27 Nov 2009

At last a Cull of Feral Cats on Tory Island to protect the Corncrakes.

I am up in Donegal for a few days and was delighted to hear the news that on Tory Island there has been a cull of feral cats. Tory Island is one of the last remaining outposts for the Corncrake and the fact that the numbers of calling males had dropped from 34 calling males to 9 last year it was imperative that something had to be done. So I am very glad to see Birdwatch Ireland organised the cull. They first of all photographed all the pet cats and gave them collars before trapping the feral cats in humane traps before euthanasing them. In addition to this Gerald Roarty a vet from Letterkenny has been over to the island a couple of times to neuter the domestic cat population. So hopefully there will not be any young kittens next year.

One of the problems with feral cats in Ireland is that more and more people are leaving food out for them. This means they are better fed and consequently compared with previous years they are producing bigger and bigger litters.

I hope Birdwatch Ireland consider doing this on Inishbofin off Co. Galway as well because while I was there in October there seemed to be feral cats all over the island and I am sure they are detrimental to the breeding prospects of the Corncrake there as well as Tory Island.

(Photo by Anthony McGeehan)

24 Nov 2009

"The Hide" by Marek Losey and BTO Bird Ringing Blog

A friend of mine sent me a channel 4 film on DVD called "The Hide" by by Marek Losey. It is an adaption of Tim Whitnall's play called "The Sociable Plover" . It follows a birder into a hide on the Isle of Sheppey who is soon joined by another man and it is an absolute brilliant thriller.

You can rent it from Amazon or Lovefilm.com its well worth it .

One of the Blogs I follow is the BTO Bird Ringing "Demog Blog" yesterdays post will be of interest to those that go to Cape Clear. A small piece about the already ringed Marsh Warbler that was caught in September

23 Nov 2009

Eric Dempsey is giving a talk on Mon 7th Dec at the Spirit Store Dundalk Co Louth

Eric Dempsey of Mooney Goes Wild will give an illustrated account of all of the Birds of Prey of Ireland, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Harriers, Kites and Owls at the Spirit Store in Dundalk (upstairs) at 8pm on Mon 7th December Spirit Store. Eric is a very entertaining and knowledgeable speaker as well as a spectacular wildlife photographer. He has authored several books and articles including "The Complete Guide to Ireland's Birds", "Where To Watch Birds In Ireland" and "Birdwatching in Ireland". This highly recommended talk is suitable for all levels and will end at 9pm.

Entry is free and all are welcome!

Here are the Directions

11 Nov 2009

Follow up to BTO Birdwatching Conference 2009

In my last post about the BTO Birdwatching Conference I wrote that I wasn't that impressed by one of the talks and to be fair to the speaker, Ian Enlander, this is his email to me.

"I do usually enjoy your blog and was glad to see you did a write up about the BTO event last Saturday but sorry to see that you completely missed the point I was making about the absurd position that statutory requirements and European needs place on us in relation to positive conservation action. Creation of additonal tern islands does not miraculously increase tern populations - this will be a long term aim that may or may not succeed - no guarantees. In the short term there is a very high risk that sites end up competing against each other with the risk that they are in unfavourable conservation status i.e. show a significant population decline - whether you agree with it or not that then puts Northern Ireland plc at risk of infraction from Europe - trust me when I say that is not a good thing. The point is that collectively the conservation bodies at regional and national scales need to progress these initiatives collaboratively with our increasingly limited resources devoted to those actions that are likely to deliver the best outcomes - I do not believe that is currently happening.

I may be a bloody civil servant (that happens to be the position where I feel I can achieve most for conservation) but suspect I have done a damn sight more for bird conservation than most between a career of 18 years devoted to site designation, monitoring and management and over 25 years of volunteering for wetland bird surveys, breeding bird surveys, breeding and wintering atlas work and educational activities.

You may have noticed that the earlier projects which you so rightly praise were all entirely funded by NIEA, indeed through my section and supported by myself personally - only NIEA is in a position to fund this important work - so no civil servants = considerable reduction in the ornithological research and reserve management programmes in Northern Ireland. You might want to use your energies rather more positively to call for greater funding for NIEA, particularly our grant aid programmes, which fund so many of the conservation initiatives notably at reserves you frequent.

So please dont patronise me

There was ample opportunity through the course of the day to chat to me about my presentation but you clearly believed this was unnecessary - happy to meet up and chat about any of the above or anything else for that matter if you wish.

all the best

I still feel though as far as the Terns are concerned that as Terns breed in every sea lough around NI that have islands. Even on Lough Neagh and Lough Erne. By giving them SOMEWHERE safe in Belfast (and now Portmore) the birds can expand their breeding range. What about the Arctic Terns at Belfast Harbour Reserve? From whose colony have they been stolen? Arctic Terns are notoriously poor for breeding success - witness bad years at the Copelands and even Rockabill (where almost none were reared this year) yet the Belfast birds do all right and infact breeding success is increasing year on year , maybe since that they are not devasted by (localized) high winds and sweeping rain. Furthermore, if nest boxes at Rockabill and Coquet in (Northumberland) are doing the business for 95% !! of the eastern North Atlantic's Roseates, surely RSPB Belfast Harbour's attempt to draw the birds in - because they seem only to breed among concentrations of Common and/or Arctic Terns - is commendable.

I also would like to point out that I didn't call Ian a bloody civil servant in my previous post.

8 Nov 2009

BTO Birdwatchers Conference 2009 at Oxford Island

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.