Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Twite Influx

This winter has seen an unprecedented influx of Twite into Galway and Clare. Until recently the only regular spot for Twite in Galway was the Nimmo's Pier area. These birds haven't been seen in the area now since 2009. This species suffers from much misidentification however. I would suggest that a lot of the recent and even some old records especially from the summer months are dubious. I've been sent a few photos of claimed Twite seen here in the summer and all without fail were of juvenile Linnets.

Back to this winter we've had several records of flocks along the coastline, many of which have been photographed by reliable birders leaving no doubt as to their identification. I've listed out this winter records to date. There will surely be more found during the rest of the winter.

Eight, Loop Head, Co. Clare, 5th November.
One, Clahane, Co. Clare, 8th November. Four, 1st December.
Seventeen, Aughinish, Co. Clare, 30th November. Thirty-five, 3rd December.
One, Inishark, Co. Galway, 23rd November.
Two, Tawin Island, Co. Galway, 23rd November.
Five, Murlach, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 29th November.
Sixty-seven, Coral Strand, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 6th December.

The last record above is one of my own and is a spectacular number for this part of the world. The best previous modern record was twenty-four very close by on 24th March 2015.
Twite were historically a breeding species in Galway with breeding reported on the bog lough islands, Inishbofin, Inishark, the Aran Islands (a few recent winter records from Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin) and Carraroe,
There are a few other outliers from the 1968 -1972 and even from the most recent Bird Atlas including inland breeding records but I'd have questions about some of these records especially the more recent possible breeding records. Twite are now only found breeding in the extreme north-west of Mayo and west Donegal with a total population of probably no more than 100 pairs. This species is in extreme danger of becoming extinct here. Much like the now extinct Corn Bunting they are your typical LBJ - little brown job. Unfortunately most non-birders have never heard of a Twite before. A recent Twite prescription in the GLAS agri-environmental has been started which aims to address this decline in the areas that still holds onto the species.

Most Irish Twite don't seem to move very far from the breeding grounds and I don't think any of the the Clare or Galway birds are Irish but are more likely to be Scottish. There have been recoveries of Scottish birds (Islay, Mull Of Kintyre) wintering in Ireland according to Derek McLoughlin. Derek undertook a PhD on the species from 2005-2009. He wrote a great piece on the species for Birdwatch Ireland which is worth checking out in the link below.

http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=WYdDTCXTrRw=&tabid=999

Sixty-seven Twite, Coral Strand.

Twite flock, Coral Strand.

Twite, Murlach.

Twite, Murlach.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Falconry Conference

I attended a falconry conference up in Kildare over a week ago organised by the Irish Hawking Club called "The Stewardship of Biodiversity and sustainable Use Conference" i.e. the taking of wild born raptors in Ireland and else where. I've attached a few shots of some of the falconers birds below. You don't see a Crowned Eagle perched on the front lawn of a county Kildare hotel every day!

Licenses are given out each year to Irish falconers to go into wild Peregrine nests and remove chicks, mostly Peregrine Falcons (max. five chicks per annum) and to a lesser extent Sparrowhawks, Kestrel and even a Merlin on at least one occasion. Peregrines are an Appendix 1 species on the Bird Directive and a listed animal with CITES. There is a derogation under the Birds Directive to issue such licences "if there is no other satisfactory solution". However Peregrines have now been widely bred in captivity for at least three decades so there very clearly is another satisfactory solution if a falconer wishes to obtain a Peregrine. Wild-take licenses haven't been issued in the UK now since the late 1970's primarily due to the large captive population of Peregrines. Like most matters concerned with conservation, Ireland is still in the Bronze Age compared to the UK. There's absolutely no charge for getting a license to take a bird of prey from the wild in Ireland. Captive birds could cost well over a thousand euro with wild born birds making far more than that once taken and are much valued for breeding proposes.

Over the two days of the conference we were told of the huge amount of conservation that falconers are responsible for. No Irish examples were pointed out during this time apart from the occasional and useful rehabilitation of injured wild raptors. I didn't hear any mention of what must be Ireland's most threatened bird of prey - the Hen Harrier.

We were told repeatedly that wild take is sustainable. An example of this was given from the Middle East where traditionally, wintering Sakers and Peregrines would be caught as they arrived in the autumn. They would be used to hunt over the winter and then released to migrate back to their breeding grounds at the end of the winter. The same doesn't apply anymore in the Middle East and it never has in Ireland. Once a Peregrine is taken here it is never intentionally released back into the wild, far too valuable for that! The argument that wild Peregrines have better hunting instincts compared to captive born birds is also nonsensical as the chicks are taken when they are only half grown and have zero hunting skills. I would also have to argue point on the whole sustainable issue as well. Yes the national population has seen a remarkable increase however this isn't seen everywhere. I monitored ten occupied Peregrine territories this summer here in West Galway as per usual. Of those ten pairs just three pairs managed to successfully raise chicks. This isn't an unusual poor success rate here for that matter either.

Birds of prey were regularly referred to as a "wild resource", there for taking as long as it was done sustainably. The saying "if it pays it stays" was also used. Basically humans have domain over the natural world and we can take and use it as we see fit. Those that mean then if a species is of no monetary value or use to anyone, does it really have a right to exist at all as a species?

I must admit the case for "wild-take" in Ireland seems to be on increasingly shaky ground to me.

First calendar Goshawk

First calendar Goshawk


Adult male Goshawk

Adult male Goshawk

Adult female Goshawk

Adult female Goshawk
Adult male Sparrowhawk


Crowned Eagle

Crowned Eagle

Adult Peregrine

First calendar Peregrine.

