Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all the readers and followers of  Hen Harrier Ireland!
Nollaig Shona 's Athbhliain faoi Mhaise!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Hen Harrier Shootings in Ireland and England

The Hen Harrier is a rare and protected species, but still incidents of illegal persecution can occur.

Recently in Wexford (not Kerry as reported by certain quarters who had no details of the incident) a Hen Harrier was reported to have been shot at its roost. No body was found in a search afterwards. Such an incident, in all likelihood would be at the hands of a maverick shooter rather than by any concerted effort. The harriers have existed at that roost for years and hopefully always will. It is imperative to treat roost and nest locations of any protected species as confidential - tell the local Ranger but why people - who may tell people - who may disturb the bird unintentionally or intentionally?

While relations between Hen Harriers and some landowners in Ireland were strained around the time of Special Protection Area designations for the species, people living and working in the SPAs now realise that after over five years of living with the designation, they are operating as they always have done. The reason the areas were designated as SPAs in the first place was because they were important for Hen Harriers - and they were important for Hen Harriers because of the way the landowners managed the land. Public awareness campaigns and agri-environmental plans for Hen Harriers in recent years have helped foster even better relations between the patrons of the landscape and this magnificent Irish raptor.

The shooting fraternity has done much to help protected species like the Hen Harrier (see recent post below) and are commended for their investment of time, money and effort in various conservation programmes. For anyone to berate shooters in general for the shooting of a Hen Harrier displays a lack of understanding of the issue. The response by the NARGC in the immediate aftermath of press release by BirdWatch Ireland regarding the shooting of a Hen Harrier shows the support and understanding that exists among the general shooting fraternity and this should not be forgotten, rather worked with and developed. For we have something different here in Ireland. We have different attitudes and we have different issues (e.g. Red Grouse are only a miniscule <1% part of the Hen Harrier's diet in Ireland).

When a protected bird is shot, it is indeed a travesty and there is justifiably outcry. When the habitat of a protected species is lost, it is less emotive for the public, but arguably much more damaging with long lasting repurcussions. When you take away a piece of habitat, you take away 1000's of years of history of the species, and damningly you take away any potential of a future. The issues for Hen Harriers in Ireland are obvious and are more numerous and greater than persecution. http://www.ria.ie/getmedia/016e1e30-c1a1-48e0-a5a0-aa3c49276162/BIOE-2011.07.pdf.aspx

In England recently, a famous Hen Harrier called Bowland Beth that was being tracked by means of a satellite tag identical to those used in Duhallow in 2012, has been proven to have been shot. She was an absolutely amazing bird and did so much for her species, raising awareness, answering conservation questions, showing a whole new side to Hen Harrier ecology. Hopefully now, her death will not have been in vein and progress will be made on establishing a scenario for Hen Harriers to co-exist on the moorlands of England...where ironically they have the best of habitat - but to quote an old Native American saying, "the best wolf habitat resides in the human heart" - if they want Hen Harriers they still have the foundations upon which to build. Do we in Ireland?

Monday, 19 November 2012

‘Little E’. Born Survivor. But Where Does He Go?!

October 2010. Little E in his 1st Winter as a Juvenile Male. Photo Paul Kelly

November 2011. Little E as a 2nd Winter Male. Photo Killian Mullarney

November 2012. Little E as a 3rd Winter Male. Photos Paul Kelly

‘Little E’

I wing-tagged Little E on the Cork-Kerry border (his parents being smart decided to nest on the Kerry side!) on a summer’s evening 06 July 2010.  He was one of a brood of 5 healthy chicks.  He was next seen in South Wexford, almost 200km from home in September 2010. I had one of the most memorable sightings of a Hen Harrier, when I met this young male in person on 14 November 2011. He flew right up to me out of his roost, so close I could nearly read my phone number on the bottom of his tag! It was an amazing encounter, to see a bird I had in my hands back in Kerry during the summer, now finding his feet as an individual on the other side of the country. It is an image that will stay with me forever.


Fantastic news when Little E returned to his Wexford roost again the following winter in November 2011 and was reported by artist and author of the Collins Bird Guide, Killian Mullarney. Having moulted his brown juvenile plumage to the grey/brown plumage of a 2nd Winter male, he became the first Irish wing tagged male to have been seen as a ‘grey bird’. There were great hopes that he would progress to become a spectacular looking adult male some day!


