Monday, 22 December 2014

In search of Heather. Happy Christmas!

21st December 2014. The longest night in the earth's history. Short days and low light levels meant Heather's satellite tag missed some scheduled transmissions - the first time this has happened really. Worrying. But like a ray of light, data comes in from the satellites in space to tell us Heather is alive and well. The data shows she is roosting back in her home range where she has spent the past few months in South Kerry. There is a good chance of seeing her leave her roost in the morning. 

Through some of the most stunning scenery known to man, but invisible in the dark and fog, I travelled through the night to meet the local IHHWS volunteer, for whom Heather has highlighted two new roosts. In this weather and low visbility, the entire journey to one of the far reaches of South West Ireland could be in vein - would we see her at all? As always with Hen Harriers, it was worth the effort even just to say you were within a couple of hundred metres of these rare birds - anything after that was a bonus.

We assumed position. Pat on one side of the bog, his back to a fine big reek of turf; while I was at the other side of the bog, with a small herd of 7-8 cows for company. We waited eagerly. At 0831 I saw a flash of light on the far side of the bog - it was Pat's phone, calling to let me know Heather was in the air, flying towards me. I did not answer the phone as I already had her in my sights - the phone on silent, vibrating in my raincoat pocket. Closer and closer she came until she was within 40-50m. She looked fine and healthy. It was an absolute joy to see her in the flesh once again.

2014 was a very memorable year for Hen Harriers and all involved in their research and conservation in Ireland and indeed in Britain. From Galway to Dublin, Kerry to Antrim, Cork to Donegal, and everywhere in between, people have been striving towards finding out more about Hen Harriers in Ireland and people have been advocating strongly for their protection, and the protection of the habitat that they and so many other species depend on. This has been a personal highlight of 2014 - to see so many people become so independently minded on Hen Harriers in Ireland, progressing their own local studies and spreading the word on how wonderful a native Irish bird this is.

2015 will be difficult. Vested interests who want to remove the habitat of Hen Harriers (and Curlew, Red Grouse, Snipe, Skylark, Merlin, Meadow Pipit, Cuckoo...the list goes on and on) in favour of more "profitable" developments continue to lobby for such destruction. Sickeningly, these vested interests are trying to turn the custodians of the landscape who have managed the habitat for generations against conservation. The say "SPAs are stopping people living and farming" whereas there is in fact a clear solution - support farmers in the SPAs to live and farm and support the habitats and species (using the money the EU has provided for same). The SPAs would be seen as the most positive thing to ever grace these marginally productive lands, but instead because forestry is being touted as the only game in town, with large grants to get people to stop farming and plant their land, the SPAs are being seen as restrictive. What is more restrictive than planting the land of previous and future generations for the sake of a 15-20 year grant? Anyone who knows these areas can clearly see the decimation not only of landscape and wildlife, but of local communities, cultural and social heritage...and future. 

There is no doubt but that the passion instilled in people's hearts who have seen these birds in their natural habitats will also come to the fore in 2015. In Britain they have serious issues with persecution and they have had marches and petitions with 10's of thousands of signatures in support of Hen Harriers. Here we have serious issues with habitat loss, which is arguably even more serious. If we lose what little habitat remains (natural/semi-natural habitat has now been lost from the vast majority of the Hen Harrier SPAs), and if we lose the farming people who manage these habitats, what hope would we ever have of holding our Hen Harrier population? 

Thanks for all your input in 2014. We look forward together to a progressive 2015.

Have a wondeful Christmas.

Hen Harrier Ireland

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Heather makes a stunning and unexpected return home! Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin!

Heather as a chick at Mount Eagle and as a one year old in South Cork.

Heather, after travelling the length and breadth of the country, from Mount Eagle in Kerry to Lough Neagh in Antrim, from Mayo to Dublin, has spent recent weeks in South Kerry and has now returned to her home - Mount Eagle.

She is now among her own tribe - in a communal roost. Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey volunteers have moved to see Heather at her roost. It'd be nice to think she might stay here but as always, we are happy once she is happy and healthy! Heather has shown us so so much through her movements, and her tendency to use communal roosts so regularly points strongly to the information sharing value of these centres, from which individual birds can find out where to hunt and where to spend the winter nights. 

