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30 May 2013

A female Kestrel incubating

A female Kestrel incubates her five eggs, at a site in Co. Kerry (Video: John Lusby).

Using a special camera (under licence), John Lusby managed to get some amazing, high quality footage of a female Kestrel in one of our nest boxes in Co. Kerry last week. You can just see the eggs under the Kestrel as she settles over them to keep them warm. This is the nest box featured in the post below, which you can see HERE. John had checked 21 nests in the past week or so and only 8 so far showed signs of breeding. We hope to capture more great footage in the coming weeks as the season and the nests progress.

29 May 2013

Barn Owl chick, or something else?

Female Barn Owl snores loudly from the nest, but what is that faint squeaking call? South Kerry, 25th May 2013 (Michael O'Clery).

At manynest  sites, the 'snoring' call of the female Barn Owl at the nest can be faint, muffled by walls or vegetation. Her call is directed at the male, as she demands food while she incubates the eggs and young. At this old building in Co. Kerry, the owls recently moved nest site within the same structure and are no longer nesting inside a chimney shaft. Now they are in a cavity in the wall nearby and as a result the noises emanating from the nest are much louder. This was recorded last Saturday night inside the building. The female is 'snoring' loudly, as she did for the full hour and ten minutes before the male arrived back with food. In between her loud and persistent snores, you can just hear a faint squeaking call. Is this a young Barn Owl, perhaps just a few days old, or is it something else? It was coming from the same area as the nest, but we are not yet sure if it is in fact the first Barn Owl chick of the season.  If it is, then perhaps as the chick grows, this quiet squeaking call will develop into the louder,  more recognisable snoring call, similar to the female's, within a week or two.

21 May 2013

Cold spring delays Kestrel nests

Kestrel nest inspection, 20th May 2013 (M.O'Clery).

The cold spring this year has delayed the breeding of most bird species, and this time last year we were seeing Kestrel chicks developing well at nest sites all over Ireland. Although the last post below showed a Kestrel chick which hatched in Connemara some days ago, this has proved the exception. Of 21 Kestrel nests visited by John Lusby over the past few days, only 8 show signs of nesting, and most of those are still on eggs. At many other sites the pair of Kestrels are present but they have not yet laid eggs. The worry is that, with the cold weather set to continue for another week or more, that they may not get to breed at all this year.

19 May 2013

First Kestrel chicks of the year

Kestrel with chick, Connemara, 18th May 2013 (Screengrab: John Lusby).

One of the first Kestrel chicks of the year was photographed (under licence) yesterday in Connemara by John Lusby, using a specially modified nest camera. We can see the Kestrel chick, only a few days old, being brooded by the male Kestrel.

We will be examining several Kestrel nests and nest boxes in Duhallow in the next few days, so fingers crossed there will be more sights like this in our area very soon.

18 May 2013

What a male Long-eared Owl sounds like

Here's a recording of a male Long-eared Owl in full song, at a woodland site near Newmarket, on Wednesday last.

As dusk falls, a few birds are still singing, but the song of a male Long-eared Owl is subtle and easily missed. It can sound a little like a distant cow mooing, a regular "Oooo", repeated every three seconds or so. Although it is a relatively quiet call, it can carry, and on this still evening was audible from about 300-350m away. This recording was taken when the bird was only about 80m away, hidden in the foliage. The song was repeated for two to four minutes, then the male would fly to a new perch and start again, but during the flight, loud wingclaps could be heard, another way that males lay claim to their territory.

12 May 2013

Roosting Barn Owl

Roosting Barn Owl, east Kerry, 11th May 2013 (Davey Farrar).

Barn Owls hide themselves away by day, so it is rare to see one perched in the open. This one, a male,  is perched on an overhead roof beam, inside a small, derelict cottage. The nest is in the chimney of the same building and Barn Owls have nested here for at least the last four years. 

8 May 2013

First eagle chick for 110 years hatches in Kerry

(Click on the image below for a closer view)

Page from the Kerryman newspaper, 7th May 2013.

Another link to a news story is in the Irish Times website HERE. (opens a new page) 
or see the article

7 May 2013

Rare habitat draws the raptors

Below is a photo of a section of grassland, taken in Duhallow last week. 

A farmer, who owns a large farm near Newmarket, has managed the field specifically with wildlife in mind. He has allowed the edges to go ungrazed for several years, and other areas have been left to regenerate to thickets of whitethorn, bramble and other shrubs and trees. The main fields are not fertilized and grazing or mowing is more limited.

Tussock grassland, near Newmarket, with Bank Vole burrow (M.O'Clery).

As a result, this farm is a haven for wildlife. The small hole in the grass in the photo is most likely a Bank Vole tunnel, and there were many of these along the field margins. Wood Mice will also tunnel and would also be utilizing this rough grassland edge for breeding and foraging.

The end result is that, thanks to recent survey work in the area, we know Long-eared Owl, Barn Owl and Kestrel all nest within a few hundred metres of these fields. Coincidence, perhaps, but the abundance of small mammal prey in this unusual type of habitat in Ireland must surely mean it is highly favoured by the three raptor species.

3 May 2013

Road casualties

A tragic sight, and a sad end to a beautiful animal. This Barn Owl was struck by a vehicle, just outside Duhallow, near Castleisland, two weeks ago.

Dead Barn Owl, struck by a vehicle near Castleisland, Co. Kerry, April 2013 (with thanks to Ed Carty).

In truth, Barn Owls suffer disproportionate road casualties, as their hunting methods – hunting low and slow (and with poor peripheral vision) – give a far higher chance of being struck by a fast moving vehicle than virtually any other species. Motorways and dual carriageways are particularly lethal to the species, and a 13 year study in Devon, England, showed that a busy main road will, "...cause the complete absence of breeding Barn Owls within 0.5km either side of the road, severe depletion... within 0.5 - 2.5km of the road and some depletion within 2.5-8km of the road." 

Particularly lethal areas for Barn Owls (and other species) are where roads are 'embanked', ie., raised from the surrounding countryside, and which have little or no hedgerow, meaning that birds need to fly up and over the road, crossing it even lower than normal. By way of example, several dead Barn Owls were reported along the new stretch of 'improved' road near Knocknagashel in East Kerry, shortly after it opened some years ago. Much of that new road was embanked and lacked (and still lacks) any cover along its edges. Studies in England also showed that identifying and screening those embanked stretches of road with trees and/or wooden fencing can reduce or prevent Barn Owl road casualties by deflecting their flight path up and higher over the road. Wooden fencing has already been added to eg., new stretches of the M7 Limerick to Dublin motorway, and although this was done for noise abatement for local houses, it is often placed in exactly the most dangerous embanked stretches for Barn Owls, albeit accidentally. With very little extra effort and expense, further stretches could be made safe for local Barn Owls and other wildlife.

With a fairly heavily barred tail, the particular individual in the photo above looks to be a female, and as most Barn Owls will nest in their first year, it seems likely she was close to commencing nesting somewhere nearby. A real tragedy that she won't now have the chance.

2 May 2013

A careful look reveals a hidden gem

Below, a short video clip of a Barn Owl roosting at a known nest site, just outside Duhallow this evening. While surveying buildings for the presence of Barn Owls a careful check is always made from outside, and sometimes you get lucky...

You can just see the Barn Owl as the camera zooms in. Walking straight into the building would probably have prompted the owl to slip unobtrusively through another exit and it might have gone unnoticed (Video: Michael O'Clery).

Enhanced screengrab of the latter part of the video clip.