Monday, 14 April 2014

From Cashel, Connemara to An Hoa, Vietnam

I was up on Cashel Hill on Sunday to check on a Raven nest to see if was in use this year. It's a fairly easy climb being only 310 metres high. No sign of the Ravens up there this year unfortunately. Some great views from the top though.

Raven eyrie, no one at home this year however.
Twelve Ben Mountain range looking North from Cashel Hill.

Maumturk Mountains looking NE from Cashel Hill.

Cashel Bay & Lehanagh North looking South from Cashel Hill.
Cloonisle/Blackhaven Bay with Errisbeg in the background, looking to the SW of Cashel Hill.

Glenturkan Lough, also called The Shamrock Lakes on account of its distinctive shape.

Old pre-Famine track running across the bog just to the south of the hill coming from the graveyard and onto Lettershinna.

Small island on a nearby bog lough. Note the Hooded Crow nest in the Birch to the right. Might make a good Merlin nest next year if the Hoodies vacate it.

Tobar Chonaill/Saint Connall's Holy Well. There are dozen of holy wells in Connemara. Although called "holy" most in fact pre-date the arrival of Christianity here by centuries if not millennia. Most of these "pagan" sites were taken over by Christianity to make the conversion of the Irish population that bit easier.

I came across this headstone in the back of the small graveyard at the base of the hill. Cashel native Lance Corporal "Petie" Nee was killed in action aged only 22 during the Vietnam War while serving in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment USMC.

This newer headstone was paid for by Vietnam veterans and was erected only last year. More details here

Wood Anemone

Wood Sorrell

Dog Violets


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Nesting Ravens Part One

I've been monitoring Raven nests here in Galway mostly Connemara for at least three years. There usually isn't a whole lot happening in the Twelve Bens and Maumturk Mountains over the winter/early Spring period. I remember doing a two hour Time Tetrad Visit for the Bird Atlas up in the Twelve Bens not that long ago and the only bird I saw in the entire two hours was a single Raven! I don't think most people realize what a poor state the uplands of Connemara (and of the West of Ireland in general) are in due to gross overgrazing in recent decades thanks to ill-though out European headage payments for sheep. The damage done by this policy will take many years to be reversed. Iconic upland species such as Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Curlew and Ring Ouzel have all been lost here. It will probably take decades for some of these to return, that is if they ever do.

Anyway I digress, Ravens are one of the few large bird species that have managed to hang in there in the uplands. There's a high density of breeding Ravens within the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks due to two main factors. The first is the large number of sheep on the hills which results in a good source of carrion. Secondly there's a good source of suitable nesting sites i.e. cliffs/crags. The huge majority of Raven nests are located on these. No doubt some of these Raven nests were probably historically Peregrine and even Golden Eagle eyries back in the day. Of the 60 nests that I'm monitoring this year, fifty are found on cliffs/crags/quarries, six are on old buildings and only four are in trees. Raven pairs will move nests most years from distances of just metres and up to 1.29km away. Generally territorial pairs are spaced three kilometres from each other although this can vary as I had two exceptional active nests one season that were only 800 metres apart, this hasn't been repeated since however. Some have commented that there is an "unnaturally high concentrations" of Ravens in some areas but then in turn cannot justify statements like these with hard facts as to what a "natural" concentration of Raven normally would be. Most "dewy-eyed conservationists" fully accept that Ravens are indeed adept predators but describing that as "menaces" and "rogues" is reminiscence of the Victorian thinking of predators. The notion of the lion and the lamb lying together is about as unnatural a mind-set as one can get and it's time these same people acknowledged this. I accept that predator control can be necessary in some limited situations if there is an essential reason for it and if is it carried out in the correct lawful way and at the right time of year.
One of the nests that I checked this year had three eggs in it but on a subsequent visit the nest was found to be empty. The same nest cannot be access without ropes from above so human interference was most unlikely (Ravens are given full protection under the Wildlife Act by the way). While checking another nest this year I found two of our colour rings directly below the nest in which we had ringed a clutch last year. These chicks must have fallen out of the nest and were then probably taken by a mammalian predator. The nest was located on a tiny ledge with just enough room for the nest so there would have been little room for near-grown chicks to explore and exercise before capable of full flight. So Ravens are far from immune from predation themselves.

