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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Storm Petrel ringing recovery

One of the Storm Petrels ringed at the Magharees in the early hours of 11th July last was re-trapped and again released near Belmullet, Co. Mayo, on 24th July - last Sunday (see post below HERE).

Storm Petrel, Magharees, 11th July 2016 (M.O'Clery).

About one in a hundred ringed Storm Petrels are ever recorded again, often many years later, but this was a particularly quick return from the 90 or so birds ringed on the Magharees just two weeks ago. The bird is still out there, and might yet be re-trapped again.

Storm Petrel, Magharees, 11th July 2016 (M.O'Clery).

Monday, 18 July 2016

Barn Owl nests, created by Jackdaws

The blocked chimneys of derelict cottages, houses and castles form about a third of known Barn Owl nest sites in Kerry. The chimneys are often blocked as a result of Jackdaws adding sticks to the cavity for their own nests. Here's a couple of examples from recent weeks.

John Lusby from BirdWatch Ireland inspecting a nest in the chimney of a ruined house in SW Kerry. The pile of Jackdaw sticks reached some seven feet (2.5m) on top of which Barn Owls nested on a broad, flat platform inside the chimney, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Blocked chimney of a derelict cottage with two Barn Owl chicks, north Kerry, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Chimney nest with three Barn Owl chicks, SW Kerry, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

There is much more on this on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Short-eared Owl, Farranfore

Cleared for take-off. Short-eared Owl, Kerry Airport, Farranfore, 16th July 2016 (Ed Carty).

Short-eared Owl, Kerry Airport, Farranfore, 16th July 2016 (Ed Carty).

The heavily moulting wings and tail makes this is an adult bird.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

How are Barn Owls doing in Kerry this summer?

There is a massive effort underway this summer by BirdWatch Ireland to monitor as many Barn Owl sites as possible and Co. Kerry, being one of the strongholds of the species in Ireland, is getting its fair share of the effort.

Male Barn Owl outside his nest box near Farranfore, Co. Kerry. There were two chicks ringed at this site in July (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

So far, observations of this years Barn Owls sites has shown that:

• Average egg-laying dates are one to three weeks later than average (probably due to a very chilly April).

• Brood sizes are low, with generally only one or two chicks per nest.

• Occupancy of sites is generally good, with most 'traditional' sites still active.

• At least six new sites have been discovered so far, meaning that the number of known Barn Owl sites in Kerry - around 50 - is now greater than ever.

• Male chicks are outnumbering females this summer by a ratio of about three to one (normally the sex of chicks is 50:50 male/female).

One of the few nests in Kerry this summer with three chicks, this one down a chimney shaft of an abandoned mansion, south Kerry, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Barn Owl nest site, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

There is more work yet to be done, but the season seems to be generally a good one. No bumper crop of youngsters this summer after the bonanza of last years record nesting season, but the generally high level of occupancy of sites does bode well. Despite the lateness of the season, if the weather in August and September is reasonable, there is every chance that even the late fledging chicks will be in good shape to disperse away from the nest sites and survive the winter ahead.

One of the two chicks ringed at a nest box site on the Dingle Peninsula, July 2016 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

More on this years breeding season on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE

Monday, 11 July 2016

Storm Petrel ringing on the Magharees

For Storm Petrel ringing on a mainland site you need a loud amplifier, a recording of Storm Petrel 'song' on constant loop, a mist net, and a qualified ringer, in this case, Declan Manley from Co. Offaly. In the course of full darkness on the night of 6th/7th July - barely 4 hours at this time of year - he caught and ringed 90 Storm Petrels from a small headland overlooking the Magharee Islands. The islands host about 1100 nests on several of the islands, with the main numbers nesting in burrows under turf clumps on Illaunammil and in stone walls on Illauntannig.

Storm Petrel, Magharees, 7th July 2016 (Michael O'Clery).

Storm Petrels only return to their nesting colonies on offshore islands in full darkness and will otherwise avoid land, even on nights with a bright moon. The reasons are simple. On land they are slow and vulnerable, and prone to being eaten by gulls. The gulls however, are not equipped to see in full darkness, so that is when the petrels make a run for it to feed chicks, or swap over for incubating duties on the nest.