Good luck to you Heather!


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Heather has her very own island! Halloween Winter Roost Weekend!

The South Kerry island that Heather has made home
 Heather, the intrepid young female Hen Harrier is still in the Kingdom of Kerry and surely fit for the Queen of the Kingdom is her very own island! The above island has been home for Heather for the past while. It probably makes good sense too - especially from a safety point of view - no predators or disturbance.

Continue to follow Heather and other Hen Harrier news on this blog and on and on Twitter @HarrierIreland

This weekend sees the annual Halloween Hen Harrier Roost Watch. It is a real experience to be at a reedbed or bog on Halloween, with a half moon overhead as you finish your watch. Friday and Saturday currently look to be the best bets weather-wise. For details contact

Winter Roost Scene

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Heather is a Kerry girl at heart!

Heather is a Kerry girl at heart!

Heather has now returned to Kerry after another stay at her 'home range' in Cork. She has been deciding between the two counties for some time now, switching from Cork to Kerry, Kerry to Cork and so on. This is very interesting behaviour, which would not be known only for Heather and her satellite tag. These movements are not insignificant either - Heather's latest move from South Cork to South Kerry is 150km in a straight line and surely lots of ground travelled and encounters along the way for Heather. Why has Heather made this move?? For now, see Heather's latest movements and an excellent photo of her latest view - of the Skelligs (Skelligs image copyright Eoin Kavanagh).

Skelligs (c) Eoin Kavanagh - Heather's current view

Heather's most recent movements, now in South Kerry

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Notes from the first week of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey 2014-15

Volunteers throughout the country from Cork to Donegal, Galway to Wicklow, have been out looking for Hen Harriers for the first week of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey. This is the tenth year of the survey and it is important that as much coverage as possible is achieved so that the Hen Harrier population and range over the past decade can be fully reviewed.

If you see a Hen Harrier - please report it to

If you want to do roost watches, contact

So far, the first week has seen harrier sightings reported across the country and a number of roost watches completed, including last night in Cork, when Heather, the satellite tracked female from Kerry, was seen at roost with a friend. She has returned to her favoured spot by the coast, where she spent last winter and again this autumn until she moved to Kerry for a couple of weeks - no doubt to celebrate Kerry's success in the All-Ireland!!

Also, we are close to finding a new roost in County Louth. Finding roosts is especially important for the direct conservation of Hen Harriers.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Hen Harrier Ireland on Blogspot - Facebook - Twitter

The tenth season of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey promises to be the most important to date.

Follow onsite live updates from roost watches and even contribute your own updates from your roost watches (be sure to mask the location of the roost site).

Hen Harrier Ireland can be followed on Twitter, Facebook and Blospot

Twitter                               @HarrierIreland

For sightings and participation on the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey, email

Monday, 1 September 2014

Eadoin - a harrier is named. News from Slieve Blooms bird in Antrim. Heather in South Cork.

Eadoin - young male Hen Harrier from the Slieve Blooms, born 2014

Clara Bog Visitor Centre recently held a poll to name one of the young Hen Harriers wing tagged in the Slieve Blooms. The letter on his tag is 'E' and he has received the beautiful Gaelic name of Eadoin, meaning 'blessed among many friends" doubt the friends of Hen Harriers throughout Ireland wish Eadoin and the other young harriers born this summer the very best in life. Let's hope we hear positive things from him again.

We have just received news that another young bird, this time a female, from the Slieve Blooms is currently in Antrim! This bird was born in 2013 and it is great to hear of her whereabouts. Antrim seems to be a very important place for Hen Harriers in Ireland - remember both Heather and Miranda have spent time there and so too have other tagged birds. It is of course on a flight path between Ireland and Scotland and it is likely there is interchange between the two sets of populations there. Exciting stuff to hear from another tagged bird!

