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Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dotterel, Mount Brandon

Kilian Kelly climbed Mount Brandon today with a few friends, and was puzzled by a strange call coming distantly from the ridge between Brandon summit and Brandon Peak. Although it was windy and the bird was some way off, the recording was enough to later identify it as a Dotterel call, or more accurately, a disjointed song phrase. The full song of Dotterel is a persistent "Pwit", Pwit, Pwit" quicker than one a second and often lasting 20 seconds or more. The recording of the song on Mt. Brandon is of a brief phase of three calls, a short gap, and three more.

If the player doesn't work in your browser, you can download it from HERE.
Dotterel call, Mount Brandon, 20th May 2017 (Kilian Kelly).

The cadence and tone is similar to eg., that of a Dotterel recorded in Sweden. Hit the play button below to hear it...

Dotterel call, Sweden, Rob van Bemmelen, XC322091. 
Accessible at

There are lots more example of Dotterel calls and song on the excellent xeno-canto website HERE.

There were five Dotterel seen on the summit of Mount Brandon on 23rd April last, almost a month ago, so it is possible they are still present. You can see photos of them HERE. One is shown below.

Five Dotterel, Brandon summit, 23rd April 2017 (Michael Connaughton, See more on the Irish Birding website HERE).

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Kestrel chicks update

A short clip of the young Kestrels in a nest box on the Dingle Peninsula. They're growing fast!

Kestrel nestlings - junior takes a tumble, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).
You can click on the 'four arrows' symbol to see it full size.

More from this nest site today on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

A first-summer bird, going by the bright yellow on the head and throat and the dark forewing.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More from the Kestrel nest box

Female Kestrel at the nest box on the Dingle Peninsula, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Screengrab of female Kestrel inside the nest box, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Footage of the female Kestrel brooding her young chicks can be seen on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

First Kerry Kestrel chicks of the year

The first Kestrel chicks of the year were found today at a nest box on the Dingle Peninsula, and are just a few days old.

Kestrel nest box, Dingle Peninsula, with the chicks just visible near the front of the box (M.O'Clery. Photo taken under licence to NPWS).

More information and a short video clip of the chicks HERE, on the Irish Raptor Blog, and there should be some good footage from this site in the coming weeks.

Four Kestrel chicks, Dingle Peninsula, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery. Photo taken under licence to NPWS).

Visit at dawn to the Magharees

Kayaking out to sea at dawn on a beautiful summer morning is one of life's more memorable undertakings, even with the slight unease and sense of vulnerability at leaving the shore far behind with nothing but a shell of a few millimetres of polypropylene keeping you and your expensive camera gear afloat.

Kayaking out to the islands at dawn (All photos: M.O'Clery, 7th May 2017).

The Magharees are a series of low-lying, generally flat-topped islands 1 to 2 km north and north-west of Castlegregory. They were first fully surveyed for seabirds in 2006 and 2007 (reference below), a census which was the first to cover all nine of the island group as well as three outliers to the east, in Tralee Bay. It was also the first to conduct nocturnal surveys, resulting in a significant discovery, upgrading the estimated Storm Petrel presence from around 50 pairs, to 1,272 Apparently Occupies Sites, fully 1% of the estimated Irish breeding population.

The main islands of the Magharees group (MOC).
(Click on the image for a closer view).

North-west corner of Illauntannig, where the walls used to be.

Unfortunately for the Storm Petrels, the massive storms of winter 2014/15 have destroyed one of their main nesting areas, the stone walls on the north-west perimeter of Illauntannig. The whole coast here has been eroded by about 2m-3m in just a couple of years of bad storms. It's possible the petrels will nest in the walls a little further inland, and a visit later this summer should see if that is the case.

The only house on the Magharees, on Illauntannig.

Even on the sheltered east side of the island, the sandy beach has been recently eroded to the point that, rather than a comfortable buffer of 10-15m of coastal grassland, the beach is now at the outlying walls of the only house on the island.

Common Tern, Illaunturlough.

The Magharee islands are perhaps best known - ornithologically - for its terns. A quick visit last summer saw the worst year in a decade for nesting terns on the main islands (see post HERE), and unfortunately the picture seems not to have improved sine then. Only 10-15 pairs of Arctic Tern, and perhaps one to two pairs of Common Tern were present on this visit. They had not yet laid eggs, but must be about to, so these figures will need confirming a little later in the summer, though it doesn't look good.

Common Tern, Illaunturlough.