As part of the monitoring I try to record clutch sizes of the few accessible nests. As a rule most Raven nests are located directly beneath a rocky overhang for shelter and are usually hidden from above. I use a telescopic pole with a camera clamped onto its end to inspect the nest. An example of the video is shown below. This is all done under license from NPWS under Section 22 (9)(f) of the Wildlife Act, 1976 (as amended).  I've managed to record clutches of two three egg, two four egg, three five egg, four six egg and a single seven egg clutch this season.
Most Raven eggs have now hatched and we should hopefully be ringing a few of these nests within the next fortnight or so.

Two colour-rings found below a Raven nest in which we ringed chicks last year. Note the chew marks on the E ring!

Note the different colour shades and patterning within the same clutch, taken under NPWS license.
Rare seven egg clutch, taken under NPWS license.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The very last Greenland White-fronted Geese of Connemara?

We came across these two Greenland White-fronted Geese about a fortnight back south of Maam Cross in amongst three Whooper Swans feeding out on open blanket bog. The species has rapidly declined here in this part of Ireland. The following is taken for Mayor Ruttledge's Birds in Counties Galway and Mayo "In April 1989 a synchronised ground and air census of the Connemara bogs located seven flocks of White-fronts, totalling 134 - 137 birds." Even at that stage the number had drastically crashed. It's quite sad to see all of these distinct flocks which used extensive areas of blanket bogs go by the wayside over the last few decades. They were often referred to as the "Bog Geese" by local people. Feral Greylags have now established themselves in some of the former Connemara haunts of the GWFs. Aonghus who covers this area which has had the last remaining flock, has seen their numbers dwindle with each passing year. He only had seven GWFs earlier in the winter and this pair most likely came from that same flock. We were saying that I should get some record shots of them as there may not be another opportunity after leave in April for Greenland...


Monday, 17 March 2014

Ravens on trail camera

I came across the old sheep carcass between Clifden and Letterfrack during the week, really just the two hind legs along with the pelvis. Anyway there were a few Ravens in attendance. At 1450hrs on the 13th March one of the Ravens that Irene O'Brian and I had coloured ringed (2012 at Cleggan Head?) amazingly showed up at the carcass - C6. Irene has been colouring Ravens in Mayo and Galway now for 2 or 3 years now. We're hoping to get back ringing Ravens again in the next month or so. Most Ravens have had complete clutches now for the last week or two. C6 fed on the remains for about 30 minutes.

I previously unknowingly photographed another colour ringed Raven at Omey island in late September 2012. This bird's (two shots below) colour ring also started with a C however the second digit isn't so clear unfortunately. See here

I've also got some lovely video footage of the Ravens from the camera including a pair "clicking" to one another in display. You can easily tell the male from the female on account of the larger size and deeper voice of the former. I've uploaded a few videos here also of the colour ringed bird (fourth one down), other Ravens and a Hooded Crow. I also had a Fox come in one night but something spooked him (maybe my scent?) and he didn't hang about.






Thursday, 13 March 2014

Early March Gulls

Adult Glaucous Gull, Nimmo's Pier.
Adult Glaucous Gull, Callow, Ballyconneely.

Adult Glaucous Gull on dead Long-finned Pilot Whale, Callow, Ballyconneely.

Long-finned Pilot Whale, Callow, Ballyconneely.
First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 1, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 1, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 1, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 1, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 1, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 2, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 2, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 2, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

First-winter Kumlien's Gull, bird no. 2, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.
First-winter Iceland Gull, Trá na Tobair, Ballynahown, 8th March.

Adult "argentatus" Herring Gull, Rossaveel, 8th March.