As for our star Heather - well as predicted (and that is a big ask with harriers!) she has travelled further south to rest by the Atlantic cliffs of South Cork. She spent this time last year in the very same spot until the stubble fields were sprayed and ploughed. Check out the video by Dave McGrath on for a piece of video of what is believed to be Heather! You can see why she is there - plenty of tillage and straw - good habitat for finding rodents to eat!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Heater leaves Mayo and returns to Cork! The seasons are changing and birds are moving to normal time roosts - IHHWS

 Heather has once again made a massive move - this time in a reversal of what she did at the start of summer when she moved from Cork to Mayo. Ironically the last post on HenHarrierIreland (see below) posed the question would Heather (a Kerry born bird) move from Mayo at the time of Kerry and Mayo's All-Ireland Football semi-final clash - she has done just that!

She knows Ireland very well at this stage, having visited so many counties from South to North and East to West. Her movements have been a revalation and have given us a remarkable insight to the life of a young Hen Harrier. She has returned to familiar grounds, where she spent the latter half of last winter, from December to March before embarking on her epic journey to Mayo.

At this time of year, Hen Harriers are moving to their "winter" grounds, more appropriately known as normal time grounds, given they spend the majority of the year there (typically Aug-Mar). The Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey has discovered so much about the ecology of Hen Harriers during this time and is now entering its 10th season - if you would like to take part email

The question on everyone's lips now is - will Heather stay where she is at present or will she continue further south to the coast where she spent the early half of last winter, making use of the stubble fields and hedgerows of South Cork. Will she even go somewhere else entirely?

Let us know what you think!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Heather 'at home' in Mayo! Miranda seen in Antrim. New tagged birds in Blooms.

Juvenile Hen Harriers in the Slieve Blooms tagged 'E' and 'Z' - keep an eye out for these and others this autumn/winter!
Photos: Jason Monaghan, NPWS

Heather is still in one of her favourite spots of all time - Mayo. Will the love affair with Mayo for this Kerry girl last beyond Kerry and Mayo's All-Ireland semi final clash on the 24th of this month! Mayo has been good to her all summer and it will be interesting to see if she moves on again with an impending change in seasons or stays on familiar turf.

Miranda from Scotland of course also spent a long period of time in Mayo last winter before moving to Antrim. For over a week, researchers were worried as to the wherabouts of Miranda, but thankfully she was seen in searches during the week, looking very well.

Neither Miranda nor Heather bred this year. All going well they should make it through their second winter and hopefully breed in 2015.

Young birds born and reared in 2014 are currently fledging the nest and hanging around with their siblings, finding out all about flight, playfully diving and calling at one another and trying to catch some prey themselves - a vital skill to master if they are to survive beyond the care of their parents who at the moment are still providing the bulk of the food. Some of these young birds have been wing tagged in the Slieve Blooms - sky blue on left wing for 2014 and white on right wing for Slieve Blooms. Keep an eye out for these youngsters - just like Heather and Miranda they too will hopefully have great experiences and adventures ahead of them as they make their way in life!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hen Harrier research in the field

Hen Harrier nest cam Slieve Blooms - fascinating insights as to behaviour at the nest (Photo credit: Jason Monaghan, NPWS)

Hen Harrier juvenile wing tagging in the Slieve Blooms - lets hope she is seen again and even returns home to breed (Photo credit: Jason Monaghan, NPWS)

Applied Conservation Research - the best type of research. Those working in the field to gather information on declining populations such as the Hen Harrier in Ireland give vital information as to what is happening to the population, why it is happening and what needs to be done to secure Favourable Conservation Status.

The Slieve Blooms is the most central Hen Harrier population in Ireland and is of particular interest. Here, they are associated intimately with Irelands largest State owned nature reserve - with over 2,300ha of heather moorland and they use this natural habitat exclusively for nesting.

Some fascinating insight has been gained into the behaviour of Hen Harriers in the nest due to work carried out this summer by NPWS, by using special nest cameras. A wing tagging programme initiated by NPWS and the Irish Raptor Study Group in 2006 has continued and this year young birds in the Slieve Blooms were fitted with sky blue tags on their left wing and white tags on their right wing. To learn more about wing tagging click here
To learn more about the research in the Slieve Blooms, click here

If you would like to become involved in applied conservation research - the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey is looking for people to report sightings of harriers from now until April. There is also the opportunity to find and watch Hen Harriers at their roosts.