Black Guillemots, Inishtooskert.

This is also the time of year when Black Guillemots are displaying at their best, just before egg-laying. The advantage of an early morning visit is seeing the pairs displaying and flying about together in small groups, before going about their business for the day.

Black Guillemot, Illauntannig.

Numbers of pairs seen were on a par with estimated numbers of previous surveys, so at least the Black Guillemots are doing ok.

Dunlin, Illauntannig.

The Magharees islands and adjoining peninsula are a great place to see arctic-nesting waders well into summer. Grey Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Purple Sandpipers are regularly seen well into May, even June. Here, four Dunlin, in immaculate summer plumage, were feeding along the shore. Also seen were eight Purple Sandpipers, six Whimbrel, and three summer-plumaged Sanderling.

We Have a winner!

One of the only species which seems to have undergone an increase on the islands was Lesser-black-backed Gull. The 2006-07 survey found 146-164 pairs, but at least 200 pairs were seen on Illaunammil and Reenfardarrig.

Shags, Illaunturlough

Although 271-284 pairs of Shag were detected on the 2006-07 survey (the highest ever), there seemed to be far fewer now. Nests were not directly checked however, to avoid disturbance, but a more complete count will be needed later in the summer.

Common Gull, Illaunammil. Rather ominously, a bit of what looks like nylon fishing line is hanging out of its mouth... (click the picture for  closer look).

The Magharee islands have been something of a stronghold in the southern half of Ireland for Common Gulls, though this visit showed a drastic reduction in apparent pairs. The large colony of of 38 pairs in 2007 on the south shore of Illauntannig has been abandoned for about four years, but numbers on the other islands visited seem also reduced. Another visit is needed later this season to make sure, but it's not looking good for nesting Common Gulls. The 178-187 pairs recorded in 2006-07 represented an astonishing one fifth of Ireland's breeding pairs, so if this loss of breeding pairs is real, it could be a significant loss.

Oystercatcher, Illaunammil.

Nesting waders, such as Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover, seem to be holding their own. Similar numbers to previous surveys.

Fulmar, Illaunammil.

A great place to see Fulmars flying close by at eye level.

Little Tern pair, Illauntannig.

The jewel in the crown for the Magharee islands must be the nesting Little Terns, one of the rarest breeding seabirds in Ireland. Through the nineties and early noughties, they have varied in numbers from around 15 to 50 pairs on Illauntannig. Last year however, only two to three pairs nested. On this visit, only two to three pairs were again present, though it is still a little early to determine if they will nest yet this year. Courtship is apparent and hopefully egg-laying will follow in the next few days.

Little Tern, Illauntannig.

A beautiful bird. The only colony of this bird in Kerry is hanging on by its fingertips. Little Terns are long-lived birds, and can generally accommodate a bad breeding season or two. But the loss of so many breeding pairs from the Magharee islands recently is surely a matter of concern. 

The causes are a little mysterious. Summer 2016 was a generally poor year for all tern species in Ireland, but two such years in a row are worrying. What is going on here? It seems the nesting beaches have eroded a little, but perhaps not sufficiently to warrant abandonment. The main storm beach on which they have nested in recent years is a little smaller, but similar in character. Disturbance might be an issue, as more human visitors descend on the islands in calm weather, or are there other subtle factors in the waters and fish offshore which are deciding factors?

More to come, as follow-up visits are planned in the coming weeks to try and get some more concrete information.

References: O'Clery M. 2007. Breeding seabirds of the Magharees and related islands, County Kerry, 2006/2007. Irish Birds Volume 8 number 2, pp 179-188. BirdWatch Ireland.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Some migrants at Black Rock

Purple Sandpiper, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

Although some might describe Purple Sandpipers as a somewhat nondescript species, up close they have an exquisite and subtle patterning. But what an extraordinary bird. Lurking under that otherwise modestly-plumaged exterior is an extraordinary engine, resulting in one of the few bird species that regularly cross the Atlantic each spring and autumn. 

Because they nest in the high Canadian Arctic, it is not unusual to see this species well into May in Ireland as the birds are no doubt instinctively aware, their breeding grounds are often under ice and snow well into late spring. An amazing article in the Ardea journal (see below) recently showed the remarkable migration these birds make.

Fifty geolocators attached to Purple Sandpipers wintering in northern Scotland and southwest Ireland (Co. Clare) showed that the spring departure from Scotland and Ireland took place mainly in late May and that the birds staged in Iceland and/or southwest Greenland before reaching their breeding grounds in Arctic Canada, mainly Baffin, Somerset and Devon Islands.

