Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Grey Partridge August 15

I was back in the Midlands at the weekend and had a look at the Lough Boora Parklands which is just down the road from where I grew up. This is where I spent most of my early years as a birder. It's a huge area of cutover raised bog which has been harvested by Bord na Mona over many decades. Milled peat from this area was used to supply a Ferbane Power Station which was decommissioned /blow-up in 2003. As I was passing by the old site on Saturday I saw two newly erected wind turbines quite close to the old power station site, how times are changing!

Several lakes/wetlands have been created on the cutover bogs and these attract a few waterbirds. While they're no where as rich as the Shannon Callows they have proved to be quite good for wintering Whooper Swans, up to 250 birds. They have also been quite good for breeding waders, Lapwing in particular. It is now probably one of if not the most important site for the species in the Republic of Ireland. Thanks to work carried out by the Irish Grey Partridge Conservation Trust for partridge, many other species such as Lapwing have benefited greatly. Usually when I hear about local gun clubs talking about doing there bit for conservation it usually consists of shooting a few foxes and crows and then dumping a few hundred naïve Pheasant or Mallard into the wild. What this produces is very questionable. However in this case a huge amount of time and effort is put into creating nesting cover, insect rich chick rearing and winter food and cover habitat for Grey Partridge. Brendan Kavanagh originally started the project who managed to hire Kieran Buckley as a gamekeeper and has been involved with the project ever since. Paddy Kelly has also been working on the project for several years now and has done great work on rearing partridge chicks in captivity which are later released into the project area. He's also involved in a pilot project to rear Corncrake chicks in captivity down at Boora. These haven't yet been released though to my knowledge. Predator control is also carried out by two professional full time gamekeepers now. It's great to see responsible gamekeeping unlike what is regularly seen in the UK. While I was down in the partridge area I had Buzzard, Hen Harrier and three Kestrels all in the core partridge area. While Buzzard and Hen Harrier will occasionally take the odd partridge the guys working there know that this is insignificant in the bigger picture of things. There is such an abundance of food in the area between small bird and mammals that there is more than enough to go round for everything.

Grey Partridge had a very close call here in Ireland as they very nearly went extinct in recent years. The last two wild populations were found here and at another Bord na Mona bog in Lullymore, Co. Kildare. The partridge managed to just about hang on here due to the many "weeds" found growing along Bord na Mona railway lines which were used to transport the milled peat to the power station. These areas were thankfully never sprayed with herbicide. The Lullymore population eventually went extinct and the Boora population reached a worryingly low number of just 21 wild birds in 2001. It was decided to introduce wild birds from continental Europe as the population at that stage was unviable. Captive reared birds were released in Lullymore but these quickly died out as they had very little "street smarts" to survive long enough to reproduce. They are very short lived bird but do produce high numbers of young. Wet weather at the point of chick hatching can be detrimental to survival as they get wet and cold and can also suppress insects which is vital for young chicks. Predation at the time of incubation can also be bad news. The predator control is only carried out while the partridge are incubating and while the chicks are young. To carry it out year round is unnecessary and unwarranted. I believe the number of partridge now has passed the 1000 mark and is an incredible conservation success story. Birds from Boora have now been released in north Dublin so that a satellite population can be established.

I came across two coveys of partridge on one of the quiet roads while visiting on Saturday which gave good views from the car. You don't often get such good views it has to be said. I can remember seeing my first ever Grey Partridge at Finnamores in 1995 which is now a lake! The area around the Back Lakes (Boora and Tumduffbeg Lake) as we used to call it was very busy with a new visitor centre. All of the old railway lines have now largely been converted into bicycle tracks which are proving to be very popular with people. Back in the day you could spend the day down there and be lucky to just come across one or two Bord na Mona workers out on the bog.
Over the last 20 years the area has attracted a decent list of rarities which includes Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Hobby, Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Temminck's Stint, White-rumped Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Red-necked Phalarope. A lot of these have been found by Tipperary based birder Pat Brennan who has been keeping an eye on the area for the last decade or more.

Male Grey Partridge
Male and female Grey Partridge with three young.

Partridge covey with a second covey in the background.

Female Grey Partridge with chicks.

Female Grey Partridge with chicks.

Common Buzzard with a young Rabbit.

1 comment:

  1. One of our lads also had a Leachs Petrel being chased over the bog opp Finnamores a few years ago!