Anyone birding along the coast at this time of year will see plenty of Curlew. Chances are though, they are Scottish- or Scandinavian-born birds, perhaps even Russian, failed breeders, or first summer birds not yet ready to return north to breed. Take a trip inland to find nesting birds in Kerry in early summer and it's a very different story.
Two Curlews, over potential nesting habitat, Stack's Mountains, May 2015. They presumably failed, as they were not seen again at this site in subsequent visits (M.O'Clery).
There is an ongoing national survey of nesting Curlew in Ireland, organised by BirdWatch Ireland, and, with 2015 fieldwork complete in Kerry, it looks like our worst fears are confirmed.
From just 8-9 potential breeding pairs found during early survey work in May, mainly in the species' stronghold in the Stacks' Mountains, only three were confirmed to have raised young. For a formerly widespread and common breeding species to suffer such a decline is yet another indicator of the decline in our biodiversity. The Curlew looks set to be lost to Kerry as a breeding bird, along with other ground-nesting waders we have already lost, such as Redshank, Dunlin and Lapwing.
Curlew, on the coast, near Castlegregory (M.O'Clery).
The causes are yet to be fully determined, but observations from the Kerry survey this year show that the successful pairs were on the few remaining large areas of intact, flat, wet bog. That so few suitable nesting areas now remain in Kerry is due to a combination of turf-cutting, forestry and wind farms. These factors combine to dry out bogs, encourage predators of Curlew chicks, such as Hooded Crows and Ravens, and allow more human access and intrusion into previously largely undisturbed areas of bog. Most large bogs in the Stack's are now fragmented and unsuitable for nesting Curlew, hemmed in by vast swathes of coniferous forest and wind farms. Hopefully, with all the survey results analysed, the local factors and the overall national picture will reveal some way that our nesting Curlews can be saved.
For more information, have a look at the BirdWatch Ireland website Curlew Appeal HERE
There has been a recent series of reports concerning serious attacks by ‘giant seagulls’ in Co. Kerry. One incident, reported in the online version of the Irish Times last week and widely reported in the national media, revealed that a ‘giant seagull’ had attacked a motorbike rider, near Caherciveen, in a ’Stuka-bomber-like attack’. Another claim was that several sheep were attacked and killed by marauding gangs of killer gulls near Anascaul.
Following the media attention, further details are now emerging of a whole series of other dangerous incidents caused by gulls in Kerry in the past week… • A Great Black-backed Gull was reported on Wednesday to have ordered a full dinner, two lattes and a pint of Guinness at Sammy’s Cafe at Inch, then left - without paying. • On Sunday, in Listowel, two Black-headed Gulls were reported to have accosted and threatened an elderly gentleman into revealing his pin number. • Gardai reported that, at some time on Tuesday evening last, an out-of-control flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls broke into three holiday homes in Castlegregory, stealing all the canned sardines and hiding the batteries from the TV remote control. • And, in a more sinister development, a second year Common Gull at Blennerville on Thursday swooped down and stole a mobile phone from the very hand of a pram-pushing mother of three and, not only used up all her credit on a gambling website, but also deleted several really useful apps, before dropping it into the canal. The Healey-Raes were quick to jump on the bandw… comment, stating, “Particularly in light of the recent referendum, we believe there should be no discrimination in Kerry, so we will be proposing a cull of ALL seagulls, of whatever species, giant or little.” Not a moment too soon. Be careful people. It’s dangerous out there.
Abietinus Chiffchaff, Ross Castle, 23rd January 2015 (photo: Barry O'Mahony).
This is the first confirmed abietinus Chiffchaff for Ireland, recently confirmed by DNA sample and ringed at Ross Castle 23rd January 2015. Not what was expected as we were trying to ring the tritis Chiffchaffs that were at this site over the winter months. In the hand, this bird looked like our nominatecollybita Chiffchaff, not the grey and white abietinus birds that we have all been looking for. More to follow, as a paper is in preparation for Irish Birds journal.
The oldest wild Barn Owl ever recorded in Ireland was discovered yesterday, during ringing at a nest site near Castleisland.
John Lusby, Raptor Officer for BirdWatch Ireland, re-trapped this male Barn Owl and discovered the bird was ringed - by him - as a nestling in July 2007, at a nest just outside Tralee, about 13km away.
