I finished work and raced down to to Oxford Island on the shores of Lough Neagh for the British Trust for Ornithology Birdwatching Conference 2009. It was a lovely clear morning.
The room that the conference took place was filled. A great turnout the only sad thing to me was the age demographic with most being over 50. Over the period of the next 8 hours we were to have 11 speakers.
Shane Wolsey the BTO's representative in Northern Ireland started the day off by welcoming all the guests.
Our first talk was by Kerry Leonard about Eiders in Northern Ireland, his monitoring techniques and the results of a recent Northern Ireland population survey. Eiders being a bird from the Arctic ,Northern Ireland is at the southern most extreme of their breeding range. Over the last twenty years has seen a large increase in their population.
Our next talk was by Lorraine Chivers and wife of James Robinson the new Director of the RSPB in Northern Ireland. She is a PhD student studying the ‘Factors influencing declining populations and reproductive success of seabirds on Rathlin Island, County Antrim’ at ‘Quercus’ which hosts the Natural Heritage Partnership between
the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Queen's University Belfast.
Her talk was mainly about her methodology firstly by timing the feeding forays of the birds and also by using GLS (Global Location Sensors) and time‐depth recorders. These were attached to Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills. These birds then had to be recaptured a few days later and the information downloaded. She had very little success with the razorbills and about a 50% recovery rate of the Guillemots and Kittiwakes. This information showed where they were feeding (Off the coast of the Mull of Kintyre) and in the case of the Guillemots how deep and how often they dived. The fascinating fact to me was they achieved depths of 24 metres to find food. It will be interesting to hear her conclusions in a few years time.
This talk was followed by Irena Tomankova a biologist working at "Quercus" in Queens University Belfast. She is currently conducting her PHD research on the causes of diving duck population declines at Lough Neagh. The birds being studied are Pochard, Tufted Duck, Scaup and Goldeneye. Again this talk was a work in progress.
We had a talk by Ian Enlander from NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) describing the conservation significance of bird populations relying on their assessment at various scales, stretching from local to international and how conservation responses are guided by these assessments. it provided an overview of some of Northern Ireland's birds and an assessment of what was important from the Northern Ireland's Environment Agency perspective at these different scales.For example the Roseate Tern which would be fairly rare in Northern Ireland with 2 breeding pairs but is a bird of Least concern on the World scale. I felt the talk was a little patronising especially with reference to the Tern Islands popping up everywhere. My belief is if you create the safe habitat for the birds to breed that they will do so in ever increasing numbers. I dont know why but civil servants always get my back up.
On a slight aside the NIEA Biodiversity Unit which is supposed to conserve, protect and enhance the local biodiversity within Northern Ireland. I wish they would get their act together and do something positive with the Quoile Pondage which could be such a fantastic reserve for waders and ducks if managed properly.
There was a talk by Emma Meredith and she explained her role as the Wildlife Liason Officer with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I first met her in 2007 at a BTO Bird Ringing Weekend.
We had a talk by David Leech from the BTO on the BTO's Nest Record Scheme. Not something I would really approve of. I think bird's nest should be left alone as I cannot believe it is in the birds best interest to have them examined on two separate occasions. For a start I think if a predator such as a Hooded crow or Magpie is aware of what one is doing that there will be a high chance of predation. A case in point was the Cuckoo that took over a Reed Warbler's nest at the BTO's base in Thetford. This was filmed by the BBC on Springwatch and no sooner had they stopped filming it the young cuckoo was predated.
We had a talk by Kerry Mackie, from the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) and Wetlands Bird survey coordinator on the changes of Wildfowl on Strangford Lough over the years. His grandfather Lance Turtle gave a talk in the seventies on the changes of Wildfowl in his lifetime on the Lough and with his records from early shooting records Kerry gave an overview of the changes and some explanations. This was accompanied by some very old photographs.
Shane Wolsey gave a talk on Bird Ringing in Northern Ireland and his wishes to increase the number of ringers. He also has the unenviable job of coordinating the Bird Atlas 2007-2011 for Northern Ireland and was trying to get more help from volunteers for timed counts to specific tetrads.
Neville McKee one of the founding fathers of the Copeland Bird Observatory set up 55 years ago gave a talk on the improvements to the observatory over the years.
The day was finished off with a talk by Anthony McGeehan it was both funny and very serious and a wake up call to the conservation bodies to stop burying their heads in the sand as to the reasons as to why there might be decline in some of our songbird species. It certainly got the biggest ovation of the day. It was also sad that James Robinson the new RSPB Director in Northern Ireland and friend of Anthony's who was at the conference all day did not make any effort to go and talk to him. So still the powers that be in the RSPB continue to shun him. Disgusting in my view and after his speech it did make you think why did they sack somebody with such talent especially with no reason. It will be interesting to see what happens at the Industrial Tribunal in January.
The whole day was extremely well organised by Shane Wolsey and a credit to the BTO.