Needless to say then, I was delighted when informed by local birder and photographer Paul Kelly that in November 2012, Little E has returned yet again to his roost in South Wexford! Now he has really grown up and only slight traces of his juvenile plumage remain. It is wonderful to know that a Hen Harrier you have known since a chick is making his way in the world and doing well. However, it throws up the obvious question…where does he spend his summers?!! Why does he turn up in November? Does he travel on towards France thereafter? Does he even breed in France? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to answer these questions and so much more. There will always be more to find out about these wonderful birds. With the help of satellite tags, as used with Blackwater and Sky this summer, hopefully we will begin to answer some of these questions.


At the same time, in Wicklow we are graced by the presence of a male Hen Harrier the very same age as Little E, who was also wing tagged in 2010. The one big difference however, is that this other bird (named ‘Orange 2’) was wing tagged in England! And where does this male spend his summers??? The exchange between British and Irish Hen Harriers and possibly further afield is noteworthy. What happens to ‘our’ harriers over there, or what happens to ‘their’ harriers over hear, has major implications for national populations and indeed the overall metapopulation.


Thanks to everyone who continues to send on their sightings of Hen Harriers, tagged and untagged to harriers@ahg.gov.ie. Please if you have seen any Hen Harriers be sure to send the records for the Hen Harrier’s protection.


Thanks very much,

Barry O’Donoghue

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hen Harrier feature in Irish Shooter's Digest

This month's Irish Shooter's Digest carries a 2-page spread on Hen Harriers and the Shooting Fraternity in Ireland.

Barry O'Donoghue explains the important role that people involved in gun clubs etc. can play in the conservation of threatened birds such as the Hen Harrier, Red Grouse, Curlew and other ground nesting species, by controlling what have become inflated predator numbers, particularly Fox, Mink and Hooded Crow.
The article is seen as a positive step towards fostering good relations between the shooting fraternity in Ireland and birds of prey. Relations between raptors and guns in Britain where private shooting estates are to the fore are often frayed, but Ireland is a very different country. The article has been received very well among the Irish Shooter's Digest readership and already sightings of Hen Harriers by those who stalk wetland areas in the winter evenings have come in.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


I have just seen a Hen Harrier flying outside my window, expertly switching from side to side in the wind! She didn't harry my hens either! :-)

Hallowe'en Winter Roost Watch

Hallowe'en - Oíche Shamhna

What a magical night. What better way to spend the time at dusk than to see brown ringtails and silver males come in to roost and glide around before settling right in front of you?!

Indeed, there will be a fine full moon out this Hallowe'en!

Roost watches for the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey are conducted once a month around the 1st day of every month between October and March. Survey participants right throughout Ireland have already carried out watches at roosts in October. If you are interested in taking part and contributing directly to the protection and conservation of Hen Harriers in Ireland, contact the survey co-ordinator home.of.harriers@gmail.com and we'd be delighted to hear from you.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey begins!

Over the past 7 seasons, the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey has been one of the largest, most engaging, ground-breaking and useful surveys on any Irish bird of prey.

You can now be part of this survey by reporting sightings of Hen Harriers or surveying for winter roosts.

Please see the IHHWS page for further details

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blackwater Retrieved and Lessons Learned

After seven years of being a member of the RNLI Lifeboats and the local Sea and Cliff Rescue team, it never gets easy looking for bodies. Yesterday, in looking for Blackwater's body (when her tag began to transmit data after 20 days offline), this was as difficult as any search that I have taken part in, given I knew her so well, having been able to watch her grow from a small ball of fluff on a heather moorland in Duhallow to become a beautiful brown, cinnamon & white glider. On one hand I wanted to find her. Finding her may give insight as to how and why she died and the tag could be retrieved, but most of all, there is a strong bond that compels you to find her, for all she was and for all she represents. On the other hand, seeing her dead is the last thing that I wanted to encounter.

Her PTT (satellite tag) had shown she was somewhere east of the Boggeragh Mountains in County Cork. Using a ground tracking device, and my dog Mel, we set about homing in on the tag location, in fiercely difficult scrub and swamp. Finally, we found Blackwater's remains, with the tag still attached. Only bones and feathers remained of what was once such an inspiring and awesome creature.

Blackwater's journey. The mid way point (with the red line) is the last time her PTT transmitted data while she was alive. Just 3 days later she was dead, her final resting place 53km SE of where she was born.

She had travelled most of the Blackwater Valley and departed from the world and a future with a possibility of seeing her flying, sky dancing, food passing, rearing young on the Irish landscape, at an all too early stage in her life.

