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Mon27th May 2013

The small Golden Eagle population in Donegal is coping with the unseasonal wet and cold breeding season.  There are two active nests and several other sites occupied by pairs or single territorial birds.  One of the nests had two eggs, but only one egg hatched and the female chick is now almost five weeks old.  The adults have found it difficult to catch live prey during the recent spells of bad weather and large fires, in parts of the home range in May 2011, has meant that some of their territory is still devoid of food.  Late last week the first nest visit showed that the adults had brought in a badger cub, this is at least the fifth badger cub confirmed as prey for the Glenveagh Golden Eagle pair and it is suspected that several other badgers have gone unrecorded, as we only visit a nest 2-3 times annually during the 11-12 week period from hatching to fledging.

The nest ledge had very little nesting material on it, though it is reasonably well sheltered from the overhanging rock above the nest cup.  The adults have been seen hunting together over the Derryveagh Mountain tops late into the evening between 8-9pm and also in the early morning.  This is still the most productive pair in Donegal, they produced 1 chick in 2007, 2 chicks in 2009, 1 chick in 2010, 1 chick in 2011 and no chicks fledged in 2008 and last year, 2012.  Let us hope the weather picks up shortly and that the adults can catch enough live prey to bring back to the nest and feed the chick over the next seven weeks.

The second nest had two chicks and both chicks were observed in the nest on Friday 17th May and were approximately 3 weeks of age.  However the unusually wet and cold weather subsequently (especially Sat 18th and Sun 19th) probably led to a severe shortage of food being brought to the nest and by Wednesday 22nd May only one chick was observed during a long nest watch.  Usually only one Golden Eagle chick fledges from a nest each year.  Very often the older chick (which hatches out 3 days sooner than the second egg) can injure the younger chick.  But since the younger chick in this eyrie had survived for at least 3 weeks, it should have been able to avoid any sustained pecks from the older sibling and it is more likely that all available food was initially fed to the stronger and more demanding chick by the adult eagle.  The younger bird probably succumbed to a shortage of food as a result of repeated spells of poor weather, which would have curtailed the successful hunting of the adult birds.

In summary, the Golden Eagle project faces 3 primary constraints.  The shortage of donor stock from Scotland has been a limiting factor.  The poisoning or shooting  of Golden Eagles in Donegal, Northern Ireland and in north Connaught has also been a limiting factor and has been very difficult to confirm in remote mountains without  the use of Satellite tags.  And finally, the condition or quality of mountain habitats and associated mammals and bird species has been highlighted by detailed National Parks and Wildlife Service and Birdwatch Ireland surveys and reports.  However, if we can maintain a small breeding population, over time we may be able to minimise the impact of poisoning and enhance the condition of our mountains.  The Golden Eagle population would then be able to respond to those new opportunities.

It has been a very unusual spring and breeding season to date in the Donegal Mountains.  There has been very little growth in vegetation to date and Red Deer are still to be seen feeding in the valley bottom and adjacent fields.  Normally they would have moved to fresh grasses and browsing in the hill tops by now.  There have been very few signs of Moth caterpillars on the heather and Merlins must be finding it very hard to build up their body weight.  The shortage of insects, (especially spiders and Crane flies), has been quite obvious and the small upland passerines have been seen moving about in small groups rather than quickly establishing pairs and getting down to breeding.

On the positive side, there has been some important progress recently on the issue of poisoning enforcement and the statutory authorities are continuing to put in place a more rigorous monitoring and enforcement regime.  Over the coming months an even more robust system should be in place to deal with the illegal use of poison.  We have yet to raise sufficient awareness that the poisoning of foxes and crows was completely banned by EU Agricultural policies, which was enacted in Ireland in 2008.  Some of the media have been told that the wildlife lobby banned poisoning in the 2010, e.g. the Statutory Instrument (S. I. 481), whilst in fact this legislation actually allowed the use of poison, under strict licensing conditions, on non meat baits.  It just happens that there is not a single poison or veterinary medicine available in Ireland, which is registered and approved, for the control of Foxes and Crows since the 2008 Statutory Instrument, (S.I. 511) enacted in 2008.  Whilst poisoning remains the single biggest threat to Golden Eagles, White-tailed Sea Eagles and Red Kites, the use of poisons has decreased over the last decade and the continued spread of Buzzards is both; an expansion of the Irish population but also the result of a decreasing level of poisoning mortality.

