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