Sincere thanks to the kind farmer whose land Blackwater had died on and also to Mackessy's Vets in Newmarket for examining the remains with me. Thanks to all of you following the blog for your kind words and support for Hen Harriers.

Death is a natural occurrence. However, this is happening to Hen Harriers in Ireland on a scale that is beyond sustainable, particularly when one considers how few young are being produced every year in the first place. Every year harriers are being lost from the Irish landscape. Young harriers fitted with the very same tags and technique in England and Scotland have little difficulty with predation or finding food and establishing themselves in the landscape. See http://langholmmoorland.blogspot.co.uk/ to follow the progress of two young harriers in Scotland.

The only thing that we can console ourselves with from this study is that both Sky and Blackwater have done a great service to their species and have confirmed to us, just how difficult harriers are finding it to get a foothold on the Irish landscape. Out of c.180 harriers wing tagged in the Republic of Ireland since 2006, just four have been known to breed.  Sky and Blackwater did not have wing tags that may have been lost or gone unnoticed. Sky and Blackwater did not set up lives for themselves abroad and therefore remain unreported. It is most likely that of the 180 birds that have been wing tagged, the vast majority of those experienced the same fate as Blackwater and Sky.

When we know there is a problem, we can (and should) set about addressing the issues, primarily habitat related, because if Hen Harriers are lost from Ireland, they will likely be lost forever.

Monday, 20 August 2012

BOTH BLACKWATER AND SKY DEAD - an Insight into an Endangered Population of a Native Species

A Shocking headline.

The reality of what is happening to our Hen Harriers in Ireland. The reality of what is happening to our remaining, dwindling population of Hen Harriers in Ireland.

Sky and Blackwater flew the flag for their species. We wanted to see what is happening to our population, where do they go, what do they do? We wanted to see why so few wing tagged birds were returning to the population.Through this satellite tracking, we have gained a clearer picture as to why our population is decreasing, why Hen Harriers have been lost from so much Ireland. Even when against the odds, they manage to rear young to fledging, those fledglings are finding it very difficult to survive and may be dead within weeks of leaving the nest.

Blackwater as a nestling

Blackwater, our beautiful female, had made a bid to become independent of her parents and travelled along her native Blackwater Valley until she reached farmland near the village of Cullen, just north of Millstreet, Co. Cork. Her satellite tag has not transmitted for over two weeks now, indicating that she has most likely perished. To have watched this chick grow from the time she was just a ball of fluff in the nest with her brother and sister, to see the painstaking efforts to which her parents went to rear her, to see the potential she held to become a fully independent, stunning female harrier, and ambassador for her species; all to end in tragedy is heart breaking.

                                                                                                           Blackwater's Movements. Click to enlarge

Sky was found dead just 350 metres from his nest. There was a fox scat in his nest (a small patch of scrub surrounded by forestry) which may indicate predation as the cause of death (his body also lay close to a fox track), although lack of food is also a possibility given the light weight of his body when found.

Four young harriers were satellite tagged in England and Scotland this year by Stephen Murphy (who tagged Blackwater and Sky here in Ireland) using the very same tags and very same methods and all are performing brilliantly now as independent harriers. Hen Harriers in Ireland clearly have a more difficult start in life than elsewhere.

The worrying thing is, Sky’s parents and Blackwater’s parents cannot live forever and when young harriers are not surviving to take their place on the landscape, we lose our population and this has been happening for some time now.

Population Viability Analysis shows that the Irish Hen Harrier population is not reproducing enough to sustain itself.

1. The adult Hen Harriers are finding it difficult to find food.

Due to changes in the landscape that Hen Harriers have relied on for centuries (i.e. moorland, scrub and farmland -much of which has been destroyed, removed or forested), food is no longer as plentiful or as easy to catch. The Hen Harrier is not just a species in itself...because it depends on the smaller animals and birds for food, it is a mirror to the natural world which we can hold up and see how things are out there...if small animals and birds are doing well, Hen Harriers are doing well; if small animals and birds are doing poorly, Hen Harriers will suffer greatly…evidently things are rather poor in the uplands. People should be dissuaded from the excuse of poor weather in 2012 as a reason for decreased food resources, because territories experiencing the same weather patterns had greatly differing food resources, primarily related to habitat.

