A female Barn Owl chick, from the only known tree nest in Co. Kerry, about 10 days from fledging. Near Tralee (M.O'Clery).
Barn owls can nest in hollow cavities in trees although this type of nest site accounts for only about 5% of all known nest sites nationally. The percentage is likely to be somewhat higher in reality as tree nest sites are extremely difficult to detect, and most survey effort necessarily concentrates on ruined or derelict buildings. Co. Kerry had no known active tree nests last year, but another has just been found, near Tralee. There were at least two chicks present, though one or two more might be further inside the cavity. A nest camera will help solve that question in the coming days.
The only Barn Owl tree nest currently known in Co. Kerry. The nest entrance is the large cavity at the top of the nearest ladder. The cavity drops down inside the hollow trunk for about 2 metres. At least two chicks were present (M.O'Clery).
Male Barn Owl, near Dingle, 7th July 2014 (Michael O'Clery).
Ringing of Barn Owls in Kerry over the past three days has yielded mixed results. Many traditional nests are empty, no doubt victims of last springs' record low temperatures and the resulting worst breeding season in many years. However, wherever the owls survived, they have done remarkably well this season, with several broods of four chicks.
The spread of the egg-laying dates of Barn Owls has been unusual this year. While one brood near Barraduff has already fledged (70+ days), we discovered a nest near Dingle on 9th July where the female was still sitting on seven eggs. Five chicks in one brood has yet to be recorded in Kerry, but perhaps this nest site will be the first.
Full results will be posted later. See also the Irish Raptor Blog HERE
Female Barn Owl, near Dingle, 7th July 2014 (Michael O'Clery).
Ok, ok... They don't have feathers, but they do have wings, they do lay eggs, they fly, they have a beak* and they do look nice. Butterflies and dragonflies provide a colourful flying distraction for many birders during the summer doldrums.
* Just made that up. They don't have a beak.
Recently, two new species of butterfly have been added to the Dingle Peninsula list. A small colony of Marsh Fritillary was discovered near Baile an Reannaigh last year, while Dark-green Fritillary was seen and photographed at Glanfahan just last week.
For all things butterfly, if you are interested, see www.butterflyireland.com. Check out their excellent distribution maps and see if you can add any others to the Kerry list.
Marsh Fritillary, Baile an Reannaigh, summer 2013 (Courtesy of Jill Crosher).
Larval web for the caterpillars of the Marsh Fritillary, Baile an Reannaigh, summer 2014 (Courtesy of Jill Crosher).
Some footage from a Barn Ow nest box site on the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry, over the past few nights. There are four chicks within, the oldest about 25 days, the youngest about 15 days old. The male and female are busy feeding them each night, and the hunting is good... (You can hit the 'four-arrows' icon in the bottom right corner for a full screen view)
Barn Owl nest camera, Co. Kerry (Video: M.O'Clery, filmed under licence from NPWS).
Some things to look out for...
The male delivers prey in the early part of the video, but note the paleness of the outer wing. He is easily distinguishable from the female who appears toward the end of the video - she has more barring on the secondaries (outer wing) and primaries (the longest wing feathers) as well as a more heavily barred tail. Not all pairs are so readily sexed, as there are some females which are only faintly barred and some slightly barred males, but this pair are particularly easy to distinguish.
Notice that both the female and male are already ringed with a small metal band on their legs. An adult male and an adult female were ringed at this site in 2012, and a different female was ringed in 2013. It would be fantastic to discover if these two are the same individuals. We hope to be able to answer that question by trapping the adults at the nest site when ringing takes place in one or two weeks time.
The last clip shows the female outside the box, but the chorus of hisses and bill snaps is from the chicks, who either heard or saw something which alarmed them, perhaps even the female arriving at the nest.
Hunting seems to be good. One Bank Vole is offered to a chick, but it turns out it already has one. In another part of the clip, you can see the chick eat one item, while another lies uneaten at its feet. This surplus is often consumed by the chicks during the following day.
Though last year saw the loss of several sites in Kerry, Barn Owls that are breeding this year seem to be doing very well, with brood sizes larger than normal. No doubt the settled weather over the past two months has helped greatly. More info on Barn Owls and other raptors on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.
White-tailed Eagle, South Kerry, 21st June 2014 (Pat McDaid).
This female's first mate was found dead in 2007, and her second was also found dead after hitting a power line in January of this year. She has since paired with a third male, though they have not bred this summer.
Why is it that Whitethroats are so widespread in Ireland, yet stop just short of the Kerry border?
Take a look at the national picture on the map below... Whitethroats are breeding pretty much all over Ireland though, apart from small parts of Mayo, the stand-out blank area on the distribution map is pretty much the whole of Kerry.
Why would it be that at several spots in east Kerry (e.g., Ballydesmond and Brosna), there are none on the Kerry side of the border, yet just a few miles away in Cork, in seemingly identical habitat, they are present and reasonably common?
The Atlas map of Whitethroat, with an obvious gap in Kerry.
In summer 2013 there was a refreshing change to this distribution pattern when many more Whitethroats than usual were seen in Kerry. The map below shows just how many, and hopes were high that the species had finally 'colonised' the county once and for all.
Whitethroat records for summer 2014.
Not so, it seems... Despite visiting many of the sites where breeding birds were present in 2013, Whitethroats have been largely absent this summer, so far. It seems the colonisation of the county is not complete.
Whitethroat records this summer, by 12th June 2014.
If you see any Whitethroats in Kerry this summer, do let us know.