Sunday, 31 January 2016

Heather – One Year On


Because of the direct and indirect impacts humans have on nature (for better and for worse), because of how we would prefer humans interacted with nature, or because of the experiences and memories that we gain from nature, we often tend to consider nature from ‘our perspective’. It is seldom that we look at nature and that our contemplation of what we see doesn’t fall under one of the aforementioned categories; 1. “I’m sad at the loss of habitat” or “I’m delighted to see the maintenance of habitat”, 2. “I wish people would have more consideration for habitats and species” or 3. “I really enjoyed watching all those starlings over the reedbed”.
Those who love nature will automatically be drawn into the situation from a personal perspective – perhaps it is human nature and in all ways, that is a good thing. But perhaps a bit more, we should go beyond what “I” see, what “I” wish or what “I” got out of being with nature. How often do we think about what nature itself sees, wishes or experiences?
So, out of respect to nature, this blog entry will not recount what Heather, the satellite tracked Hen Harrier gave to “us” in terms of joy following her progress or information in terms of her travels, habitat use, new roosts and much more, nor will it go into the obvious devastation that was felt at the time or her persecution (which is still felt today) or public outcry and support for Hen Harriers that followed. Instead, it will focus on what Heather would have seen, experienced and wished.

Heather was born and reared in the Summer of 2013, with her four siblings in a heather covered nest, nestled on the slope of a ravine, with a young river flowing below. Her mother would shelter and protect the young, very closely in the first couple of weeks until they grew their feathers and became capable of self thermo-regulating and feeding themselves on the food that their mother and father would bring. Heather’s father was a particularly good provider and did the majority of the provisioning for the five young, as well as for Heather’s mother in the early weeks of the summer.
One day, while both of Heather’s parents were away, the peace of nest was interrupted by two men who walked in and took Heather and her sister (Sally) from the nest and fitted them both with satellite tags before putting them back into the nest immediately afterwards. Heather’s parents returned to the nest none the wiser, but they and the young birds, must surely have been wondering what that small device on their backs were.
When the time came, Heather and her siblings began to fly. For the first month, the family unit stayed around the general nest area, making great use of the heather moorland so that the young could rise and attempt food passes from their parents (with occasional fumbles forgiven by the fact they could re-find any dropped food on the ground). Heather was now beginning to see the wider world, beyond the heather covered nest where up until then all she knew was the sky and her family. She could see for miles and miles from the top of the mountain where she was reared. She could even see the Atlantic Ocean. Heather did what was natural, and she flew. She began to explore, and in a big way. She travelled in a north-easterly direction through Munster, towards Kildare, Wicklow and Dublin. Dublin was obviously a world away from the little ravine, heather moorland and mountain streams where she had been reared – she would have seen the City, in fact flown over it. She turned for more natural habitat and called the heather moorland of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains home for a number of weeks. After some time, the natural desire for the young harrier to travel saw her head north, to Meath. There one morning, she rose from her roost and standing in the field was a man with a pair of binoculars looking at her. Onwards, north to Louth and Armagh. Heather roosted on the shore of Lough Neagh, the biggest lake in Ireland. She did not delay there however, and made the amazing non-stop journey in a reverse southerly direction, from Lough Neagh to South Cork. Hundreds of kilometres later, she arrived by the cliffs and roosted on some coastal heath, surrounded by tillage farmland where she could find plentiful food and a safe place to rest. It is possible that she found this patch of land, hundreds of kilometres from where she had been, by following an adult female Hen Harrier who had coloured tags on her back. Heather called this home for a number of months, 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, there was every so often a man watching Heather with binoculars.
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. She did not breed that summer, but instead travelled through various counties to make it to Mayo. 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. Every so often, Heather would have seen a man with a pair of binoculars.
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. There, she would have every so often seen a man with a pair of binoculars watch her as she and other harriers settled into roost each evening to see out the night in what they would have seen as a safe haven. She overlooked the spectacular Skelligs and even roosted on an offshore island for some time. One day, she decided to take a short break from South Kerry and returned home to the exact spot where she was reared. Back to the heather clad hills and that mountain ravine. Even after all her journeys, she knew where home was at all times.
However, her return home was short and Heather soon travelled back to South Kerry again, a return to the hills for an attempt at finding a mate, would have to wait a short while until spring of 2015 arrived. One evening, Heather returned back to her roost, back to her safe haven and the other harriers she had come to recognize on a daily basis. There was a man watching, but this time it was not a man with binoculars and good intentions, it was a man with a gun. Whether he could be called a man is debatable however, as the coward pointed the barrel at the innocent harrier and pulled the trigger. Ended. Life Ended. All that Heather had seen, experienced and wished for was ended. The heather clad hills and the mountain ravine, the Dublin Mountains, the shores of Lough Neagh, the cliffs of South Cork the bogs of Mayo and all lands in between and further away, could no longer be visited by Heather and her presence could no longer add to the landscape or add depth to the scene.
The little device that those two men fitted to Heather and he sister Sally allowed Heather to be found, to allow her story when alive and dead to be known. So ultimately perhaps, after learning considering what Heather would have seen in her life (and you are urged to look back through this blog on Heather and Sally's full story as well as much more), we need to shine the light back on ourselves and again revert to what we wish to see, experience and influence. Habitat continues to be destroyed, for Hen Harriers and for all the native wildlife species that they are an indicator of. Human attitudes continue to differ – with more people growing indifferent to the plight of nature in Ireland, and at the same time more people growing to care for the plight of nature in Ireland. So if there is anything you can do to help more people care about wildlife in Ireland to move the trend in the right direction, then do it. Engage people with the outdoors. Fully educate yourself as to what is good and what is bad in terms of landscape and habitat change and consider what the custodians of the landscape need to continue maintaining habitats, rather than being pushed down a road of intensification or abandonment. Make that difference! But every so often, at the back of it all, have a think as to what the wildlife we so dearly love is experiencing.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

