• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Thu26th Aug 2010

During March the Irish Raptor Study Group and Golden Eagle Trust Ltd organised a series of workshops to meet the fieldworkers involved in the National Survey. Six workshops were run at various locations across Ireland to allow as many people as possible to attend. Workshops took place in the Charleville Park Hotel, Co. Cork, the Hodson Bay Hotel Athlone, Co. Westmeath, the Mill Park Hotel, Co. Donegal and the Wicklow Mountains National Park offices, Co. Wicklow.

The primary aim of the workshops was to meet the survey participants and provide a series of talks on hen harrier ecology, the survey methods and requirements. Each workshop culminated in the surveyors volunteering for the survey selecting survey squares for monitoring during the National Survey. This provided a great opportunity for surveyors to meet each other and for the survey co-ordinators to meet everyone involved.

The workshops began with an introduction to hen harrier ecology which covered ageing and sexing, habitats to survey and ecological points that were relevant to the survey such as ranging behaviour. Talks focussed on interpreting hen harrier behaviour to assist surveyors in identifying suitable areas for nesting identify territory and/or nest locations and what to expect during fieldwork when trying to locate hen harrier territories and nests.

Disturbance, legislation and health and safety issues were also covered and importantly allowed an opportunity for explaining the justification and importance of the National Survey for hen harriers. The hen harrier is protected by the EU Birds Directive and listed on Annex 1 and as such monitoring, research and protected areas are a vital component for the conservation of the species. In addition, survey and monitoring data collected during national surveys are vitally important as these data are used by the government and other agencies to help inform management and conservation decisions.

The fieldworkers were also encouraged to record additional information such as details of any other raptors seen, wing-tags details for hen harriers and collect prey remains when these were encountered during the survey. Survey materials, such as maps and recording forms were all provided at the workshops and were then sent out electronically to all survey participants.

The Donegal workshop in particular proved to be quite an adventure with huge snowfall occurring the preceding day ? thanks to all of you who braved the snow to make the workshop. My 16 year old Landrover Discovery proved what terrain they are capable of going through/over/around when we trusted the sat-nav for the ?shortest route? to the workshop ended up taking 5½ hours travelling through the middle of the Sperrin Mountains through deep snow-drifts to get to Donegal the night before the workshop. We had a Golden Eagle Trust meeting in Glenveagh after the workshop and Brendan Dunlop and I had a chance to get out and help check a one of the golden eagle territories after the workshop and were rewarded after a snow trek (and a snow-ball fight!) in the Donegal Mountains with a distant sighting of an eagle. Unfortunately the Landrover only made it three quarters of the way home and the rest on the back of an AA truck and had to be retired for the rest of the season!

Thanks to everyone for their participation and involvement in the workshops and particularly to the hotels for providing such great hospitality, scones, jam and cream. Particular thanks also go to hen harrier researchers Barry O?Donoghue and Mark Wilson for providing additional talks on Irish hen harrier ecology and the on-going hen harrier research at UCC (University College Cork).

Hen Harrier in flight
Thu13th Oct 2011

The 5th year of collecting and releasing White-tailed Sea Eagles, to re-establish the species as a breeding bird in Ireland after a gap of over 110 years, went well this summer and all birds are now out there soaring freely in the skies on the south-west and possibly beyond. Collecting the sea eagle chicks began on the islands of Hitra, Froya, and Vikna on 17-19 June thanks to the superb efforts of the collecting team there: our good friends Martin Pearson, Inge Dahlø and Asgeir Øestvik on Hitra-Froya; Bertil Nyheim, Frithof Pedersen and Steiner Garstad on Vikna. In total 12 birds came from Hitra-Froya and 6 from Vikna. Over the next few days (20-22 June) a further 5 birds were collected: one collected by Livar Ramvik and Duncan Halley on the mainland at Snillfjord (this bird is now our sat-tagged male Ingar!); one collected at Byneset near Trondheim by Torgeir Nygard and myself; 2 collected on islands in Flatanger by Torgeir and myself, ably assisted by Ole-Martin Dahle. The final bird, a male chick, was collected from a big Norway Spruce high up above a town on the coast of Norway by Torgeir, Duncan and myself. This was the 23rd bird collected in 2011 and the 100th bird collected over the 5 years of the release phase of the reintroduction programme! And fittingly this last bird was on a big tree with a big nest on the broken top of the spruce with string winds and rain added to the mix! It was a good feeling to collect this last bird but I for one was glad to get down out of there!