Contact if interested.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Hen Harriers suffer major losses to predators

This is the time of year when young Hen Harriers are beginning to fledge. What a joyful time and what an uplifting experience to see these youngsters, with their dark chocolate brown backs and cinnamon underparts, twist and turn playfully at one another as they wait for their mom or dad to return with food. Up they'll rise and take the food in the air, just like the specatcular food passes from the male to the female earlier in the breeding season. It truly is a sight to behold and treasure.

However, each year it is becoming more and more apparent that the parents are finding it next to impossible to rear their chicks to the stage that they can fledge. Every year, the majority of nests fail. This means every following year, there are less Hen Harriers and a number of areas are now devoid of Hen Harriers. Where will it end?

One of the main causes of nest 'failure' is predation. Fox, Mink, Pine Marten, Hooded Crow and Magpie are seen as the key species involved. The change from open moorland and extensive farmland to forestry in many of the Hen Harrier areas has benefited those predators and put rare breeding birds like Hen Harriers, Curlew, Red Grouse etc. at a major disadvantage. Not just a disadvantage in the case of Hen Harriers -in fact a death trap. If a female harrier nests in young forestry because of the tall vegetation that grows between the trees (sometimes this is the only potential nesting habitat given it was planted on a bog they would have naturally used) there is a good chance she is in a precarious situation, surrounded by predators with very good noses. This is what is called an Ecological Trap.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Heather back at HQ, new chicks to be tagged tomorrow

Last week saw Heather visit Knock airport, but she has since returned to her main territory in the last few days. This ground must be so familiar to Heather now. She hunts the same lands every day and roosts in the same place every night. The habitat here is fantastic and one would wonder why there aren't any breeding harriers there.

Tomorrow (Monday 07 July) sees the first young Hen Harriers of 2014 being fitted with tags - this time wing tags. This will happen in the Slieve Blooms - one of the most important parts of the country for these magnificent birds. Wing tags don't give the regular updates and insight that satellite tags do, but they are useful nonetheless. It is vital that members of the public keep and eye out for these birds and report the sightings. This year the birds in the Blooms will be fitted with a white right tag and a sky blue left tag. To learn more about wing tags, click here and To learn more about the Slieve Blooms Nature reserve, see here

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Ready for Take-Off!

Since mid-May, Heather has enjoyed a most productive stay in a moorland and extensive farmland area of Mayo, not far from Lough Conn. Here, she has used an area of domestic turf banks as her base, hunting the willows of that bog and the rushy fields and moorland of the surrounding landscape each day on a regular and familiar route (which incidentally took her into Peregrine Falcon territory!). She has been seen in the Lough Conn area on more than one occasion and some digested pellets found at her roost have been collected to allow analysis of her diet (more to follow when anaylsis complete). We're all glad to see that she has done well in this area and was looking fine and healthy when last seen.

Now however, she has decided to up sticks and move further east, though still in County Mayo.

The map image below provides some fascinating viewing - each dot is a locational fix for Heather's movements on both 27 June and today, 29 June. It is clear to see that she is showing a preference for moorland, as is the norm for Hen Harriers. However, it is the long strip of tarmac in amongst the dots that probably draws most attention - that is Ireland West Airport Knock!! Imagine the red dots as Heather - an airborne creature representative of wild Ireland, completely juxtaposed with airborne technology representative of human endeavour. Amazing stuff.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Misleading article in Irish Farmers Journal heaps further bad press on Hen Harriers

This blog was established to educate and to increase awareness of Hen Harriers in Ireland, their ecology, their uniqueness and the factors influencing their conservation, given the population has experienced significant declines and harriers continue to be lost as a sight from our landscape. The politics involving various people has not been entered. However, an article by Forestry Editor Donal Magner in this week's Irish Farmer's Journal, infringes greatly on educating people as to the reality of Hen Harrier conservation and ecology in Ireland and needs to be addressed. Mr. Magner has written a number of such articles through the years, with all his articles promoting great benefits to Hen Harriers from commercial forestry, when the reality is clearly the opposite.

