Monday, 14 April 2014

Miranda Moves from Mayo! Heather Holds in the the 'houras!

Miranda moves from Mayo

She has called Mayo home for longer than anywhere else in her life, but has Miranda now begun the long journey back to where she started out in life - South West Scotland?!

We would be terribly sad to see her leave us here in Ireland, but would be happy that she is alive and well and that she withstood the Irish winter of 2013/14 on the heather slopes near Ballycroy National Park in County Mayo.

Miranda roosted as normal at her site on the night of 12/13 April and was still there at 0930, but just 90 minutes later was 70km to the east, in County Sligo! The tag stopped transmitting then but it is hoped to give data again soon and we will all be a lot wiser when we realise where she is then!

Will she stick on in the Ox Mountains in Sligo? Hen Harriers have been recorded breeding here in the past but not in recent times.
Will she return to Scotland for the breeding season?
We all wish her the very best in her life.

Meanwhile, Heather is holding her own in the Ballyhouras, having set up a new home range. It is hoped to get some sightings of her on the ground in the next week or so to confirm is she is with a male.

Gráinne (Miranda's sister) and Hattie (their neighbour) have been seen with sky dancing males in Langholm. See the excellent for more!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Life isn't played out according to a script!

Read a text book on any wildlife species and it invariably deals in general terms. At this time of year they do such and such.... at another time of the year they do such and such.

Well one of the beauties of nature is how intriguing it actually is and you can be certain that wildlife species don't have to stick to any script if they don't want to or if conditions aren't right.

And who said there aren't individuals in wildlife? Who said there aren't different characters, with their own outlook on life?

Satellite tagging is providing amazing insights as o the individual lives of the young Hen Harriers, Heather and Miranda.

After thousands of kilometres flying from Scotland over the Isle of Man to Dublin to Offaly, Roscommon, Longford, Donegal, Derry, Antrim, back again via Malin Head and then to Leitrim, Sligo and finally Mayo, Miranda has happily stayed on in the same territory since Mid November. She shows no signs of moving on to a breeding ground, at least not yet.

Heather has of course done her own epic journey from the south of the country to the north and back again, but has set up a number of territories in the process, getting to know an area well before moving on again (for various reasons). Recently, she has been prospecting around breeding grounds and now seems like she is establishing a new territory in the Ballyhouras. Whether she is with a male or will attempt to breed in her first year remains to be seen, though it is hopefully only a matter of time before she is seen in the flesh again for some ground truthing of what she is up to.

Just look at the movements of Heather and Miranda in the last 10 days. Very different. Are all individuals the same? Have these two read any scripts?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Heather checks out potential summer homes, Sky Dancing illuminates the skies!

Heather's ramblings over the last couple of days 28 - 30 March 2014

Last week Heather broke from her traditional territory and headed for the Ballyhouras, a mountain range holding breeding Hen Harriers to the north. Interestingly, she also visited some other known breeding ranges in the meantime, including the Boggeragh Mountains and the Carriganimma/Musheramore area to the west. It appears as though she is checking out potential places to stay for the summer, perhaps attracted to these mountains on the horizon by other Hen Harriers circling (the harriers’ latin name is Circus) high in the sky. Hen Harriers advertise their presence back on territory by circling higher than any other bird in Ireland, going so high that they can disappear into tiny specks even when you watch them with binoculars. Other harriers can see this from miles away. What is really spectacular is when the harriers plummet down from the clouds to perform their sky dance, hurtling at breakneck speed towards the ground while performing awesome acrobatics, pulling back up into the sky again just metres from the ground. This is a really special time of the year to witness this, one of the most amazing sights in all of Irish nature and it has been great to hear of people around the country witnessing the Sky Dance so far this Spring. Be sure to get out and see it this April – it is becoming a rarer sight with every year.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A new chapter in Heather's life!

Today Heather moved from the area she called home for the past three months and is roosting in the Ballyhouras

Has the big move just happened?!

Heather has today moved from her Nagle Mountains home territory where she has stayed since the middle of December 2013, for a total of over three months. Along with the home territory she established in South Cork, this is the longest amount of time she has spent in one place, but now at this time of year, change is in the air and life may never be the same for Heather again. Today at 15.40 she was still in the Nagle Mountains and the Blackwater Valley, but half an hour later she was in the Ballyhoura Mountains, just over 20km to the north. 