Map of wintering (blue) and breeding (yellow) distribution of Purple Sandpiper. Although it was thought that Irish Purple Sandpipers bred in Scandinavia, or perhaps Iceland, the truth is, they are nesting far across the Atlantic into the heart of Arctic Canda (map adapted from

The return migration from Baffin Island and Labrador took place during late October to early November, and during mid to late December from Greenland, usually in a single trans-Atlantic flight. This ties in nicely with local records from the main wintering area in Kerry - Rough Point and the Magharees - where they are scarce in October and November, but numbers quickly build in December.

No birds staged in Iceland on the return trip, instead the birds made the trip in one enormous flight. The journey from Baffin Island to Scotland and Ireland took about 2.5 days at an average speed of about 1400 km per day. That's an equivalent to us making our way, under our own steam, from Costa's Coffee Shop on The Mall, Tralee, to Costa's Coffee Shop in Madrid Airport, in one day.*

Summers, R.W., Boland, H., Colhoun, K., Elkins, N., Etheridge, B., Foster, S., Fox, J.W., Mackie, K., Quinn, L.R. & Swann, R.L. (2014). Contrasting trans-Atlantic migratory routes of Nearctic Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima associated with low pressure systems in spring and winter. Ardea 102(2): 139–152.

Littoralis or Scandinavian Rock Pipit, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

Wheatear (perhaps 'Greenland Wheatear'), Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

White Wagtail, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

The Wheatear and White Wagtail are also certain to embark on a trans-Atlantic flight of their own. White Wagtails passing through Ireland at this time are thought to nest largely in Iceland (there is also a small outpost of breeding birds in east Greenland), and the 'Greenland Wheatear' in, well, Greenland, but also all over Iceland AND largely shares the breeding areas shown above for Purple Sandpiper in Arctic Canada.

*No sponsorship from Costa's Coffee Shop, in either Tralee or Madrid, was received for this blog post. I asked, but they just laughed in my face. Their coffee isn't all that great anyway.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Iceland Gulls linger

Adult Iceland Gull, Ferriter's Cove, 21st April 2017 (Kilian Kelly).

Adult and first-winter Iceland Gulls, Ferriter's Cove, 21st April 2017 (Kilian Kelly).

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Request for Merlin and Short-eared Owl records

IRD Duhallow RaptorLIFE and BirdWatch Ireland are currently conducting a survey to establish the distribution of breeding Merlin in Duhallow (E Kerry & NW Cork) and the importance of the uplands for this elusive and poorly understood raptor. 

We also hope to gather information on Short-eared Owl in Duhallow to help target survey work to determine if this species is breeding in the region. Both species are difficult to detect and occur in very low densities and therefore we would greatly appreciate any information on both species in the Duhallow area which will help us to identify the most suitable areas to focus survey work.

If possible, we would be grateful to know;
- the date (even approximate)
- the location, including grid reference (visit to check grid reference or drop a pin on Google Maps) 
- the nature of the sighting (hunting, single bird, pair, and breeding behaviour, etc.)

All such sightings will be held in the strictest of confidence. Please send any information to this email address HERE.

Left) Merlin (Neil O’Reilly). Right) Short-eared Owl (RT Mills).

A map of Duhallow is shown below. It covers most of north-west Cork, and east Kerry and the far southern border of Co. Limerick. This area includes the southern part of the Mullaghareirk Mountains, the eastern side of the Stack’s Mountains, and to the south it includes the northern edge of the Derrynasaggart Mountains, with the Boggeragh Mountains to the south-east of the area. 

The Duhallow area (click image for a closer look).

Any sightings of either species over the past ten years within or in proximity to this area would be very useful.

Merlin in Duhallow 
Previous research and monitoring of Merlin Falco columbarius in Ireland has been limited, resulting in an absence of comprehensive data on distribution, abundance and ecological requirements of the species. Evidence from the Breeding Bird Atlases suggested a moderate decline in the breeding range of the Irish population over the past 40 years. However, due to difficulties associated with detecting breeding Merlin, the Breeding Bird Atlases may not provide a true indication of the abundance, densities or distribution of the population.

