Research Around the Clock
The morning often sees me trying to track down Kestrel nesting sites and yesterday morning was no different. Between the squalls of a rain laden wind I watched a small shelter belt of conifer and pine which has been a traditional nesting site for Kestrel in the area. The first sign I had of this small falcon’s presence was provided by Rooks. They repeatedly dive bombed, with angry swoops on an area at the centre of the shelter belt. This kind of behaviour is reserved by most birds for predators. It is both a clear statement to the predator that they have been seen and an attempt to drive them away. It is usually performed by a group of birds. Looking for this type of behaviour has become such a habit that the everyday alarm calls* of a Blackbird or Swallow demand of me, my immediate attention.
Happily the Rooks had done my work for me by finding the Kestrels. There was a pair on site and it wasn’t long before the female returned to her nest. This latest find brings the total of Kestrel pairs found in the West Offaly area to ten, a good number but I am still hopeful that I will find more. Should anyone have information on the location of a nest do be sure to get in touch.
After lunch it’s time to do some Barn Owl, and Kestrel, nest monitoring. These visits aim to record productivity, the relative health of the broods and to ring the chicks. Tuesday, just gone, produced some great numbers. A ruin just outside Banagher played host to six Kestrel chicks and three Barn Owl chicks; all of which were in good health and should all fledge without difficulty. This brood of six represents the largest brood of Kestrels in the country (pictured above). The Barn Owls (pictured below, patiently await us to take their measurements) are quite early, their health and the sheer weight of numbers of Kestrels in the building pay tribute to the rich hunting grounds which the nearby Shannon Callows provides. Another building, close to Tullamore, which has also been a traditional host to both Kestrel and Barn Owls, rounded off the day in some style. We found to our wonder that the Barn Owl nest contained eight eggs. The most BirdWatch Ireland staff have ever seen before in one clutch was six.
The late evening and night of late have seen me carrying out the first phase of a Long-eared Owl chick survey. Monday night saw the completion of phase one. The area surrounding Banagher has proved the most profitable in my search for the calls of young Long-eared Owls (pictured below). I have found three broods within this 10km square but the search will be conducted twice more. It is hoped these later searches will turn up more active sites. Although owls are the marquee nocturnal avian species, they are by no means alone in their nocturnal tendencies. My midnight countryside forays have opened my eyes to the quality of the night time chorus. Grasshopper and Sedge Warblers, Cuckoos, Snipe and Woodcock all broadcast their territorial claims at night. Sadly the afterhour’s cacophonous reel of the Corncrake is now rarely heard in the midlands of Ireland. The summer floods, of a few years past, washed out the nests of this ground nesting bird in the region.
Please do continue to keep in touch with the blog for more avian observations and pictures in the coming weeks as Barn Owls will increasingly be the focus of the project.
* Interestingly on the subject of alarm calls, there is a bird in Southern Africa called the Fork-tailed Drongo who has learned to mimic the alarm calls of all its neighbours. Drongos watch and wait for a bird to find a tasty morsel, at which point they produce the alarm call of the species in question. The bird instantly flies up in alarm to shelter, leaving behind an easy meal for the Drongo.