Will she try to establish a breeding territory in this mountain range? The decisions Heather makes over the next few weeks may be among the most pivotal in her life. Let's hope if she does find a mate and establish a breeding territory that it is a productive one. Right now, there is every chance that Heather will be seeing silver male Hen Harriers sky dancing for the first time in her life. Wonderful stuff!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Weather improving and the minds turn to Sky Dancing!!

The breeding season, Bring It On!!

After the washout of December, January and February, the weather is improving and the days are brightening, the breeding season is around the corner!

Saint Patricks's Day normally marks the turn of the seasons for Hen Harriers here in Ireland. They go from normal mode into breeding mode! Sky dancing can be seen in the bright sunny spring sky and a whole new world opens up again. This is another beauty of Hen Harriers, things are always moving, always refreshing.

For those who have harriers nearby in normal time, enjoy these few weeks that remain.

For those who live in breeding areas...hold on for a great time ahead!!

All well with Miranda in Mayo, Heather in Cork and Hattie and Grainne in Langholm.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Heather and Miranda as of 01 March 2014, last winter roost watches of the 2013/14 season

The 1st day of March is here and we are so glad to have Heather still with us, but remember her sister Sally

The majority of studies on bird of prey survival have shown that if a Hen Harrier makes it to the 1st day of March, out the other end of its first winter, then its chances of surviving to make future birthdays is greatly increased. It is with great joy then that we find Heather and Miranda still with us in Ireland (Gráinne and Hattie are also well in Scotland, see

When we look back on both Heather and Miranda's experiences in their first winters, there is just so much that we could talk about (and that's nothing compared to what the birds themselves would have seen).

Heather went from the moors of Kerry to the mountains of Wicklow to the shores of Lough Neagh to the coast of Cork, settled in different places, used different roosts, hunted different habitats, met different harriers. Miranda made the great leap from Scotland across to Ireland via the Isle of Man. She explored the reedbeds of the River Shannon, the rugged Malin Head, the glens of Antrim and the expanse of NW Mayo.

Satellite tracking has enabled a great insight into these birds movements. Just imagine what the birds themselves would have seen and experienced along the way! Now that the days are stretching, allowing the solar panels on the tags to charge well, Heather and Miranda's tags are transmitting regularly and giving full sets of data. Let's hope for more great experiences in the future, particularly now as we look forward to the impending breeding season!

At this time, we should also remember the majority of Hen Harriers born last year that weren't so fortunate to have made it and would have unfortunately died. Research by Dr. Barry O'Donoghue of the National Parks & Wildlife Service has shown about 5 out of every 6 Hen Harriers in Ireland die in their first winter, a mortality rate that is just too high to sustain a population.

Finally, March is your last chance to get out and do a roost watch for the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey. Could all volunteers please submit their records for this season to at their earliest opportunity please.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Fab Four Females in Feb!

It is great to be following the progress of four young female Hen Harriers coming into the Spring.

Heather and Miranda are still at their home territories in Cork and Mayo, while Miranda's sister Gráinne and another female from Scotland, named Hattie are still doing well in the very area where they were both reared last summer.

As the days lengthen, thoughts will soon turn to the breeding season. It will be interesting to see what happens. Heather, Gráinne and Hattie are already in areas which are known to be breeding ranges, but that doesn't mean they will stay there for the duration of spring or summer. Miranda is in a very interesting situation - for all the time that she has been in Ireland and for all the thousands of kilometres that she has clocked up here, she has only seen one established breeding range - in Antrim. She is currently in good Hen Harrier habitat, with blanket bog as far as the eye can see, but she has no company.

Hen Harriers can breed at one year old and it will be interesting to see if either of these fab four females are motivated to engage in any breeding attempts in 2014. We'll continue to follow their progress, but of course the main thing is that they continue to survive. Having come through one of the most difficult winter's imaginable for Hen Harriers (wet and windy is worse than cold for a harrier) doesn't gurantee any future success. Birds of prey constantly live life on the edge of suvival or mortality and any moves from the ranges they all now know so well could present major difficulties. God Speed to them all.

For more information on Gráinne and Hattie and what is happening on their ranges, see the wonderful Making the Most of Moorlands blogspot and Natural England's webpage on Tracking Hen Harriers

The Fab Four Females! Clockwise from Top Left: Gráinne, Miranda, Heather and Hattie