2. The parent Hen Harriers are spending longer away from the nests in search of food.

This means increased energy expenditure and weaker parents, lower food delivery rates to the nest, less eggs, less chicks, weaker chicks, less brooding of the chicks (for shelter, warmth and dryness) and increased chance of predation (while the parents are away trying to find food). This summer, we witnessed parent birds travelling massive distances over forestry before they even reached their hunting grounds and there were days when chicks may have received just one food item in a day, whereas they should have been receiving around 20 food items in a day. Many nests in Ireland did not rear any chicks at all this year due to lack of food and predation.

3.  The chicks, if and when they fledge, are finding it next to impossible to make it on their own.

If experienced adult birds are finding it difficult to catch food. How difficult must it be for an individual bird who has up until 3 weeks of having left its nest been provided for by its parents, and suddenly left to fend for itself and catch its own food? The deaths of Sky and Blackwater show just how perilous it is for young Hen Harriers in Ireland. One should be dissuaded from thinking “this is nature” because the landscape the Hen Harrier and many other upland bird species depends on has been highly fragmented and augmented to the stage where it is no longer natural and the odds are stacked against the survival of many of our native species. The untimely deaths of Sky and Blackwater should not be taken as isolated events. After years of wing tagging, it is estimated that four out of every five Hen Harriers in Ireland dies before it reaches its first birthday.

Hen Harrier Conservation

So, will we just leave it at that or continue to push for Hen Harrier conservation in Ireland? What does Hen Harrier conservation mean? It means whether we want to continue to experience the sight of sky dances or food passes, or softly gliding ringtails or silver males in our landscape. Again, the Hen Harrier is a mirror to the health of the upland landscape also. Many places have already lost their local Hen Harrier population and the small pockets that are left are now all the more important. An rud is annamh is iontach – that which is rare is wonderful.

The future of the Hen Harrier ultimately lies with all stakeholders, landowners and conservation groups interested preserving our natural heritage.

One way in which you as an individual can help is to take part in national research on the Hen Harrier, by submitting sightings or conducting roost watches. Anyone that is willing to contribute and to experience Hen Harriers is encouraged to contact home.of.harriers@gmail.com

Thanks to everyone who contributed to and wished this project well.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Blackwater and Sky

Blackwater and Sky are currently at their individual nest locations in Duhallow, being provisioned by their parents. We do not want to disclose the location of their nests, and there are still perils which they must overcome before fully fledging and making a life of their own. However, as soon as they begin making their way in life, you will be able to follow their travels and see their location on this website. Keep checking in with henharrierireland.blogspot.ie!

Blackwater - She's a lady!

The Blackwater is said to be the most beautiful river in Ireland. It flows through Duhallow and was chosen by a local schoolboy as a really nice name for the first Hen Harrier to be fitted with a satellite tracker as part of this project. Blackwater was born on a heather moorland and has two siblings, a younger brother and an older sister. She has already mastered the art of flying but is still reliant on her parents for food. She is a beautiful young bird with dark brown eyes. We wish her all the very best on her travels through life. Go n-éirí an bóthar léi!

Sky - He's the man!

The Hen Harrier is renowned for its famous Sky Dance courtship display. The male's are the main men for carrying out this awesomely impressive aerobatic display. So, some local school girls have christened the first male Hen Harrier to be satellite tracked as part of this project, Sky. Sky was born in a scrub area of rushes and bramble. He is currently in his nest being looked after by his parents, while his older brother and sister are now able to fly. He has striking smoky-grey eyes. We hope that some day, sky will turn into a fine silver adult male (like his father further down on this page), and of course perform some amazing sky dances in the spring and summer! Beir Bua!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Stay Tuned!

Hi All,

We will soon be following the satellite tracked Hen Harriers online, when they begin to make their way in life. Join as a member and please continue to check in for updates, add any comments or learn more about Hen Harriers in Ireland.

Slán tamall,
Hen Harrier Ireland

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Local School Children Suggest Hen Harrier Names

Loads of entries came in for naming Hen Harrier chicks and it was a really difficult decision to make in choosing the best and most suitable. Finally, the names were chosen as follows:

Heather (after the Hen Harrier's natural habitat)

Diarmuid (after a Celtic legend who has links with many parts of Ireland, including a place on the Duhallow/Muskerry border named after Diarmuid where Hen Harriers previously bred)

Blackwater (after the most beautiful River Blackwater that flows through Duhallow and has Hen Harriers along its flow)

Sky (after the most spectacular feature of the Hen Harrier - the Sky Dance!)