This time, Mr. Magner is giving out about the fact that tax payers money is no longer being used to grant aid the afforestation of what open land remains in Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas (which are already at saturation point or beyond in terms of forest cover). Mr. Magner refers to this land as 'suitable forestry land', apparently ignoring the fact that it is High Nature Value land, without which we as an Irish people would lose even more of our native flora and fauna - as has been the case over the past number of decades when the same type of land has been drained and planted with Sitka Spruce and other non-native commercial plantations.

The Irish Farmers Journal article points to a line on a guidebook to birds in Ireland, published over 30 years ago in 1981, and takes from this that forestry is the saviour of Hen Harriers and there should be more of it. He says forestry is "long regarded as the greatest land use to conserve the hen harrier". According to Mr. Magner, the forest plantations (which are home to high densities of hooded crows, magpies, fox and pine marten) provided refuge from predators! Mr. Magner infers that had land remained open and had not been planted, the Hen Harrier would have become extinct in Ireland. Harriers are a bird of open country but perhaps Mr. Magner (a forestry consultant) knows their ecology and evolution better than Robert Simmons who wrote the book "Harriers of the World" or the late great Donald Watson (author of "The Hen Harrier", who wrote about the destruction of Hen Harrier habitat by forestry. Numerous peer-reviewed and published scientific papers, research theses and books outlining the clear negative impacts of forestry on upland birds like Hen Harriers are ignored in order to carry the point that Mr. Magner wishes to convey from the outset. This is misleading to readers who might not be otherwise informed.

It would be interesting to know Mr. Magner's thoughts on why the Hen Harrier population has crashed from 250-300 pairs in the 1970s (Watson, 1977, The Hen Harrier, Poyser Monograph) to just 128 pairs in 2010 (Ruddock et al., 2012, Irish Birds) - seeing as forestry, being the 'saviour' of Hen Harriers in Ireland has increased greatly in the same time...being planted on the habitat that Hen Harriers and various other now red listed species depend on.

Should anyone have any observations on the article in question, the editor of the Irish Farmer's Journal is Justin McCarthy -

In addition to Mr. Magner's unbalanced pieces, the editor has previously published letters from foresters advocating the benefits of commercial forestry to Hen Harriers and general bad press about the conservation of the Hen Harrier. It would be interesting to see if he is willing to present any alternative views.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Heather and Miranda the closest to each other they have ever been but neither breeding

This week saw Heather stay in Mayo, very much living up to her name by enjoying the heather moorland expanse that she has found in the Lough Conn area.

It also saw Miranda make a move from where she has spent the past months, to head to the Fermanagh/Donegal/Tyrone border, before returning east again into the heartland of Tyrone.

At one stage, the two girls were just over 100km from each other - and for these individuals we know that isn't a gulf in distance. It is the closest to each other that they have ever been, even though they have both found the same places (specific patches in the Lough Neagh area and NW Mayo).

It is clear at this stage that neither Miranda nor Heather are breeding.

It is vital that the females throughout Ireland that are breeding have a successful breeding season. Literally one should never count their chickens til they have hatched...or fledged in the case of Hen Harriers as the high risk of nest predation, especially in forest areas is always a concern. Let's wish them all the best in 2014.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Heather on an incredible new journey

Heather has made massive movements in the past 20 days and has found the exact location where Miranda spent the winter

To say that Hen Harriers never cease to amaze is an understatement. Heather had made her way back home, back to the heather slopes from where she started out in life last summer. In the meantime, she had been from the top to the bottom of the country and it seemed natural that upon returning home, she might settle back to the familiar mountain tops and farmland of East Kerry. What would not have been expected would have been a sudden move to Kilkenny, followed by a 212km leg (in a straight line, in Hen Harrier terms probably at least 400km of flying) to Mayo! And not just anywhere in Mayo, but the exact spot where Miranda from Scotland spent the entire winter up until just over a month ago. Imagine if the two famous girls had met each other!! As I say, Hen Harriers never cease to amaze. How did Heather find the exact same spot in the expanse of moorland that exists in NW Mayo? At the start of last autumn/winter, how did she find the roost in South Cork where she found other birds to stay with and learn from in her first and most testing months of independence? Last data shows Heather to visit the Céide Fields and there is nothing to say that she has found her destination yet, if she has one...

