thousands of acres destroyed. We haven't seen this reported in any media. This has all become so commonplace now - that doesn't mean it is to be accepted - far from it! This fire took out much of the territory of Pair 3 that we are following. Off to a really difficult start before they even got started.

Much of the territory of Pair 3 has been turned into dust. Red Grouse, Curlew and lots of Meadow Pipits believed to have been wiped out by this illegal fire.

Thirdly, there hills were deafening this weekend by the sounds of a car rally. This is a really sensitive time for the birds in terms of selecting nesting areas and when lots of noisy rally cars are in the area at this time, it has the potential to disturb prospecting pairs. It would be great if the rally could be held a few weeks earlier or later to give the birds that window of opportunity to get settled in, or design the stages in a way that takes them away from traditional nesting areas.

Hopefully this week we'll confirm all birds are still present, despite all the noise, fires and habitat clearance.

It really was a joyous week to be out on the hills with these special birds. This week, we hope to hear our first Cuckoos of 2015, see our first food passes and hopefully even some nest building. The weather is promised good again!

Stay tuned for further updates!

Hen Harrier Ireland.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

Welcome to the first installment of The Hen Harrier Diaries. Over the course of the next four months,I will share with you some news from six territories in the Stack's to the Mullagharierk Mountains Special Protection Area for Hen Harriers. This is being undertaken as part of a national breeding survey; but also to extend what has been a long running study of over half a century on these mountains. How these pairs will do in 2015, we have no way of knowing but fingers, toes and everything else crossed that they will make it all the way from now until the end of the summer and come out the other side with young chicks reared!

For the safety of the Hen Harriers involved, these pairs will not be referred to by the location they dwell in, but by numbers (pair 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). The males will be known as Males 1-6 and their corresponding partners will be know as Females 1-6.

So for the past few weeks, a small team of us have been busy going out establishing which territories are currently occupied. this is one of the most exhilarating times of the year and we have been treated to some spectacular sky dances by the males and even one female who reached 111 peaks on one of her dance sessions!! One of the sights that really puts a lump in our throats is the male and female circling together on the thermals, rising and inter-weaving with one another as the sun shines through the feathers of the brilliant white male and the rich brown female, against a beautiful blue sky. It really is something to behold. Love is the air!!

So to introduce our pairs, with whom you will become acquainted throughout the season!

Pair 1. Heather' Mom and Dad. You will remember Heather, who was born and reared in 2013 and targeted and shot in South Kerry in January 2015. Heather had travelled the country and brought so many people closer to Hen Harriers, as well as providing much needed data on the ecology of the species in Ireland. Well, Heather's parents are back for another try this spring and summer, The male has been sky dancing and has had to ''escort'' another male harrier who may been eyeing up the female. Good on him, he loves his girl and his territory! this pair have not had the best of luck and their usual nest location close to forestry, has been precarious and there have been a number of predation events over the years.

Pair 2. The Neighbours! While not yet confirmed for sure, we are hopeful that another pair will settle close to pair 1. we have had 2 females and 2 males in the area,so hopefully they will sort things out. This pair had their nesting attempt interfered with in 2014 when a well known forestry company were planting the ground right at their nest kept the adults away from the nest so long that the young died. Lets hope for better in 2015.

Pair 3. This has been a traditional nest site for a number of years now. The female tends to nest in amongst gorse scrub on a slope.Hopefully they will soon select their preferred nesting spot and start bringing nesting material for the breeding attempt that lies ahead.

Pair 4. Both male and female have been seen courting each other. they nest in an area where turf cutting is active and they were successful in rearing 3 beautiful young fledglings in 2014. Lets hope for more of the same this year!

Pair 5. The glen nesters!This pair nest in a secluded glen, which is very quite, apart from the beautiful sound of the Curlew! The male and female are considered real professionals and have been successful in rearing young for the past number of years.Once, the female was seen to carry a stoat in her legs!!

Pair 6. New kids on the block! A brand new '' out of the box '' female. born just last summer, has been seen in the company of an adult male. This is a very exciting prospect as this is a new pair and we wish them all the very best!

Stay tuned for various updates along the way .

Of course, feel free to share your own news also,BUT PLEASE DO NOT EVER GIVE ANY INFORMATION THAT WOULD DISCLOSE LOCATION  of these sensitive and rare birds of prey.

Bye for now!
Hen Harrier Ireland.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey is on 31 March drawing to the conclusion of its 10th season,at which point the data will be analysed and published.This has been a massive piece of work,undertaken entirely voluntarily.It has documented from scratch,where Hen Harriers can be found in Ireland during the period August to March and how they have been doing in terms of numbers and much more besides.Be sure to play your part and contact the survey organiser ( with any sightings or records from roost watches.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Heather the beautiful Hen Harrier - a tribute and a legacy

    See this female Hen Harrier in the photo above? That was Heather's mom in June 2007 - her first nesting attempt as a young female on the uplands around Mount Eagle in County Kerry. You'll see this very image on information boards in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, on posters produced by Monaghan County Council about the Farney County's heritage, on various websites including and on the information booklet that was sent out to landowners throughout the six Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas in Ireland. This image for a long time, represented hope. The female was unable to rear young on her first attempt in 2007 - this was not a "failed" attempt (Hen Harriers do not "fail" anything), rather her nest (with young chicks inside) was predated. However, there was hope, because this female was young and she had time on her side.