At this early stage of the breeding season, it is worth noting that for the first time in over 200 years Ireland has at long last White-tailed Sea Eagle, Red Kite and Golden Eagle chicks developing in swaying tree tops and remote cliff ledges.  These nests were once an integral part of our annual breeding season and the continued support of the communities where they have settled is a real cause for optimism.  The strong rural tourism lobby is increasingly aware of the potential and benefits of wildlife for tourism, either through direct public visiting or its subtle use in promotional activities, and the agricultural sector is conscious of the importance of its ‘green image’ in marketing its Agri-Food exports.  The ongoing challenge for all wildlife NGOs is to try to harness and utilise a growing sense of the importance of wildlife for the two most important sectors of the rural economy, namely farming and tourism.  Hopefully in a couple of years time as the eagles and kites become more established across parts of the country, people will realise that the ‘Fear’ of these large birds of prey was largely based on quite exaggerated historical perceptions.  The Golden Eagle Trust restoration programmes have faced some real set-backs and presumably we will face further losses to poisoning in the future.  But at times we need to recognise the undoubted progress these projects are making and celebrate the very genuine community support they have evoked locally also.

Donegal Golden Eagle update
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Wed8th May 2013

White-tailed Eagles have successfully hatched chicks in Ireland for the first time in over 110 years. In the last week a pair was confirmed to have hatched chicks at a nest near Mountshannon, Co Clare. This pair also created history in 2012 when they nested for the first time. A second pair, in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, successfully hatched chicks in the past few days having laid eggs in late March. These are the first chicks of the high profile reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park as part of the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction programme developed and funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in partnership with Golden Eagle Trust.  

Nesting began in late March with pairs laying eggs in nests in Clare and Killarney. The Mountshannon breeding pair, a five year old male and four year old female, was collected on the island of Frøya off the west coast of Norway. This pair laid eggs in 2012 but failed to hatch chicks. However by January 2013 had already built a new nest. The Killarney breeding pair, a six year old female and five year old male, was collected on islands in Flatanger and Hitra, Norway, in 2007 and 2008. The Killarney female spent part of the winter in early 2009 in the Scottish Highlands before returning to Kerry. All birds were released in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, as part of the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction programme. Several pairs have now established themselves in counties Kerry, Cork, Clare and Galway at coastal and inland lake sites.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D. said "This is a momentous occasion in that we are now witnessing the first white-tailed eagles born in the wild in Ireland in over 100 years."

We are delighted that White-tailed Eagles are now nesting successfully in Clare and Kerry”, said Dr. Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust. “Last years’ nesting attempt by the Clare pair was a momentous event for the species recovery in Ireland. However, the species has now taken the next important step by producing the first chicks on the reintroduction programme. This is another milestone for the project as producing and fledging chicks in nests in Ireland is critical for the projects’ success. Ultimately the viability of the reintroduced programme depends on these chicks going on to breed themselves in Ireland. Each step brings us closer to that goal. Many people have helped us reach this goal over the years. We especially wish to thank local communities in Mountshannon and Whitegate, Co. Clare, and in the Killarney and wider South Kerry area for their goodwill and continued support. The eagles have benefitted from widespread support from communities and landowners, and their presence enhances rural economic values, especially wildlife tourism. Special thanks also go to our friends in Norway who put their faith in the reintroduction programme in Ireland by providing birds and also supporting us through some difficult times.   

In Norway, the Norwegian team cooperating with the Irish Reintroduction Programme “was delighted to hear of the first successful hatching of chicks in Ireland, an important milestone on the road to a self-sustaining population of these magnificent birds. Our congratulations to the Irish project team, and to the Irish government who has supported the scheme, including taking measures to address the poisoning threat to the eagles and to the wider environment which the projects work revealed. The constructive approach of Ireland has been an impressive feature of the reintroduction, and we look forward to assisting further with your efforts”. The Norwegian effort to collect chicks for the Irish Reintroduction was composed of local volunteers, with coordination by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research and Norwegian Ornithological Society

The news of nesting White-tailed Eagles has generated alot of excitement locally in east Clare and Kerry and is likely to attract the attention of people keen to see the birds. However disturbance, particularly during the early stages of nesting when the birds are on eggs or have small chicks, would be detrimental to the pair’s success. “We are very conscious of the risk of disturbing the birds especially at this stage of nesting”Dr. Mee added. Please note that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act (1976) to willfully disturb White-tailed Eagles at the nest. Disturbance could result in the birds leaving the small chicks unguarded for a period during which they could be predated or be chilled or the birds could desert the site. We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from a nesting pair of sea eagles from nearby Mountshannon pier. Information on the birds, their ecology and conservation will be available. We would like to acknowledge the goodwill and assistance of local people in the Mountshannon area, Mountshannon Community Council, local angling, gun clubs and Clare County Council before and during the nesting period“.