North Cork is one of the most densely afforested regions in Ireland ( many other regions have also experienced the same level of afforestation ). This region of North Cork ( Mullaghareirk Mts ) was once a stronghold of the Curlew,Hen Harrier, Red Grouse Corncrake,Skylark and Meadow pipit. The Hen Harrier has suffered massive decline in their population and only a few pairs remain,the Skylark and Meadow pipit also suffered a substantial decline, the Curlew, Red Grouse and Corncrake have long vanished from the landscape. The bogs and meadows where these birds once thrived are today unrecognizable with the majority of them planted with non-native sitka spruce. 

North Cork 1973
North Cork 2016 ( exact location as picture above )

The policy of planting these lands for the last thirty or forty years was simply not the answer, with the natural heritage experiencing enormous changes. For generations farmers worked vigorously to maintain and provide this pristine habitat, and is crucial they remain working and maintaining these high nature value lands for the survival of the remaining species                                                                                        
Family on there way to the well ( 1973 )  North Cork

Well today totally engulfed in sitka spruce ( 2016 ) North Cork
There was also considerable changes to social heritage of the region, with the elderly who farmed these lands fervently all there lives who witnessed the greatest changes, and have many a story to tell of days gone by, from days in the bog with bottles of cold tea and hard boiled eggs with only the Curlew and its lingering cry for company and days in the meadow making haycocks a real family day out, hot summers nights and the call of the Corncrake, the stories of the white hawk ( Hen Harrier ) gliding majestically over the rolling hills before suddenly disappearing out of sight, stories of ramblers discussing the hard days work telling yarns and the all important game of cards, sadly today many of these are just memories

The farmers that do remain do so because they refuse to give up on generations of hard work and grafting on a challenging landscape, landowners and farmers are again been encouraged to plant their land with commercial forestry, some believe that they would be "better off" encouraged to give up on generation of their families hard work.

These farmers and families are vital to the biodiversity and the culture of rural Ireland its imperative we do not lose them.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

The Hen Harrier Diaries

This is the final instalment of The Hen Harrier Diaries 2015. This years breeding season has been an outstanding success for our established pairs, they were all successful in rearing chicks. One of the territories (Pair 2) did not see any breeding attempt this year.

Pair 1; Heather's Mom and Dad. Great respect is due to this pair against all the odds they reared one beautiful chick, no meagre achievement in a predator infested area.The young fledgling has now set off to explore the world for itself , hopefully the chick will one day return and have a successful breeding attempt too.

Pair 3; The pairs hard work was really rewarding, rearing three gorgeous chicks, The three young chicks were an absolute joy to watch, especially when they fledged, they basically assaulted mom and dad every time they returned with food for their overeager chicks. They gave us some of the most memorable moments of the summer. Now they have gone their separate ways to explore the world, lets hope they stay safe.


Pair 4; We have had some anxious and enduring moments from this pair over the course of the summer. Their result has been a positive one rearing one stunning chick. The chick stuck around until a few weeks ago until it's curiosity to see the world got the better of it. Hopefully mom and dad can produce the same again next year.

Pair 5; The Professionals have yet again been phenomenal this year, the conclusion was even better than initially believed, they actually reared three chicks. They gave us a wealth of wonderful memories over the summer. Hopefully their young juveniles can find their away in the world and no doubt we will see mom and dad again next year.