Storm Petrel, Magharees, 7th July 2016 (Michael O'Clery).

Although the tape of Storm Petrel song was probably not audible (to humans) on the breeding colonies on the Magharee islands over a kilometre away, Storm Petrels will often fly close inshore on these dark, moonless night, as evidenced by several being caught in the mist net within a few seconds of the song being played. 

Storm Petrel, Magharees, 7th July 2016 (Michael O'Clery).

Younger birds wander throughout the Storm Petrel's range in the Atlantic seeking out their own colony. Most of these long-lived birds will not breed until their fourth or fifth year and spend much of their early years 'visiting' other colonies in summer, and it is mostly these younger, wandering birds, Declan believes, which were mist-netteed and ringed. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Magharees tern numbers tumble

What's happened to the terns on the Magharee islands? A visit there on 7th June showed that numbers of nesting terns on several of the islands have plummeted. On Illauntannig in particular, where normally up to 50 or so pairs of Arctic Tern nest, only 7-8 pairs were present. 

Tern nesting area (foreground) on Illauntannig, a previous Arctic Tern and Little Tern colony, now with only two pairs of Little Tern.

Arctic Tern, Illaunturlough, 7th June 2016 (all photos: Michael O'Clery).

Arctic Tern, Illauntannig, 7th June 2016.

In recent years Common Terns had increased, from two pairs on Illauntannig in 2003 to a peak of 38 in 2007. In June 2016 only two non-breeding birds were seen.

Common Tern, Illauntannig, 7th June 2016 (all photos: Michael O'Clery).

Perhaps most seriously of all, there were only two, possibly three, pairs of nesting Little Terns on Illauntannig. The lowest previous count at this site - the only breeding site on the entire SW coast of Ireland - was of 18 pairs in 2007. In most summers in the past ten years, 20 to 30 pairs have been the norm.

Little Tern, Illauntannig, 7th June 2016.

By way of something of a caveat, only four of the main islands were checked, and it is possible that the Arctic and Common terns have relocated to other island, e.g., Illaunammil, and the remote Illaunnabarna, both of which have held important numbers in the past. For Little Terns however, the only island with suitable shingle beach nesting habitat is on Illauntannig, so it is most unlikely to be nesting undetected elsewhere on the island group.

There are also natural fluctuations at most tern nesting sites around Ireland and, as not all islands were visited this June, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions about this years apparent decline, but for Illantannig, these are the lowest counts of nesting tern numbers ever.

Rock Dove, Illauntannig, 7th June 2016.

Common Gull numbers are down on Illauntannig too, with only about 30 pairs nesting at one colony on the island, when in previous years up to around 80 at two to three colonies has been the norm. None were nesting this summer on Doonagaun, Illaunboe or Illaunanoon where 3, 11 and 35-40 pairs respectively nested in 2007.

Common Gulls, Illauntannig, 7th June 2016.

There have been no formal surveys done of the Magharees island group since the last full survey in 2006 and 2007 (see the Dingle Peninsula Bird Report, 2005–2007), but with a national seabird survey ongoing in 2016 and 2017 the visit on 7th June shows that a full survey of the island group in summer 2017 must be a priority. 

The weather has been particularly benign this spring and early summer and landings on the islands have been relatively easy for boaters, kayakers, jet skiers and the like. There have been issues on Illauntannig before about human disturbance to the bird colonies, and it is possible that pressure from the growing number of visitors is affecting the success of vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Curlew Sandpiper at Blennerville

Adult Curlew Sandpiper, with Knot, Blennerville, 24th June 2016 (David O'Connor).

The first 'autumn' migrant of the year in Kerry.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

New record for oldest Barn Owl

Following the post HERE on Ireland's oldest Barn Owl from summer 2015, the longevity record has been broken once more by another Kerry bird.

Ireland's oldest wild Barn Owl, near Tralee, Co. Kerry, 20th June 2016 (Photo: M.O'Clery, Under licence from NPWS).