Heather finds the same ground as Miranda, though Miranda is now in County Antrim

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Females settle down to nesting - what of Heather and Miranda?

When last updated, Heather had made her way back to her native Kingdom of Kerry. Well quite a lot has happened since and quite a lot of ground has been covered by Heather (the story of her life so far). Just one day was spent in Kerry before she returned east to rest between the Ballyhoura and Galtee Mountains. She spent the best part of the last two weeks at one site in particular, but as a visual on Heather has not been gained, it is not possible to say whether she has been hanging around with a settled pair (as was the case in the Ballyhouras) or whether she has found a boyfriend all of her own. The latest location data for Heather showed she had travelled all the way west again to the Abbeyfeale/Mountcollins area of West Limerick, before switching back east again. It is safe to assume at this stage that Heather is not settled and is not nesting, unlike other females. With limited habitat available to Hen Harrier pairs, it appears very difficult for a young female Hen Harrier to find a place of her own - unlike Scotland where Grainne and Hattie now seem well settled, and only a couple of kilometres from each other.

Miranda is still in Northern Ireland, but as with Heather there has been no visual so it is not possible to say whether she is paired up. She does however appear more settled than Heather and is remaining faithful to the one spot. Fingers crossed that she is breeding and may hopefully add to the population here yet!

Heather's movements of the past 10 days

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Heather comes home!

After an epic journey that took her from the bottom to the top of the country and back again, Heather has made it home!!!

On Sunday night, she roosted just 19km from where she was born and upon waking, proceeded to travel west towards her native Mount Eagle. She continued on towards Ballybunion (hey, it was a nice day for the beach!) and her last known fix was by the Stack's Mountains, the same upland range and Special Protection Area for breeding Hen Harriers from where she started out in life just last summer.

In Heather's short time to date, she has been in no fewer than 16 counties - Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Laois, Offaly, Kildare, Wexford, Dublin, Meath, Louth, Down, Armagh, Cavan and Westmeath.

Imagine the stories she would have to tell from her experiences - from leaving her native Mount Eagle and family, to establishin her first home range in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains (including a fly over Croke Park!), roosting in Oilseed Rape fields in Meath, the bogs of Lough Neagh or by the Atlantic cliffs of South Cork. She is now home in Kerry and you can continue to follow her fortunes on and

Heather's parents are back in breeding mode again this season.

Miranda is still in North Antrim.

Go néirí libh go léir!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

This week's movers...

All four females 20 April 2014

The big news from the satellite tracked birds this week was undoubtedly that of Miranda's movements towards Scotland...or at least so it seemed midweek when she was right on the north coast of Antrim and even Rathlin Island - literally looking across at Scotland on a fine day during this present spell of lovely weather. However, she has stuck on in Ireland and is currently around the very same area as she spent some time in October (click here for information). She is around 200km from her sister Gráinne and neighbour Hattie in Langholm, Scotland, but this as we know is a journey that a young harrier would be well capable of. However, do the "Irish" males have one last opportunity to persuade her to stay in Ireland?! It is interesting that apart from the Isle of Man, Antrim is the only established and extant breeding area that Miranda would have passed through on her epic journey from home so far.

Heather may not  yet be as fully settled as things appear from the satellite data. She has still to be seen in the flesh in the Ballyhouras and so it is not possible to say if she is with a male. During the week she flew to Limerick City and back to the Ballyhouras again, in the process coming very close to where her sister Sally died in August (see here).