At seven years of age, this makes it the longest lived wild Irish Barn Owl yet discovered in Ireland.
Seven year-old male Barn Owl, near Castleisland, Co. Kerry, 11th July 2015 (M.O'Clery under licence from NPWS).
More info on this can be seen on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE
See also this post HERE about how long wild Barn Owls can live.
The Red Grouse is a very scarce species in Kerry, with loss of heather moorland habitat to forestry, fires and drainage, compounded by hunting pressure the main causes of a widespread decline. They can however survive for many years in very low densities in areas of suitable habitat.
Male (left) and female Red Grouse, Stack's Mountains, 4th July 205 (Michael O'Clery).
(Click on the photo for a closer look)
Female Red Grouse, Stack's Mountains, 4th July 205 (Michael O'Clery).
Male Red Grouse, Stack's Mountains, 4th July 205 (Michael O'Clery).
The Irish race of Red Grouse, despite the name, is also found in parts of Western Scotland, and is generally paler and more buff-coloured, which is believed to have evolved to camouflage them better on bogs with a higher component of grasses.
This coloration is readily apparent when you compare the birds above, from the Stack's Mountains today, to the male and female below, photographed in Central Scotland last April. There is a lot of individual variation however, and the Irish Red Grouse gene pool has been somewhat diluted by many introductions of Scottish race birds by gun clubs down through the years. Whether it remains a valid sub-species is open to debate but is a question well worth resolving, as Irish grouse, regardless of race, are in serious decline throughout the country and surely deserving of protection.
Male Red Grouse, Cairngorms, Scotland, April 205 (Michael O'Clery).
Female Red Grouse, Cairngorms, Scotland, April 205 (Michael O'Clery).
Things are looking good for the Kerry Barn Owl population so far this summer. Only a few sites have been lost from last year, several new sites have been found, and wherever breeding is taking place, brood sizes are good.
The first recorded brood of 5 chicks in Kerry for at least 8 years was seen yesterday at a traditional site near Tralee. Many other nests have 4 chicks. Most should survive to fledging if the weather stays at least reasonably good.
A young Barn Owl chick at a nest box near Castlemaine, 26th June 2015 (M.O'Clery Under licence from NPWS).
Five Barn Owl chicks at a nest box near Tralee - the first of this size recorded in Kerry in many years, 26th June 2015 (M.O'Clery Under licence from NPWS).
For more on this, see the Irish Raptor Blog posting HERE
Young Kestrels around the country are either close to, or starting to, fledge from their nest sites. At this particular site in south Co. Kerry this morning, three young Kestrels were already mastering the fine art of flying, though with mixed results. They are not straying too far from the nest site - a quarry cliff - because the two adults are still bringing prey deliveries to the nest site. All three youngsters are already masters of the air, swooping, hovering and diving with youthful exuberance. Landings are a little more haphazard however, with several wavering attempts needed for landings on rocky outcrops, and on several occasions, an undignified crash-landing onto a patch of heather.
Juvenile Kestrel, South Kerry (All photos: M.O'Clery, under licence form NPWS).
Above, a young Kestrel, having only just fledged in the last week or so, is already mastering the air. The overall shape is subtly different from adult birds, with a shorter tail and blunter-looking wings. The main flight feathers still have a little more growing to do.
Juvenile Kestrel, South Kerry.
Above, a young Kestrel awaits food from the parents. The young are still making no attempt to hunt, though they must learn soon. Instead, they will rely on their parents for another few weeks, even once the family group moves away from the quarry nest site, though of course they will eventually have to learn to fend for themselves.
Juvenile Kestrel, South Kerry.
Above, a young male Kestrel makes a clumsy attempt to land on a post above the quarry.
Adult female Kestrel, South Kerry.
Above, the adult female Kestrel is looking a little ragged, after raising three hungry chicks. She will have another two or three weeks of hard work before the young start to disperse to find their own food.
Adult male Kestrel, South Kerry.
The adult male is also looking a little worn. Both adults will start to replace their worn feathers in the late summer and autumn, when food is plentiful and the young have gone.
If you see any Kestrel family groups in Kerry in the coming weeks, please do let us know - e-mail the details to this address HERE.