Fast forward to 2013. A great sunny summer near Mount Eagle and the same female was close to rearing her brood successfully. The breeding attempt was followed from the earliest sky dances by the sky silver male and his heather brown partner, to the fledging of the young chicks and indeed we were all so lucky to be able to follow one of the young chicks for years to come.... 

An early start saw one of the greatest days ever with Hen Harriers. By 0600hrs, two young healthy female chicks were expertly fitted with lightweight MWT satellite tags. Local school children named them Heather and Sally (after two of the most important habitats for Hen Harriers). Heather can be seen on the right of the photo and her slightly older sister Sally on the left of the photo. The original post about this great day can be found by clicking here

As the local community and indeed people right across Ireland and overseas eagerly anticipated these birds' travels, Sally made the earliest moves away from the nest sight. She was first to leave the uplands, her siblings and parents.  She was the first to see the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the McGillicuddy Reeks and the Golden Vale. She made various movements around Munster but eventually succumbed to starvation in West Limerick in August 2013. See the original post here but better still, see the various other posts about Sally's short life throughout this blog site.

Heather was quieter in terms of her original movements. She stayed around the heather clad hills for a while, before making a very exciting move to Kildare and then the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains! Heather even made a visit over Croke Park on the weekend her native Kerry lost to the Dublin Blues in one of the greatest Gaelic Football matches ever played. She saw 80,000 people, but did 80,000 people see her? A lot more people got to hear about Heather on the Mooney Show on RTÉ Radio One (listen here from 01:04:00 and this certainly helped the profile of Hen Harriers among the general public and there was great support and hope for Heather in her future travels in life). Heather was already contributing to the conservation of her species in Ireland by endearing the public to this beautiful but vanishing native bird.

From Dublin, she visited the Royal County of Meath, where she was seen by the same researcher who fitted her with her satellite tag. To see her rise from her roost before sunrise over a field of oilseed rape was truly awesome and will never be forgetten. Miles from home, a world away in terms of habitat, a truly independent and free bird making her way in life. The shores of Lough Neagh next. Ireland's largest lake and Heather's furthest north trip. From there, she turned back around and made a direct journey all the way to the Atlantic cliffs of South County Cork. It is believed she must have met an older (wing tagged) female all the way up north and that this bird guided Heather to the Rebel County. The two showed up at their cliff top roost together on the same day. How else did Heather know how to find this roost for the very first time when she was hundreds of kilometres north in Lough Neagh the day before? She stayed there for some time with a number of other harriers, cruising around the tillage fields by day and roosting by night to the sound of Chough, Gulls and crashing waves. From these older birds, Heather would have learned of good hunting places and safe places to spend each night. Again, the same researcher was again lucky enough to see Heather here, while local man Dave McGrath got some wonderful photographs of Heather including this one below.

A new year came. 2014 saw Heather visit the Nagle Mountains and then West Waterford. Come breeding time, she was in the Ballyhouras and hung around with an established pair - did she want to breed? Was she just curious? Learning the ropes? Whatever the case, she did not breed that summer, but instead travelled through various counties to make it to Mayo. Mayo may have been perhaps one of the happiest and most content times in Heather's life. Heather's roost sites in and around Ballycroy National Park and Castlebar provided some super habitat in terms of heather, rough grassland, hedgerows and scrub. It was a beautiful summer and Heather's surrounds provided ample resources. To be honest, it would have been good if she stayed there the rest of her days, but a free and wild spirit, she was to go wherever she liked. 

With the summer finished and the days shortening, Heather decided to retrace her steps and visit the exact same sites in Cork as she had spent the previous winter. However, after some time, she made the bold move back to her native Kingdom - this time South Kerry. She overlooked the spectacular Skelligs and even roosted on an offshore island for some time. She made a memorable trip home to Mount Eagle for a while. Even after all her journeys, she knew where home was at all times and could have returned to breed there this summer if she wanted.
Yet this was not to be. Throughout 2013 and then 2014 and then 2015, Heather's location was checked on a daily basis. Everytime, it was heart in mouth stuff as to whether she was alive or not, and exciting to think where she might be at that very moment in time. Every time without fail, she lit up our eyes when her tag showed she was alive and well. Until someone in South Kerry (in the very same area where the magnificent White-tailed Sea Eagles have been poisoned), decided it was a good idea to shoot Heather out of the sky in the second week of 2015.

A sustained series of negative media articles over the past year has vilified this, one of Ireland's most magestic yet most endangered birds of prey. Reports of "farmers unable to farm their lands" were published without reference to fact. There are two items where consent must be sought in Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas - 1. removal of field boundaries and 2. reclamation of heath/bog - both activities require consent for any farmer anywhere in the country even without anything to do with Hen Harriers or SPAs! "Tight restrictions?". The Hen Harrier has co-existed with small farmers for generations and it is afforestation that is seen as the largest threat. Under GLAS, farmers in Hen Harrier SPAs will be prioritised for funding - and hopefully that's something that gives people a viable alternative to planting their land (which the vast majority of farmers don't want to do).

