West Offaly is to host a detailed raptor survey over the coming months. This BirdWatch Ireland project has been funded by Banagher Local Development Company in collaboration Banagher Tidy Towns through the LEADER 2009-2013 programme. The project aims to establish breeding densities of three raptor species in the area. Barn Owls, Long Eared Owls and Kestrels have not been studied in such detail in the area and the results will provide invaluable insights into the current status of the three species nationally. John Lusby BirdWatch Ireland Raptor Conservation Officer stated “despite the fact that these raptors are still widespread and relatively common there have been virtually no specific studies on these species in Ireland, and as a result we are lacking information on even basic aspects of their ecology”. Specifically the project will aim to locate nest sites for the three species and monitor the success of any breeding attempts. A nest box programme will also be rolled out to provide additional nest sites and to aid monitoring.
Until quite recently our knowledge of Barn Owls in Ireland had been relatively limited. The elusive nature of this iconic species meant that it was extremely difficult to gain an overview of the issues that impacted upon these owls. Thankfully this situation has changed dramatically over the past five years largely due to the tireless efforts of volunteers who have facilitated the comprehensive monitoring of Barn Owl populations throughout the country. As a result of their hard work, co-ordinated by the Raptor Conservation Project, we now have a much better understanding of the ecological requirements of our Barn Owls and the factors which affect their conservation status. The success of this project has provided a blueprint for current undertakings.
West Offaly is ideally suited to a raptor monitoring scheme owing to its unique ecosystems, with particular reference to the Shannon Callows and the restored bog of Boora Parklands. The locality supports a wealth of biodiversity including a healthy raptor population. Although West Offaly is well known for the beauty of its landscapes and wildlife this project aims to further encourage an active and meaningful engagement with wildlife. The aims of the project will be achieved through four individual project components, each of which are interlinked and feed into one another.
Detailed survey work will be carried out within specially selected areas within West Offaly and aims to identify roost and nest sites for Barn Owls, Long-Eared Owls and Kestrels in order to establish breeding density in the region. The public are encouraged to help by contacting BirdWatch Ireland with sightings of any of these key species. Posters detailing the project with relevant contacts will be circulated where appropriate. The farming community in particular are encouraged to participate given their invaluable knowledge of the local countryside. Nests that are discovered will be monitored and chicks will be ringed under license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
A nest box and basket scheme will also be rolled out for the three species. The provision of nest sites provides a tangible management system by which local raptor population can be conserved. Nest boxes and baskets provide a safe, secure nest site in areas of suitable habitat where natural sites may be limited. Local groups will construct 20 nest boxes for Kestrels and Barn Owls and 10 baskets for Long-Eared Owls. The work of these groups will prove to be a great help to future monitoring and conservation efforts for Barn Owls, Long-Eared Owls and Kestrels in West Offaly. Previously carried out survey work will highlight suitable locations where artificial nest sites can be placed.
Another exciting element of the project will the use nest camera both for research purposes and to provide the local community with a window into the world of breeding raptor. It is hoped that everything from incubation, the subsequent hatching and rearing will be caught on camera. It is hoped that the system will provide live footage on the internet. It is purposed that this element of the project will be rolled out in 2013.
All questions on the project or sightings of Barn Owls, Long-Eared Owls and Kestrels can be directed to Padraig Cregg by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 087 7866357.