Interestingly, Miranda visited the same part of Lough Neagh during the week as Heather visited in late August. The mixing of individuals across a shared landscape is being revealed by this pioneering research using satellite technology in both Ireland and Britain. There is no doubt that there is a metapopulation, whereby what happens to Hen Harriers and their habitat or welfare in Ireland can impact on "British" birds and vice versa.

Miranda's current view in Antrim

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 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

As normal with Heather and Miranda, Golden Eagle seen at Hen Harrier roost this weekend

Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl, both share similar habitats
Heather and Miranda are still at their respective territories in Cork and Mayo. Both travel up to 10km each day from their roost in search of food, often tracing the same flights on different days. They know where the best places are for hunting and they know where the safest spots are for sleeping each night. They have both done very well in their first winters to have survived, especially considering the memorable storms and rainfall that we have had over the past couple of months.

Over the weekend a Golden Eagle was seen at a roost in North County Clare. Over the years, every single Irish bird of prey has been seen by volunteers on the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey. Whether our smallest bird of prey, the Merlin, plucking a single starling out of a murmuration of 5000, a Marsh Harrier flapping over potential prey in the reeds, a Short-eared Owl quartering a bog or a White-tailed Sea Eagle perched high on a tree, there have been some spectacular and memorable moments on the survey over the years, and much interesting and important information gained.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Wing Tagged Birds provide really interesting info!

A young male, wing tagged in West Clare in 2008
Wing Tagging began in Ireland in 2006 as a pilot project between the National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Irish Raptor Study Group. Since then much has been learned from simple colours on the birds, identifying what year they were born, where they were born and which individual they are. More on wing tagging can be found on this blog by clicking here: Wing Tagging

Over the weekend, three sightings of wing tagged Hen Harriers have come to light. One of a bird born in the Slieve Blooms in 2013, now at South Wexford after arriving with a companion to add to two other harriers that have been at the roost all winter long. The interesting thing about this is that another roost in North Wexford, which has held 2 harriers heretofore, including a 2013 Slieve Blooms wing tagged bird, now apparently has no harriers. So did the two from the North Wexford roost travel together to the South Wexford roost? This is highly possible if not indeed likely and would lend further credence to the hypothesis that Heather our satellite tagged bird from Kerry, travelled from Northern Ireland to South Cork with a colleague (see previous posts in September 2013).

Another very exciting potential find through wing tags came from Scotland, where what sounds like a female Hen Harrier with a left green tag was seen near Glasgow. As with all sightings, quality control was applied and there is a very good chance that this indeed was a Hen Harrier from Ireland, wing tagged in 2008. In 2008, a female from West Clare was seen in NE Antrim and again in SW Scotland so is this the same individual?

Finally, Heather and Miranda are still at their home ranges in Cork and Mayo respectively. Lets hope for an improvement in the weather. It is very tough for all widlife.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Spring is here! ...ish

Spring is here...

well technically it's here! Driving a 4x4 through the flooded roads around the Burren this evening was great fun as I winded my way towards a roost site. The roost site, naturally, was almost completely flooded also. However, there was a patch of reeds that were slightly elevated and this is where I watched a male and a female Hen Harrier return to spend the night, surrounded by Mallard, Grey Herons, Swans and Water Rail. A sparrowhawk hunting small birds added some further spark to the evening at this wonderful wetland site.

So many people turned out across the country over the weekend for the co-ordinated winter roost watch date (IHHWS) and had their own similar experiences, making the most of what this time of the year has to offer before it all changes again. Of course if you were unable to get to your local roost or to check for new roosts, you still have time to do so for this month and for next month.

Heather and Miranda, our satellite tracked stars are still in Cork and Mayo respectively. Heather was today hunting a new area 6km SE of her roost. She typically uses a 10km radius of an area for hunting and this information is vitally important to learn about the habitat use of a young Hen Harrier.

Come this time next month please God we'll be still following Heather and Miranda but who knows by then where they will be!

Spring will be well and truly here by then!