During my stay in Norway the birds were again housed in a converted barn in Stjordal and expertly looked after by our good friend, Tom Roger Østeraas. Almost as importantly we were made at home and looked after by Aud and Arne Moxnes. Birds were measured and blood sampled to confirm sex and their health status checked by a vet. We ended up with 15 females and 8 males, a strong bias towards females which is what we aimed for to balance the sex ratio in Ireland. On 25 June I flew from Trondheim to Kerry with the 23 eagles. For once it was raining and cool in Norway but dry and warm in Kerry when we got there. Staff and volunteers from Killarney National Park were in hand to help with transferring the birds safely and smoothly to the flight cages in the park where they were housed over the next few weeks. Birds were tagged and transmittered in late July ready for release. Again, this wouldn't have been possible (or half as fun!) without the help of so many, particularly Damian Clarke and Anne Fitzpatrick (NPWS, Wicklow Mountains NP), Eimear Rooney (Queens Univ, Belfast), John Lusby (BirdWatch Ireland), Barry O'Donoghue (NPWS, W. Cork), Anna McWilliam, Arthur Allen, and Daniel O'Lachlan (Tralee IT).

On 4th August we released the 1st batch of 10 birds with another 10 taking the wing the following week. Our final three held on until 25 August when they were finally ready for release. All releases went pretty smoothly despite the poor weather especially on the 1st and last releases. Minister Jimmy Deenihan attended the 1st release which was almost a no-show because of the weather. The final release was the only one to have a hiccup, partly to do with having to release birds in dodgy weather for a 1st flight. Two of the 3 birds released on 25 Aug didn't make it much beyond the cages on day 1 but thankfully all were flying fine and made it to the feeding sites along the lakes within a few days. Although most birds remained around the Lower Lake over the next month (into mid-Sept) three birds had departed by mid-Aug and have not been picked up by telemetry since. Its likely that these birds are now exploring the country as we speak. Reports have been coming in from west Cork, Clare, Galway, Donegal and Fermanagh but more of that anon.

At this moment most of the 2011 released birds that are still left in the release area (6-12 birds) are to be found in the Long-Range to Black Valley area as well as around Lough Guitane SE of Killarney. Look out for sea eagles on the move where you live, especially along the west coast and along the Shannon valley and report any sightings to me on this website by clicking on Report a Sighting on the home page! Thanks a million!

The 100th bird in the bag!
Sat23rd Apr 2011

A White-tailed Eagle has been killed in Kerry after being hit by a wind turbine blade. The eagle, a 3 year old female released in Killarney National Park in 2008, was found below a wind turbine at the Silahertane Wind Farm on the Kerry-Cork border south-east of Kilgarvan on 9 March 2011. The strike with the turbine blade severed a wing and fractured a leg. Post-mortem at the Regional Vet Lab, Cork, and toxicological analysis at the State Laboratory, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, revealed very low concentrations of Nitroxinil (Trodax) in the liver but this was considered to be non-significant, probably due to consuming traces of the drug in sheep carrion. This is the first documented mortality of an eagle due to collision with a turbine in Ireland. There have been no documented deaths due to turbine strikes of Golden Eagles or White-tailed Eagles in the UK to date although eagle collisions with turbines have been widely documented in Europe and USA and red kites have been killed by turbine strikes in Scotland.

?It is sad to lose an eagle in this way,? said Dr Allan Mee, Project Manager of the White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction, ?especially as this three year old female would have been one of the first birds from the release programme to form the nucleus of a breeding population. We were unaware of any birds roosting in the area of the wind farm at the time. The nearest roost to the wind farm is only 1.5 kilometres away and had been used regularly by eagles during late 2009 and early 2010 and occasionally since then. The risks are probably greatest when birds begin to leave the roost and use the slopes to gain height during which time they are flying low enough to fly through the wind farm. Interactions with other eagles such as chasing and displaying could also increase the risk from turbine strikes as birds may be largely unaware of any risks from collisions during such interactions, as has been suggested by studies at Smola, in Norway?.

Over the next few years it will also be important to assess how much White-tailed Eagles use the existing windfarms and whether they avoid windfarms to any extent. We will also work with wind farm operators to help reduce the risks of further collisions where possible. Despite the loss of this eagle to collision, it should be borne in mind that mortality due to poisoning has been by far and away the greatest threat to eagles and other scavenging birds of prey in Ireland and indeed in the UK. Over the past three years 9 White-tailed Eagles have died due to poisoning alone. Seventy-seven White-tailed Eagles have been released in Killarney National Park since 2007. To date 16 sea eagles have been recovered dead, 9 have died due to poisoning alone, the greatest mortality threat to the species reestablishment.