In the absence of more comprehensive species specific monitoring, sufficient data on the status and ecology of Merlin necessary for the design and implementation of an effective conservation strategy is lacking. The Action Plan for Upland Birds in Ireland 2011-2020 identified significant gaps in knowledge of the Irish Merlin population, as well as the necessity to establish baseline data and conservation priorities for the species. Merlin are an Annex 1 species on the European Birds Directive 2009/147/EC (OJEU 2010), and there is a requirement to address these issues to afford the species the appropriate protection. Merlin are also one of the priority species within the RaptorLIFE project through IRD Duhallow.

Breeding Merlin populations are typically associated with upland habitat types, where they occur in low densities. In Ireland, they have a widespread but sporadic breeding distribution. Due to numerous factors associated with their nesting ecology and their discrete breeding behaviour, it is generally accepted that the Merlin are a difficult species to survey.

The recent Bird Atlas 2007–11 indicates two records of Merlin in the Duhallow uplands during the breeding season, however additional sightings have been recorded since through IRD Duhallow, as well as other independent sightings, and there are areas which are considered suitable for breeding Merlin. Although breeding has not been confirmed in Duhallow in recent years we hope to change that this season with an increased survey effort, and to gather baseline information as to the suitability of the area for Merlin.

Short-eared Owl in Duhallow
Short-eared Owl Asio flanneus is a scarce winter visitor to Duhallow, and although there were no winter records during the Atlas period (2007–11) there have been several since. For instance, at Barna Bog (see link HERE).

There have also been several reliable records of Short-eared Owl in suitable upland habitat during the 2016 nesting season which includes a suspected but unconfirmed breeding pair (see link HERE ). 

With your help we hope to increase our knowledge of both species in Duhallow this season.

Many thanks in advance,

RaptorLIFE & BirdWatch Ireland    

Monday, 17 April 2017

Squacco Heron, the first in Kerry for over 120 years

This first-summer Squacco Heron was found by Britta Wilkens while out strolling near Ventry Beach this morning. Fortunately, it returned to the open area of flooded grassland near Paudi O'Sé's pub after flying over to the large reed bed at Ventry. It was happily feeding in the open, wetter areas, occasionally flying short distances to other small grassy pools, and offering excellent views.

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

First summer Squacco Heron, Ventry, 17th April 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The third record for Kerry, after two were shot dead in the 1800s, one on the River Laune in May 1875 and another at Waterville in September 1895. This is about the 23rd record for Ireland

The most dangerous animal in Ireland

OK, you're sat in a pub, and the conversation inevitably turns to, "Mary's uncle's nephew died the other day..." and with lots of solemn nods, and a small but thoughtful sip of a pint in quiet appreciation of their passing, the talk slides into a list of the latest victims in the parish. The daughter of Micky-Joe's cousin's cancer scare. The near-drowning of that nun on Derrynane beach. The 'Stuka-bomber'-like attack by a seagull on a motorcyclist near Caherciveen last summer... Wow! What? (see HERE)

The most dangerous animal in Ireland? Not even close...

Is it getting to that time of year already? When the Dail goes into summer recess and we then enter what is known as "Silly Season" when the press, struggling to fill the newspaper columns, inevitably turn to a good old scaremongering yarn, such as those which have appeared in recent summers about killer gulls rampaging the streets and countryside, viciously attacking man and beast (see HERE).

Despite the mis-information about Silly Season gull attacks - and you can be sure they will start popping up again in the media any day now - the truth is there are far, far more dangerous animals out there. As a birder, you will end up in all sorts of strange places. That's one of the joys of birding. It incentivises you to venture to places that most other people would never even consider. I've been in sand dune desert in Morocco, a minefield in Israel, the Outback in Australia, Everest Base Camp, the Worst B&B In Ireland In Urlingford, a sewage works in Cape Town, and lost in the fog in a tiny boat off the Blaskets, all in the search for birds. I've been charged by a Rhino in Nepal, had a near-attack with a King Cobra in Malaysia, stayed in the Worst B&B In Ireland In Urlingford (did I mention that? It's still there by the way, see below), and have had to pull leeches off unmentionable and largely unreachable bits of my anatomy in the Borneo rainforest. 

The latter incident prompted one of my few attempts at poetry:

There are leeches in the forest
that go for your feet.
They creep up your legs,
and go for your 'meat'.
So by way of defence
I've posted a sentry,
a sign on my shorts saying,
'Privates, no entry.'

Every serious birder will have a litany of such stories. Seriously uncomfortable, perhaps dangerous, and even near-death experiences in bizarre places around the globe. But you can silence the gathered crowd in the local pub with this question: What is the animal most likely to kill you – in Ireland?

