Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey - November 2016

At this time of year, it is awesome and inspiring to see Hen Harriers congregate together at communal roosts. To know that your recording of the roost watches is going directly towards informing the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey gives as much pleasure and satisfaction as watching the birds - especially for those who really care about conservation and the future prospects for the species in Ireland. This is more than just bird watching.

I undertake roost watches for the survey coordinator Dr. Barry O'Donoghue and I, along with a number of other hardy souls, have been watching Hen Harriers for the past 8 winters in the Kerry/Cork/Limerick border area - mountain, bogs and rivers country.

Throughout this season so far, things have been fairly slow, but the past week or so have seen an influx of Hen Harriers to my roosts (possibly from outside of Ireland?). In the three main sites that I watch, I have seen a total of 17 birds in the past few days! At one site, there were at least 11 harriers. Awesome and inspiring as I say and a honour to witness.

Female Hen Harrier inspecting her roost at the November IHHWS roost watch

Watching the harriers pass around together over the bogs on these winter evenings makes me forget almost everything from the day of work or normal everyday happenings. However I am often jerked back to reality with the realisation that these sites are all experiencing different threats and pressures and a number of sites that I used to see harriers at are no longer occupied. Ironically one of the threats in recent times seems to be from 'birders' who have been exposing the location of a roost by their words and actions. While some sites can suit wider public attention and public knowledge, it is imperative that the sanctity and confidentiality of most roosts is upheld (especially in areas where Hen Harriers have been shot) and that people claiming to be in it for the birds actually consider their actions and impacts. Even well meaning people can inadvertently disturb these sensitive birds - especially when no care is taken to maintain a low profile (standing out in the middle of the roost is obviously not a good idea!). Harriers have enough problems as it is!

I look forward to continuing to contribute to the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey as I have been for many years and deriving pleasure from watching the birds, and also from the knowledge that my records are informing a broader picture as to what is happening to the Hen Harrier population in Ireland.