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