The Hen Harrier is effectively bringing farmers in the Hen Harrier SPAs up to €140 million over the next five years, to stay and farm their land in the manner that has led to these areas being so important in the first place. The loss of this type of farming, which is difficult given the land types, has been one of the main reasons for the decline in Hen Harriers. When the people move out and the trees move in, the wildlife that depends on the previously existing habitats are also lost.

40 years or so of planting non-native Sitka spruce trees in these areas has only served to hasten the loss of small farmers and communities. The Hen Harrier SPA is bringing millions of euros to the pockets of those who farm in the most important breeding areas and is thereby contributing towards keeping people in an otherwise socio-economically struggling area.

Whats even more worrying, is that other Hen Harriers have disappeared from the same place as Heather at the same time, while at another roost in North Kerry (as reported previously), where there were 13 Hen Harriers just before Christmas, there are now none.
Heather was a fine healthy bird, a good weight and had just fed before being shot. She was knocked abruptly from the sky to the ground, with a ruptured liver, her right wing broken in two and her rib cage smashed. Her tag had a hole in the side of it, yet it still gave out accurate information as to Heather's location and the fact that she was dead.

Hopes and dreams stemming from 2007 to the future of Hen Harriers in Ireland. This was not just one bird, but the hopes for a species that has been and continues to vanish from our country. The story of these three birds - Heather's mother, her sister Sally, and Heather herself, sums up the issues for Hen Harriers in Ireland. Predation, Starvation (via lack of habitat), Persecution - three of the key aspects that are seeing Hen Harriers disappear from Ireland. Where Mount Eagle had 11 pairs in the 1990s, there is now 1 pair barely hanging on, mainly as a result of the heather moorland having and farmland been planted with commercial plantations. Curlew, Grouse and Skylark to name just a few have also disappeared. So too have local farmers, families and communities that once managed that land as a valuable habitat. We need to ensure small farmers are protected and supported to stay on the land and look after the wildlife and their own social heritage and indeed future. It is vital however, that any money provided to farmers in the name of the Hen Harrier really delivers for the Hen Harrier itself.

Heather's mom, the young female photographed in 2007 may not be around Mount Eagle for much longer - time is no longer on her side. Heather will not grace this area, nor will her sister, nor will 200 or so other Hen Harriers born and wing tagged or satellite tagged in Ireland since 2006.

We are losing a species right before our eyes.
It is possible to address this, and the solutions have been clear for some decades now. Less of the bad stuff (commercial wall to wall sitka spruce monoculture) and more of the goood stuff (farmers financially supported to stay on the land and paid to maintain the habitats as they have done for generations, rather than encouraged off the land by lucrative yet short term afforestation grants). €1.25 billion will be spent under GLAS for farmers to suppor biodiversity - lets hope it works for Hen Harriers, Red Grouse, Curlew, Snipe, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Owls, Kestrel, Merlin, Marsh Fritillary, Ragged Robin etc. etc. and indeed the people who manage their habitats in these areas. Thankfully, the majority of people, espeicially the farmers in Hen Harrier areas, are realising these solutions.

It is vital that "environmentalists" and farmers continue to work together to resolve a future for all - the bird is dependent upon the farmer and the farmer may well be dependent on the bird to bring agri-environment payments so that the farm can remain financially viable.

Heather is gone from us but lets not say her life was in vain - lets not have this illegal and cowardly act define her legacy. Lets work together for a better future.

Cromán na gCearc

I dtús báire, ba gheit a bhaineadh sí asam
mé ar mo mhachnamh clapsholais sa gharraí
ag siúl go mall, mo mhéara leis na duilleoga,
mo shúil ag muirniú fás gach gas
m’anáil ciúin roimh mhórgacht luí na gréine.
Ar airde mo chinn a heitilt, an dá sciathán
Oscailte ina gleann fial ar dhá thaobh an choirp.
Chorraigh an t-aer lena himeacht, osna ciúin,
Agus í ar a seilg, tostmhar, tapa.

Ní fhaca ariamh ag cromadh í ach chamadh sí
I leataobh go minic, faobhar a seilge a thabhairt ar shiúl
Ó mo mhuineál bhí ina bealach.

Tagaim uirthi ar maidin, úrmharbh, ina luí álainn ar an fhraoch, eití leata,
Báinne nimhe ag líonadh ina súle, gach cumas imithe,
Agus an ghaoth ba ghiolla aici, ina leanbh bómánta ag súgradh lena heireaball.
Fágaim I ngabhal crainn le hómós í,
Ach diúltaíonn an ghaoth don deasghnáth choimthíoch agus leagann í.
Cuirim ina luí ar dhos fraoigh í.
An mhaidin dar cionn, tá cleití scaipthe, corp ar shiúl.