I spent all of yesterday with John Lusby, my line manager at BirdWatch Ireland, visiting all of our known West Offaly Kestrel and Long-eared Owl nests. We were monitoring the nests both to record the productivity of each brood and also to ring any chicks that were large enough to do so. To save on a lot of unnecessary ladder and rope play we brought with us a nice new piece of kit. A nest inspection device, and what this effectively is, is a camera on top of a long pole. With all the subtleties of motion which we could summon, we maneuvered our 10m long nest inspection device into position in the hope of an illuminating view of the nest contents. All active nests at this time of year for both Kestrels and Long-eared Owls will have either eggs or chicks. Counting the downy chicks from the picture provided on the small screen of the camera can be a bewildering prospect. At first glance you are faced with a downy mess, of a nondescript nature, but gradually you begin to notice the border lines which separate individuals. Should the chicks be large enough to ring, phase two of the operation begins. The pictures below, in the order in which they appear are a Kestrel chick, Long-eared Owl chick and a close up of the amazing eyes of the same.
A ladder and/or a rope are used to reach the chicks in their lofty nests. In the case of a building a ladder is used and the operation becomes a more straight forward procedure. In the case of the nest being positioned in the extremities of a large tree, John our resident arboreal expert is called into play. Firstly John shots a guide line up into the top most branches which creates an anchor point, which will support his weight while he climbs. Using a maze of knots, a pulley system and not an inconsiderable amount of industry, the tree is climbed and the chicks ringed. Along with the ring number the bird’s age, health and place of birth are recorded.
As these chicks fledge and inevitably disperse, future encounters with them (thanks to the rings), will help to lessen the vale of ignorance which surrounds the lives of these enigmatic birds of prey.