Collisions, such as flying into powerlines or being hit by trains, are also a serious risk to large birds of prey. In Germany collisions with trains are one of the most significant causes of accidental death of White-tailed Eagles. In Scotland at least two reintroduced White-tailed Eagles have been hit by trains while two reintroduced Red Kites in Wicklow have also been killed in this way where they were attracted to railway lines to scavenge on pheasants killed by trains. Studies in Hungary have also shown that 40,000-170,000 birds are killed annually by electrocution with 36% of the victims being raptors, including 42 Imperial eagles recovered dead between 2001 and 2009. The cumulative effects of anthropogenic (man-made) mortality factors such as poisoning, collisions, electrocution and turbine-strikes, has serious implications for the viability of raptor populations, particularly raptors such as eagles that have low reproductive rates.

WTSE turbine fatality
Mon1st Nov 2010

Well its lashing rain in south Kerry on the "first day of winter" with any self respecting eagle likely to be keeping his/her head down and weathering the storm in the hope of better days to come! We've had some glorious days in October but the weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse alright. During October, apart from a few individuals, most 2010 released eagles have been largely resident in the Killarney valley, especially the Upper Lake and Long Range areas. Despite the fact that we stopped supplementary feeding in early October the class of 2010 has been slow to get the hint and disperse. The exception has been blue tag male 3 who has been all over the south-west coast. On the last blog I mentioned that he was missing until spotted and photographed soaring around the cliffs of Blananarraguan, the iconic sea-watching point on the westerly tip of Cape Clear Island, on 18 September by Dick Coombes. He was also seen on Three Castle Head just north of Mizen Head on 22 September. Blue 3 was then seen regularly on Dursey Island on the tip of the Beara peninsula in late September and early October (D. Cooke, K. Grace). Other sightings of WTSEs in west Cork may have included male 3 including 2 birds at Lissagriffin near Mizen Head on 19 October. Unconfirmed reports were of two birds fishing on Lough Allua near Ballingeary, Co. Cork, in mid-October and 6-8 birds over nearby Shehy Mountain in late October.

Other interesting reports away from Kerry were 3 birds west of Oughterard, Co Galway, on 24 September and 2 there on 1 October (inc 2009 male Rbar), and one at Upper Lough Erne, Fermanagh, on 6 October. A tagged WTSE was also reported from Ballycotton, Co Cork, on 27 September. Other reports have been birds at Pollardstown Fen, Kildare, on 19 October, at Portumna Forest Park, Lough Derg, Co. Galway, on 24 October and near Ballieborough, Co. Cavan, on 28 October.

Perhaps the most interesting record was for 2008 male K. Male K had been frequenting the Dingle peninsula in March but was spotted in the lake country west of Oughterard by NPWS ranger Aonghas O'Donnell in May. On 7 October Brendan Dunlop of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, picked up a signal for K from the NE Antrim coast looking straight across the 20km of sea to the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland! Its likely K had been some time in Scotland and may have been on his way back to the shamrock shore after a sojourn with his Scottish cousins. K is the fourth definite record of an Irish WTSE in Scotland but it's likely that several others have been to Scotland undetected. Brendan & Marc Ruddock also got to grips with 2009 male < in NE Antrim on 18 September (see photo).

Good news to report on Ollie, yellow tag 2007 male. In the last blog I mentioned that hehad lost his 'mate', red tag 2008 female dot, who disappeared in early May. Thankfully she is back in Kerry and the two have been hanging out along the Iveragh coast and Lough Currane. One of my most memorable days tracking eagles so far was on a flat calm evening in late October with the sun setting over the Iveragh coast and the loud yelping calls of female dot echoing across the bay from her perch on a big tree (close enough to see her calling!). Nearby Ollie seemed unsure whether his summer of solitude wasn't all that bad after all! Girls, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!

Another bird to return to Kerry was yellow tag 2007 male 1. He was seen in Kenmare Bay on 30 September and joined by 2007 female X. Since then he has been seen on his own and with 2008 female T. It will be exciting to see if any of these birds begin to pair off over the winter and maybe attempt to nest in 2011. Fingers crossed!

As you will have read from the Red Kite project update Damian Clarke has defected back to the National Parks & Wildlife Service. Damian, your wit and repartee will be sadly missed:-( Seriously though, Damian has done a great job on the kites, not to mention his many side projects on buzzards, peregrines, ravens and nightjars. I'll be calling on his tree climbing expertise among other things in the future! And of course kites will still be a part of his work with NPWS for many years to come.

PS: Hope ye are all enjoying the Eagles Return series on RTE. Congrats to John and Cepa at Crossing the Line and the many cameramen including Mick O'Rourke, Ross Bartley, Gabe (???) and Dom Pontillo. It was a long time in the making and gives a good insight into the reintroduction projects, the good days, bad days, hopes for the future and the threat to the future of Irish eagles and kites from poisons.