This ringed male took up residence at a nest box near Tralee, after the previous veteran male was killed on the Tralee Bypass (see this post HERE), and it was finally possible to read the ring number a few days ago.

He turns out to have been ringed as a chick at a site in east Kerry, about 20 km away, in summer 2008. At eight years of age, this is now the longest-lived wild Barn Owl so far recorded in Ireland.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Puffin Island

Puffin Island is a BirdWatch Ireland reserve, just 250m off the Iveragh Peninsula and is about 1.5 km long and 0.7 km wide. The only inhabitants are the tens of thousands of seabirds which make their home on the steep slopes and cliffs.

Puffin Island, from the summit, looking SW toward the Skelligs. The slopes on this western side hold most of the 5,000–10,000 Atlantic Puffin burrows (All photos: M.O'Clery, June 2016. Click the images for a closer view).

The north end of Puffin Island has more gentle slopes, with hundreds of Manx Shearwater burrows occupying the areas with the white Sea Campion flowers.

Precise numbers of seabirds present here are not accurately known, but the best recent estimate is of 5,000–10,000 pairs of Atlantic Puffin nesting each year, although the island should perhaps be named as 'Manx Shearwater Island', with some 20,000 pairs now estimated for this nocturnal species. The shearwater colony was considered to be the second largest in Ireland after Inishtooskert, in the Blaskets group, after a major survey in 2001, but the current estimate shows the size of the colony had been hugely underestimated. There is an ongoing national seabird survey which might soon reveal more about the true numbers on each of these islands.

Interestingly, the two species - Puffin and Manx Shearwater - often directly compete for burrows, and though Puffins win out on some islands, each can usurp the other, depending on the location and geography of the island. Certainly, on Puffin Island, the steeper, rockier slopes were the main areas for Puffin, while less vegetated, gentler slopes and summits were occupied by the Manx. There could be an interesting study to be done on the clashes and fluctuating fortunes of the two species along the borders between the colonies.

Atlantic Puffin, Puffin Island, June 2016.

The Puffins on Puffin Island are noticeably warier than those on the nearby Skelligs, almost certainly because they are so accustomed to human visitors there.

Atlantic Puffin, Puffin Island, June 2016.

Puffins can be aged by the number of grooves on the bill, particularly the upper mandible. By their third year, they have one and sometimes a poorly defined second, and after their fourth year, when fully adult, they have two or three grooves. Also, the red of the bill in mid-summer is bright crimson on adults, more subdued red on younger birds. The bird below is an adult at least 4 years of age. They can live to be 20 years old, though the oldest yet recorded was 36 years of age in 2007 (see here).

Three grooves on the red of the upper mandible make this a fully adult Atlantic Puffin, at least in its fourth summer, Puffin Island, June 2016.

Most of the eastern and northern slopes of the island are dominated by Manx Shearwater burrows and walking can be tricky in places, with the ground honeycombed by their burrows.

The entire eastern side of the island is honeycombed with thousands of Manx Shearwater burrows.

The 40,000 or so individual Manx Shearwaters which nest on the island are either feeding far out to sea or incubating eggs deep in their burrows during the day.

Other species which nest here are a few hundred pairs each of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot, several pairs of Chough, and up to 5,000 pairs of Storm Petrel. Source BWI

Rock Pipit and Wheatear are the two common passerines on the island.

There has been a Mink on the island in recent years, photographed by a visiting Dutch photographer in summer 2010, though an effort to keep the island predator-free has been made by BirdWatch Ireland, with some success. A single male Mink was trapped in 2011 and though none have been recorded since, there is a need for constant vigilance as this voracious predator would play havoc with burrow-nesting birds. Mink have been reported recently on at least two of the larger Blasket islands, Great Blasket and Insishnabro, and the ramifications of this are serious, as it involves multiple sightings of several individuals. Mink are good swimmers, so it would seem nearby Inishvickillane could also at risk. Attention urgently needs to be paid to eradicating it from the island group.

There are occasional trips around Puffin Island which can be arranged from Glen Pier, near Finian's Bay, or from Portmagee.