See for what a Hen Harrier's eye view of the Burren today

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Heather - A day in the life. Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey February Watch

Heather started out this morning in Glengarriff and continued east until back in more familiar territory 
Heather left her North Cork roost over the weekend - she returned to her South Cork coast roost where she had been from September to mid December. This morning (21 January), Heather gets up from roost in Glengarriff, right on the west Coast of Cork, the best part of 100km from where she was on Sunday! When she gets up and starts travelling east, she does not stop. She keeps going. Clocking up 145km in straight line distance in just a few hours, to go where? Right back to where she started in the first place - North Cork. Without the satellite tag data we would have had no idea of the extraordinary movements of this single extraordinary young female Hen Harrier, even in the space of a day.
This goes to show the importance of conducting roost watches in a co-ordinated way, on the day if possible, so that we do not double count the same bird in different locations and so that we can determine if there are movements of birds between roosts.
So, lets all give it one big effort on the 1st of February for next month's coordinated roost watch date!
That is a Saturday. Try your best to get out to your nearest roost on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
February has traditionally seen a peak of activity at roosts and is of course one of the last opportunities many of us will get to see Hen Harriers in our locality before they return to their territories for the breeding season.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Just when you think you're getting to know Hen Harriers, they show you how much is yet to be learned

After many priviliged years of watching and working with Hen Harriers since a young age, the only thing that this blogger can say for sure about this magnificent and often enigmatic species is:
"Never say never and never say always!"

A male Hen Harrier glides gracefully at a winter roost in Kerry as a surveyor looks on in search of harriers!
Hen Harriers continuously show us how much we have yet to learn about them
 This weekend saw visits to the farmers that look after the fields that Heather hunts on a daily basis, catching rats and mice in amongst the stubble fields and oil seed rape. It was important to let the farmers know all about Heather's amazing travels since she left her nest in Kerry last summer, visiting so many different places since including Wicklow, Meathe, Lough Neagh, South Cork and more. Oftentimes, scientific conservation research can leave the most important factor out of the equation - the person who looks after the habitat. In this case, it was also important to see if the farmers could adopt a safe practice in regard to rodent control around the farm. This is just one of the many applications to which the satellite data derived from Heather's tag can be put to direct consaervation use.

After visiting the farmers, it was off to an elevated vantage point in the mountains to see if we could see her come into roost as she has done night after night for the past month. Four of the finest volunteers on the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey watched in anticipation of her slender wings held in a shallow 'v' shape glide into roost. Waiting, waiting waiting... Heather did not appear, nor did any of the 4-5 other harriers that have joined her here since she arrived over a month ago. So where was she? Where were they all? How did they all decide that on this particular night, they would roost elsewhere? We have so much to learn.

Just how much we have yet to learn was brought right home when the satellite data from Heather's tag came in that evening. She was back at her roost on the south coast of Cork, over 50km away! She spent 3 months here from September to December, but had opted to travel further north to where she has spent the past month. So why the turn around? Will she stay at her roost in South Cork? Will she move on again? Have the others joined her? Heather's travels continue to astound!

Go on Heather!! :-)

It is funny to think that the intrepid four travelled some distance to see Heather, yet all the time she was very close to the homes of three of the surveyors back in South Cork!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Heather and Miranda survive the storms

Both Heather and Miranda are still at their home ranges in North Cork and North West Mayo respectively.

The weather since the Christmas period has been shockingly bad, with stormy wet weather surely not helping matters for Hen Harriers.

It is interesting to see Heather's daily hunting routine, travelling from her roost in a mountain area dominated by forestry to hunt an area of tillage fields approximately 6km away - clearly preferring this to what surrounds her in her roost. Perhaps if the roost which was once all heather moorland was not planted with forestry, Heather would not have to travel as far to find food. The pressures on the uplands are being shown by Heather's movements. Miranda uses the blanket bogs of NW Mayo daily to find food.

Scoil Ruáin of Killenaule, Co. Tipperary made it to the main event of the BT Young Scientist Competition 2014. An interview with Lee Warner who undertook this socio-economic appraisal of what is happening in the Hen Harrier Special Protection Areas can be heard at Hen Harrier interview at the BT Young Scientist Finals, RDS, Dublin, 2014