Pair 6; New Kids on the BlockPenny is a special bird, like all Hen Harriers. From her first attempt at sky dancing to her first food pass, her bravery to challenge four lesser black back Gulls and evict them from her territory she had us intrigued. What a success story Penny has been, at such a young age to rear three gorgeous chicks credit to her and her Male companion, hopefully they will return again next year and be as successful as this year, and her young fledglings are thriving in their new world.

Now it is onto the first winter of the young birds born on the mountains this year. They will travel near and far, making their own way in the world. The first winter is a real bottlebneck for the Irish Hen Harrier population, with just one out of every six chicks believed to survive through to the following spring breeding season. The Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey follows the progress of our national Hen Harrier population during this crucial part of the year and sightings can be contributed to

We will keep you posted with some news from roosts around the country throughout the winter and should you have any news you would like reported yourself, please email Hen Harrier Ireland at

                                                                                                                           Bye for now
                                                                                                                   Thank you for tuning in
                                                                                                                       Hen Harrier Ireland 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Chance of a Lifetime

A young bird beginning to make its way in life. Every flight over the horizon provides a new, never before seen vista. A free spirit. Where to next? The world is its oyster.

Then BANG! Struck down!

Hit by a car on the side of a road outside Castleisland, Co. Kerry. Left for dead.

But where there are people with compassion in their hearts, there is hope.

The young male is picked up and looked after for a week, before being brought to Kingdom Falconry who then rehabilitated the bird further, before releasing him as a healthy individual at a bog near Knight's Mountain.

See the magnificent release here


There are many people who will do anything they can to help wildlife, particularly some of our most rare and vulnerable species such as Hen Harriers. This is a great example from two people who care about the world around them and there are many more out there who share their commitment.

While Heather had her life taken from her in a cowardly act earlier this year, this is a courageous act that has offered a young bird without a name another chance at life. 

In the very same county of Kerry. The chance of a lifetime.

Let there be hope!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


Miranda. Who is Miranda? Who was Miranda?

Miranda was a female Hen Harrier who had a magnificent journey. She was a special Hen Harrier -just like all Hen Harriers are special. She had an individual life story. She was an individual soul making her way in the world.

Miranda was born in Langholm, Scotland. She visited us here in Ireland, just as many Hen Harriers from Scotland have visited Ireland over the years. We know this because she was sat-tagged (see and we were lucky enough to be given the rare opportunity to follow the progress of a special, individual soul as she made her way in life. She travelled throughout much of Ireland, from Dublin to Mayo, from Donegal to Antrim and it was one of the most fascinating journeys that has been witnessed. All along the way, she opened up new insights to a young Hen Harrier's ecology. After some time, she was more Irish than Scottish, spending far longer in Ireland than she did in Scotland or indeed the Isle of Man where she also visited briefly. Then, radio silence.

Lissycasey 7. Who is Lissycasey 7? Who was Lissycasey 7?

This was a beautiful young Hen Harrier born near Lissycasey in West Clare in 2008. She was fitted with green and yellow colour wing tags. She was the first confirmed record of an Irish born Hen Harrier venturing all the way across the sea. She spent her entire first winter in Wales, on the beautiful Skomer Island (fox and mink free and full of fat skomer voles!). There she became a local celebrity and many of the public in Wales got to see and enjoy this stunning looking bird. After a good winter, Lissycasey E decided to return home to Ireland and could well have become part of the breeding population here. Very sadly, the elements conspired against her and she met a storm when crossing the Irish Sea. She was unable to keep up the fight travelling westerly against a raging winds, rain and high seas and the next time she was seen was on the tide line of the Welsh coast. Another light extinguished.

Ireland and Britain have for longer than anyone knows, been home to one connected population of Hen Harriers. Hen Harriers do not recognise boundaries. They are literally as free as a bird. We have a metapopulation. What happens to Greenland White-fronted Geese, Redwings and Whooper Swans in the north has direct implications for the birds we see arrive here each winter. What happens to Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Swallows in the south has direct implications for the birds we see arrive here each Summer. What happens to Hen Harriers in Britain has direct implications for Hen Harriers in Ireland - if they continue to be shot in Scotland or England, this lessens the chances of young birds coming to Ireland - perhaps even Irish birds travelling to Britain may be shot. What happens to Hen Harriers in Ireland has direct implications for Hen Harriers in Britain - if Hen Harriers reared in Scotland or England come to Ireland to make a life for themselves yet year after year their nest is predated or if they too are shot, this lessens the chances of the population stabilising in Britain or Ireland.

This may seem a bit "sciencey" but it is science and we are in the age of knowledge.

Know then that the spineless killing of Annie (see here) has more than a ripple of implications in Ireland and we stand fully in solidarity with those who love and watch and research and drive themselves into the ground in search of a future for this most superb of species. For anyone thinking that's a Scottish or English problem - it is not....

...Heather. Who is Heather? Who was Heather?

Lissycasey 7

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