Well done to all who suggested these names. Stay tuned! ;-)

Hen Harrier - Nature's Work of Art

Hen Harriers are among the most elegant, skillful and inspiring sights one could ever hope to see. Elegance, Skill and Inspiration are all values that are needed for good art. The best entries of the art that was received from primary schools in the Duhallow and Muskerry regions can be seen in the video below. All entries can be seen in the "Education" page of this website.

The Arrivals (2). The chicks are in the nests! We're getting close!

Nest 1
The mother leaves the nest to hunt for more food for the three chicks. © Barry O'Donoghue

This nest, set in heather, grass and gorse is quite amazing, even by the high standards set by Hen Harriers as to what is amazing!

From a hide just 30m away, I could see all the action in the nest, the three chicks gaining their feathers, the father and mother bringing in prey and brooding the young in times of mist or rain...it really is a sublime privilege to watch Hen Harriers. It is enthrawling to watch the siblings walk about, stretch their wings, have the odd brother-sister tiff and even have a tug-o-war with the food brought in by their parents! Please God they will all remain safe from predators, given their parents have to travel long distances over mature forestry before they reach suitable hunting grounds, thereby increasing the time during which the chicks are left on their own.

Nest 2
Two chicks only 2-3 days old and another chick is hatching from the egg to the right. © Barry O'Donoghue

There is also another egg in the nest. Hopefully all four will make it. They are much later than normal in their breeding attempt, perhaps as a result of the abnormal weather this Spring/Summer. The parents at this nest are really good providers so we have good hope.

Nest 3
The father is bringing in food to the nest. © Barry O'Donoghue

This guy is a super provider, the high rate at which he brings in food is a reflection of the fact that he has profitable hunting habitats (Willow bushes, Rough Grassland, Heather Bog, Hedgerows) in proximity to his nest.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Hen Harrier Presentation Now Online

The introduction to Hen Harriers in Ireland, presented to the community of Duhallow, is now available to watch in full on "The Hen Harrier" page of this website.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Hen Harrier Day in Newmarket

Hundreds of school children from Banteer, Lyre, Kilcorney, Ballydesmond, Meelin and Donoughmore, all areas immersed in Hen Harrier habitat and territories, attended one of the most important days of the Duhallow Hen Harrier Satellite Tracking project - Hen Harrier day in Newmarket.

This gathering brought the next generation and custodians of the landscape in Duhallow closer to the Hen Harrier, and the Hen Harrier closer to the people.

Barry O'Donoghue introduced the school children to the Hen Harrier and talked about its ecology including the spectacular food passes and sky dancing! All of this is on the doorstep of  the people of Duhallow and just waiting to be enjoyed!

The schools are invited to become involved on the satellite tracking project by contributing writings and images of what the Hen Harrier means to them. By logging onto this blog, they will be able to follow the progress of the satellite-tagged young harriers as they make their way in the world from August 2012 onwards. So that we know which bird is which, the two male and two female harriers will be christened by the local school children!

The live presentation will be uploaded to the blog shortly so keep checking for updates!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Arrivals (1)

They're here! So it begins!

Opening the boxes to reveal the state-of-the-art Microwave Telemetry Satellite Tracking Devices

The beginning almost feels like the end, given the incredible amount of hard work already completed in getting this project up and running and the PTT devices into my hands! A major thank you to all involved at the early stages, in particular Katie Crowley, Theresa Collins, Maura Walsh and the Environmental Working Group and Board of Directors of IRD Duhallow for funding the purchase of these tags. Of course the tags would not be of much use without the financial support of NPWS to download the important data that they will generate. Particular thanks are due to Dr. David Tierney and Dr. Ciaran O'Keeffe. The support of NPWS staff on the ground in Duhallow is very much appreciated, in particular Tim O'Donoghue, Dr. Tim Burkitt, Frank McMahon and Pat Dawson. Aidan O'Donoghue and Dan O'Loughlin are the dynamic duo of Duhallow in their search for Hen Harrier nests now. Please let us know if you see any Hen Harriers and it will help us in our quest.

Major thanks to Microwave Telemetry (USA), CLS (France) and Stephen Murphy (England) for technical support and advice.

Without the community of Duhallow, this project would not have been possible at all. The interest, hope and support inspired by the people there has brought this project to the fore!

Likewise, I'm sure when the birds are tagged and start moving to distant lands, we will build our community of supporters and people involved in this project. Duhallow is just the starting point...or will the tagged harriers return again?!