2009 Sea Eagle in Antrim
Sat18th Sep 2010

Over the last few weeks the newly released Sea Eagles have been coming and going with most birds still to be found in Killarney National Park, especially around Lough Leane with others along the Long Range and Upper Lake. The furthest we know that birds have travelled was one to Cork Harbour and back (satellite tagged male Seán) and another (male 14) to Lough Currane near Waterville. Possibly the same bird was spotted on a brief visit to Sceilig Mhichíl on 30 August (the day after I visited the Skelligs:-(), the site of ancient monastic settlements off the west coast of Kerry. Only one bird (male 3) has been missing for some weeks, since late August, and has probably dispersed some distance as did male Star and female Fiadhna within weeks of release in 2009. An Irish Sea Eagle spotted just west of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands on 3 September and identified as turquoise tag 8 might have been blue tag 3 or 2009 green tag male R! Either way this is the 4th Irish released Sea Eagle spotted in Scotland. No doubt other Irish Sea Eagles have visited Scotland that we don?t know about. Several birds have been seen in Northern Ireland again this spring and summer as in 2008 and 2009 including 2008 male Z, and 2009 males Star and <. Most reports have come from north-east Antrim, the nearest bit of land to Scotland, so it would be amazing if birds had not made the short trip over the water to the Mull of Kintyre as at least 3 birds did in 2009.

One exciting development over recent weeks has been at least two Sea Eagles with WHITE tails. We were lucky enough to see one soaring over Glena bay on Lough Leane on 30 September and female X near Mangerton Mountain on 8 September. Both these were hatched in Norway in 2007 and are now in their 4th calendar year. Although their tail feathers are not completely white (see the dark tips to the feathers in the photo) the tails appear pure white at any distance. Along with the paler head and lemon yellow bill it is exciting to see Irish released birds finally beginning to reach physiological maturity. Female X had spent at least part of the winter of 2008/09 in the Scottish Highlands where she was seen feeding on a fish on a frozen lake in Feb 2009. She was back in Kerry by May 2009 and was last seen on Mangerton in August 2009, over a year ago. Another 2007 released bird, male 9 (Ollie!), has been largely resident on Lough Currane although he disappeared for a while and visited Killarney for a few days and may be the bird photographed by Brendan Marnell on 31 August over Lough Leane (see photo). Ollie is back on Currane where he is regularly seen by the local gillies with fishing parties on the lake. Earlier in the year he had apparently been paired with a 2008 released red tag female but she disappeared in early May and has not been seen since. Hopefully she didn't fall foul of poison left on a carcass on a hillside somewhere. It would be tragic to think that Ollie had lost a potential mate with breeding a possibility next year or the year after. Here?s hoping Ollie isn't alone for too long!

WHERE TO GO TO SPOT SEA EAGLES? I get this question alot as more and more people are interested in seeing wild Irish White-tailed Sea Eagles for themselves. At the moment the best places to look for sea eagles are:

Lough Leane, Killarney. Best to go on one of the 'Gap' boats (heading to the Upper Lake) that operate from Ross Castle, Killarney. They usually start about 1030am and the trip to the Upper Lake takes about an hour. You can either walk back through the Gap of Dunloe, take a pony and trap through the Gap, walk back via the Kerry Way through Derrycunnihy oakwook, or return by boat.

Upper Lake-Black Valley. Always a good area to spot eagles especially from the Kerry Way round the Upper Lake or at the west end of the Black Valley.

Lough Currane, Waterville: Usually hold one or more birds. The best spots to view the lake are along the Glen More road on the south side of the lake. Birds from Currane also visit Derrynane cove from time to time.

Mangerton Mountain. Anywhere on Mangerton but especially the south side of the mountain and along the Kilgarvan-Clonkeen road (where it joins the main Cork-Killarney road) is worth a look.

WHERE TO STAY: Lots of hotels and B & Bs in Killarney, Kenmare, and Beaufort with some great deals at the moment. Folk at the Lake Hotel are especially keen and knowledgeable on the Sea Eagles (and have supported the Golden Eagle Trust!) so check out www.lakehotel.com

The Black Valley has a great hostel (Tel: +353-(0)64-66 34712 Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) as well as two B & Bs, the Shamrock Farm Guest House (Tel: +353 (0)64-6634714) and Hillcrest Farmhouse (Tel: +353 (0)64-66 34702).

Black Valley hostel is open from 1 March-31 October. Its run by Eileen and Michael (Dikey) Tangney and family and has a small shop for all the basics.

Your support for local businesses in the Black Valley and elsewhere in south Kerry is greatly appreciated and helps keep local communities alive and sustainable.

WHITE-tailed Sea Eagle over Killarney
Page 9 of 32