Great White Gull

Killer gulls? Sharks? Dogs? Bees?

Gulls? Fact is, there has yet to be a confirmed death in Ireland attributable to a killer gull, despite what the media has been (and soon again will be) whipping up. Not one. They may well have claimed a cheeseburger or two, or grabbed a 99 out of someones unsuspecting hand on Grafton Street in an unguarded moment while they tried to organise another 'selfie' but, rest assured, they have not, and are unlikely to ever, have caused a single fatality in Ireland or anywhere else.

Black-headed Alsation

So, sharks then? 

Well, according to the Shark Attack Data website (HERE), Ireland has had no fatal shark attacks ever though, in a book on deep sea angling, author Trevor Housby writes of two documented incidents. One occurred in the late 1800s when an onlooker fell from a pier in Belfast Lough during the launch of a ship and was set upon by a large shark (presumed to be a Great White) and killed in front of horrified spectators. The second was of an incident involving a salvage diver operating in the mouth of Carlingford Lough in Co. Down. As he was preparing to return onboard, a large shark made a determined close pass as he was pulling himself out of the water, uninjured, but no doubt needing a fresh set of underpants after the experience.

So, dogs then?

Ireland has yet to have a fatal dog attack, according to an article in the Independent (see HERE), although in Britain, they have accounted for 17 deaths in the past eight years, according to NHS figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph (see HERE).


No. None

Mosquitos? Bees?


Rabid Pine Martens?


The answer is a little surprising, and not a little disconcerting. 


How often, as a birder, have you set off across a field, and had your carefree stroll across green meadows somewhat thrown by the unwanted attention of cattle you noticed as you climbed over the gate but ignored thereafter? Until that is, they came thundering up to you, stopping short, then stared, snorting, waiting for your next move?

Cows are by far the most dangerous animal in Ireland. Statistics for Ireland are hard to pin down or at least, after a good while Googling for that information, I was unable to find it, but the statistics for Northern Ireland are telling, and more easily Googleable, and those for Britain are horrifying. According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 74 people have been killed in Britain by cows in the past 15 years, 7 in Northern Ireland in 8 years.

In the United States, the CDC estimates that about 22 people are killed by cows each year and, of those cow attacks, seventy-five percent were described as 'deliberate attacks'. One third of the killings were committed by cows that had previously displayed aggressive behaviour. The bulk of attacks are in March and April, by cows with calves - no doubt a maternal response to a perceived threat - rather than by bulls. A Google of 'cow attacks in Ireland' will list attacks such as this one, HERE.

Ireland's most dangerous animal (Richard Croft, Wiki Commons).

So, if out surveying, birdwatching, or generally strolling around the countryside, pay special heed to the killers in our midst. Not the killer gulls. No. These killers come with big brown eyes, udders, and a propensity to eat grass. Be careful people. It's dangerous out there.

Urlingford Arms B&B. Worst B&B in Ireland. Birding takes you to all sorts.

In an otherwise bare room, there was a bed, and a telly attached to one of those high metal wall brackets near the ceiling though, after following the trailing lead downward and rooting around the skirting board at the back of the bed, I found it had no plug. Didn't matter anyway, as there was no socket within reach of the lead and no connection to an aerial. In searching for the socket, I moved the bed to find a rancid nappy, an empty whiskey bottle and an old mousetrap. The bathroom was shared with three other rooms and had been recently painted. Fine, except the fresh coat of thick, white gloss paint meant that the door could no longer be closed and, left unattended, would swing open. I retired to the bed, shuffling under the kind of sheets that give you static electricity shocks, but not before I pulled the curtains only to find they didn't meet in the middle and only reached about two thirds across. Thus I spent the night awake as the near continuous stream of heavy trucks roared by, their lights arcing across the room like lighthouse beams. Other than that, it was grand.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Bits from the week that was

Lesser Black-backed Gull showing features of 'intermedius', Ballyheigue Beach, 3rd April 2017 (David O'Connor). 

It had a metal ring on it's right leg and, interestingly, David had a similar (or the same?) ringed bird at the same location in April 2013.

Lesser Black-backed Gull showing features of 'intermedius', Ballyheigue Beach, 3rd April 2017 (David O'Connor). 

Littoralis Rock Pipit Black Rock, 5th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

One of two present

Little Tern with Sandwich Terns, Kilshannig, April 2017 (David O'Connor).

Little Tern with Sandwich Terns, Kilshannig, April 2017 (David O'Connor).