Adult Peregrine
Adult Peregrine



Adult Peregrine (brookerei?)

Adult Peregrine with radio transmitter.

Grey Gyr (hybrid-type?).

Grey Gyr (hybrid-type?).
White morph Gyr



White morph Gyr

Barbary Falcon

Barbary Falcon

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

White-tails back again!

I got a report of two or three White-tailed Eagles on Saturday. Two were considered adults and the possible third individual was unaged. While I get the occasional report of eagles, these were seen in an area that has been previously frequented by the second territorial pair of White-tails, D-Bar (male) and Inverted Triangle (female).

I visited the area yesterday and quickly managed to pick up three White-tails together, first time I've seen three together in Connemara and what a sight! I was delighted to see that one of the birds was the same female Inverted Triangle. This bird hadn't been seen in about two years. Her radio tag battery gave out back then which made tracking her far more difficult. Unfortunately D-Bar the male's battery failed prematurely around the same time (he's one year younger than her) however he was seen regularly on the lower Lough Corrib during the winter of 2014/2015. He hasn't been seen since however.

Accompanying the female was another male which; F-Bar, a bird released with the same cohort as D-Bar. F-Bar is no stranger to Connemara. He had spend a few months here previously and was briefly cavorting with Inverted Triangle and Semi-Circle, the female from the Roundstone pair that I later found poisoned in the nest on the eve of their second breeding attempt. Unless D-Bar shows up again in the Spring to reclaim Inverted Triangle, F-Bar may have finally found himself a mate.

The most intriguing thing however was the third bird was an untagged juvenile female. Allan Mee of the Golden Eagle Trust informed me that there were just two juveniles that weren't tagged this year and that it was believed that both were males! So that leaves us with a rather open question. Was one of these untagged Irish juveniles mistakenly sexed as a male or was this bird the product of an undiscovered breeding pair - possibly F-Bar and Inverted Triangle?? It could be possible that this pair may have remained undiscovered this year as I haven't really thoroughly checked the area in quite a while due to local under-staffing issues. The possibility that they may not have bred in the Connemara area is another option or that it may be the product of another pair altogether, could it even be a Scottish bird? It wouldn't be the first time a Scottish bird has shown up in Ireland (and vice versa). Although I'm not sure for certain, I would assume that a lot of the Scottish chicks are also tagged? White-tailed Eagles aren't overly territorial during the winter and can often be found in numbers together especially when there are good food sources in an area so this juvenile may have just have been passing and joined the adults. The juvenile was heard giving begging calls to the adults but I think a juvenile would hope that any adult would take pity on it and offer it some food if pestered. There was no aggression between the adults and juvenile. They remained in close proximity for the hour or so that they were in air together. The juvenile didn't join the adult pair when they landed in trees later on however. Regardless if the adult pair bred this year they should hopefully give a try in 2017 as both birds are now certainly old enough.

Hopefully it will be a productive season however with well over 100 wind turbines being currently erected within three kilometres of one of their main roost sites and the presence of the "Poison on Land" sign at yesterdays location, one would have serious doubts as to their future. While it's unlikely that a landowner would still be putting out poison on his/her land and broadcasting it like this, it just shows the ignorance and attitude amongst many of our "custodians of the landscape". These signs are sometimes erected to discourage dog walkers even though its clearly illegal. I've also had a farmer at this location telling me to my face that if the eagles even looked at any of his lambs, he would have no qualms about killing them, he was almost boasting about it. There is a large proportion of Irish people who honestly don't believe that the law of the land applies to them.

Two adult and one juvenile White-tailed Eagles.

Two adult and one juvenile (on the left) White-tailed Eagle.

Two adult and one juvenile (on the left) White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male and juvenile female White-tailed Eagle, note size difference.

Adult male and juvenile female White-tailed Eagle, note size difference.

Adult pair of White-tailed Eagles.

Adult pair of White-tailed Eagles.

Adult pair of White-tailed Eagles.

Adult female White-tailed Eagle.

Adult female White-tailed Eagle.

Adult female White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male White-tailed Eagle.

Adult male White-tailed Eagle.
Juvenile female White-tailed Eagle.

Juvenile female White-tailed Eagle.

Juvenile female White-tailed Eagle.

Juvenile female White-tailed Eagle.

Juvenile female White-tailed Eagle with Peregrine.

Wind turbines being erected in the distance.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Siberian Chiffchaffs, Ballyconneely area, Nov 16.

A couple of shots of two different Siberian Chiffchaffs from the Slyne Head/Ballconneely area recently. Thankfully both birds were heard calling especially the bird near Ballyconneely village.
Both matched this bird recorded calling in Russia perfectly. http://www.xeno-canto.org/339799. Most of the previous birds out here seemed very reluctant to call confirming the identification. I have a recording of the village bird but couldn't upload it onto to Xeno Canto as it in WAV format.
The bird near the village on the 7th November was mainly in Willows that still largely have their foliage. It kept company with a typically calling Common Chiffchaff and also another Common Chiffchaff giving the "sweo" call http://www.xeno-canto.org/342033. I revisited the area again today and there were two Siberian Chiffchaffs with possibly four Common Chiffchaffs in the exact same spot, I wonder if they are going to overwinter. This is adjacent to Murlach and immediately East of Murlach Mooring holiday homes.
There were at least 32 Siberian Chiffchaffs recorded in Ireland during October. They were probably more numerous than scarce warblers such as Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Wood Warbler, etc.
The Red-breasted Flycatcher was again present in the Trident Garden also.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016. 
Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016.


Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016.
 

Siberian Chiffchaff, Conneely's Garden, 1st November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.

Siberian Chiffchaff, Ballyconneely village, 7th November 2016.