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