Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Going through photos from the trip my family, friends and I took to Ireland last month, combined with telling people about the trip and general reminiscing, has gotten me thinking about a few different aspects of Ireland. One of the big ones that has been on my mind was the low numbers of raptors I saw. Over the course of the entire 10 day trip, I was a total of 2 Common Buzzards, 1 Eurasian Kestrel and 1 Eurasian Sparrowhawk. That was it! My brother and I talked about this and he added that on other trips to Great Britain that he has taken, the overall raptors numbers were always much smaller than he expected. Where were all the raptors?

Well, I got to reading and found out that what I saw in Ireland was pretty typical. There are very low population numbers of raptors on the emerald isle, and this is mostly because of humans. Over the past several hundred years, humans have persecuted raptors extensively. During the 1700s and 1800s raptors were killed in Ireland (and many other parts of the world) for sport and because it was thought that they preyed upon domestic chickens and ducks. This resulted in a massive reduction in all species of raptor that occurred on the island and outright extirpation of four species. None of the species of bird of prey (diurnal or nocturnal) have rebounded completely, and there is little public support for birds of prey.

Several groups are currently monitoring raptors of Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is the government branch in charge of designating important habitat for protection and monitoring bird populations. In Northern Ireland, the corollary governmental organization is the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Additionally, there are four non-governmental organizations that are working on raptors in Ireland. The Irish Raptor Study Group (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Irish-Raptor-Study-Group/345679678896374?sk=info&tab=page_info) is an all volunteer organization that is working on raptor monitoring and conservation in the Republic of Ireland. The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (http://www.nirsg.com/) is a similar, all volunteer organization that works in Northern Ireland to monitor raptor populations. The Golden Eagle Trust (http://www.goldeneagletrust.org/) has lead reintroduction programs for Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles, and Red Kites to Ireland where they once were native. BirdWatch Ireland (http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/), which is the Irish branch of BirdLife International, is dedicated to the conservation of all birds and launched the Raptor Conservation Project a few years ago in Ireland.

And significant human caused treats still exist. Poisoning of rodents, and the resulting poisoning of raptors, is still a major problem in Ireland (as it is also here in California, for that matter). large numbers of raptors die every year due to exposure to toxic chemicals from eating poisoned prey animals. The organization BirdWatch Ireland is currently working on a project to monitor raptor populations, educate the public of the benefits of raptors in ecosystems, and outlawing and prosecuting poisoning of raptors. Learn more about them at: http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Ourwork/WingandaPrayerRaptorAppeal/tabid/1204/Default.aspx

It is impressive to me how much the state of birds of prey in Ireland are similar to the state of birds of prey in the USA maybe 50 years ago. Now we in the USA have much stronger regulations protecting the raptors that live here, a very broad base of research and monitoring across the continent, and broad public support for raptors as amazing creatures that should not be targeted. It will be interesting to see if Ireland is able to follow a similar path. Hopefully, they will do so faster than we did, and protect their birds of prey quickly.

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As the first part of a longer trip, I recently spent a few days in Dublin, Ireland. My wife, daughter, brother, sister-in-law, and I rented a nice little apartment in the Portobello neighborhood. Portobello is a small, cute, and up-and-coming section of the city south the River Liffey. It is bounded by South Circular Rd. to the north and the Grand Canal to the south. The spot we were staying in was right along the Grand Canal near the Camden St. bridge. As soon as we unloaded our luggage from the cab, I spotted a Pied Wagtail foraging on the other side of the street. It then turned and flew right past my head, so I figured we were in for some fun birding!

The small square just outside our apartment. The Grand Canal is just in front of the buildings in the background.

The small square just outside our apartment. The Grand Canal is just in front of the buildings in the background.

It was a lovely neighborhood to get to explore, and explore we did! Jetlag took its toll as did the loud revelers that spilled from the pubs each morning at between 2 and 4. This meant that some of the exploring we did was much earlier than we might have otherwise planned. Dublin is much farther north than central California, and so I was very impressed to find dawn brightening the sky at 4am on these excursions! These early morning walks were not in vain in terms of wildlife. My wife and daughter and I watched a Grey Heron hunting in the canal and catching some surprisingly large fish for how urban the area is. We also were surprised to see a Red Fox walking along the edge of a nearby house. It was no less surprised to see us and dashed around a corner and into a garden. We saw Jackdaws every day, and these attractively proportioned birds with there subtle dove grey napes quickly became my favorite life-bird of Ireland. Something about having a crow the size of a pigeon also made them especially endearing to me.

The corvids in general were pretty amazing along the Grand Canal. In addition to the Jackdaws, we saw Rooks with their dramatically long thin bills along with European Magpies and Hooded Crows. They all tended to hang around the groups of Rock Pigeons (cool to see them as native species), European Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls waiting from someone to come along and drop bread crumbs for them.

When we got away from the canal and into the neighborhoods, there were many beautiful gardens which produced a delightful array of new bird species. Grey Wagtails, Blue Tits, a whole family of Great Tits, Dunnock, a family of European Wrens, European Blackbird, Woodpigeon, European Swifts cutting the air to pieces over our heads, and a family of Coal Tits foraging in a bush at eye level and not ten feet away!

A view up Harcourt St. looking north.

A view up Harcourt St. looking north.

We also got away from the Portobello area to explore more of central Dublin, St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street and Harcourt Street, and the very birdy Merrion Square. If you spend some time in central Dublin, definitely plan on spending some time birding Merrion Square. It has more dense  and varied vegetation than the larger St. Stephen’s Green and had much denser and more varied birdlife. And then go and have a wonderful Irish breakfast at the Grove Road which is a terrific café just across the Grand Canal.

One thing that really surprised me about birding in Dublin was the complete lack of raptors. In most cities in California, I am used to seeing the occasional bird of prey go zooming by. Granted, there may not be a lot of raptors in many cities, but I am pretty sure that after spending three days in San Francisco or Sacramento, I would be just about guaranteed to see at least one individual. But in Dublin, I saw not a one. It was a little weird. Even after we got out of the city, there were surprisingly few raptors on this trip.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my first trip to Ireland and the time spent in it’s capitol city. I only wish we had had more time there.

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