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13 July 2012

Bad weather taking its toll

The wettest June on record at all but two weather stations in Ireland has taken a huge toll on the success of Kestrel, Long-eared Owl and Barn Owl nests, and July seems to faring no better. Although most Kestrel chicks will now have fledged, the average brood sizes throughout Ireland have been well down on last year, and they have been notably scarce in the Duhallow survey squares this summer. Long-eared Owls have also suffered and only a few of the nests located during the early phases of the survey still have young. Many potential territories which were located in the first survey phase in April seem to have gone utterly silent, implying that the adults either failed to breed, or didn't even attempt to nest this year. We know of one nest which was predated, but at another, although predation can't be entirely ruled out, the two young disappeared from the nest area after two days of heavy continuous rain in early June, a deluge during which the nearby Blackwater River overflowed and flooded adjacent farmland.

Barn Owl nests have also had poor productivity all over Ireland this summer, and the known nests in the Duhallow region have had mixed fortunes. Successful sites had 2, 3 and 3 young, and there is at least 1 chick at another inaccessible site. At another site in a rock crevice, the adults have disappeared and not bred, while at one of the tree nests, there is no indication of breeding, though the adults are still present. One traditional site in a chimney was deserted, though there were a few fresh signs of an owl or owls still present. Several other sites are still to be checked, but hopefully some will prove to have successful broods.

This tree in Duhallow has a Barn Owl nest (visible close to the top of the central trunk), and a pair were present here in late May. However, when checked in June, it was empty, though the adults were still present in the area. It is possible they may be nesting elsewhere nearby, though, as with many nests in Cork and Kerry this summer, the adults may not breed at all (M.O'Clery).