Ronan Hannigan, Chairman of the Golden Eagle Trust stated: “We really appreciate the huge level of support received for all our restoration projects, particularly at grass root level.  White Tailed Eagles depend on the ongoing support of landowners, fishermen, clubs, farmers, local businesses, traders, tourists and school children.  They hopefully now will be a more regular sight all over the West of Ireland.” Hannigan went on to say “Many Companies have sponsored the projects, including Killarney Resorts Ltd (Liebherr), KPMG, Printrun Limited and Dublin Zoo, to whom we are very grateful.  A special thanks to Norway for giving such a unique gift to the people of Ireland.  The hatching of White-tailed Eagle chicks in Ireland again after over 100 years will no doubt boost tourism in this Year of the Gathering, but also in the years to come, and hopefully will restore some of our magical past”.

Whatever the outcome of these nesting attempts, the signs are good for future breeding in the area and at a number of other sites across Ireland in the near future. White-tailed Eagles can live for 25-30 years and generally mate for life with adult pairs remaining within their home range throughout the year. First time breeders, especially young birds, often fail at their first attempt. However, with the goodwill and support of local communities the species should have a bright future in Ireland.

NOTES

  • The White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Red Kite Reintroduction Projects in the Republic of Ireland are managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks & Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the Republic of Ireland. 
  • White-tailed Eagle chicks were collected under licence in Norway and transported to Ireland for release.
  • One hundred young White-tailed Eagles were released between 2007 and 2011 in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry. To date 27 birds have been recovered dead.
  • Over the past six years White-tailed Sea Eagles have dispersed throughout Ireland and beyond. Many eagles have been reported from Northern Ireland and at least six birds have travelled to Scotland. One male that spend 8 months away from Kerry in 2009 travelled over 2,000 kilometres to the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland before returning to Kerry. In early 2011 this male was found paired with a female in south Kerry. Immature White-tailed Sea Eagles may disperse over a wide area but once birds begin to mature and pair up at 4-5 years old they establish territories along the coast and inland lakes where they are resident throughout their lifetime.
  • Historically, the White-tailed Sea Eagle was once a respected and conspicuous part of the Irish landscape, before it was driven to extinction in the early 20th century by human persecution.
  • White-tailed Eagle tourism brings in an additional £5 million annually to the local economy of the Isle of Mull, Scotland.
 
WTE
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Thu21st Mar 2013

A member of the public recovered a dying red kite in Wicklow Town. The bird died a short time afterwards despite local vets trying to save the bird. It was found close to the golf club and close to a public footpath and road.

Subsequent post-mortems by the Department of Agriculture at Celbridge and toxicological tests by the State Laboratory have now confirmed the bird had been poisoned with not one, but two highly toxic banned pesticides!

This is the first case ever where both carbofuran and alphachloralose were detected in the carcass of the kite. It is suspected the bird had been feeding on carrion placed in the countryside and illegally laced with these chemicals.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), who register and approve all pesticides and poisons, banned all poisoning of animals and birds, apart from rodents and rabbits under Statutory Instrument 511 in October 2008. Poisoning any wildlife including crows, foxes and birds of prey is therefore a clear breach of the cross-compliance measures of the Single Farm Payment.

The red kite identified by its tags as “Blue White 21” which fledged near the village of Redcross in 2011 is confirmed to be the off-spring of “Blue Purple G” the adult female poisoned by alphachloralose 13 months earlier near Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow.

So, irresponsible and illegal use of has proven to have killed two generations of the same kite family – totally devastating news to the project team.

Dr Marc Ruddock, of the Golden Eagle Trust said “The reintroduction of red kites has been a fantastic success story and the expansion of the population along the east coast has allowed an increasing number of people to see these amazing birds. Unfortunately, every year we get tragic incidents like this. Illegally placing poison in the countryside puts wildlife, domestic animals and potentially members of the public at risk. We urge anyone with information about this or other wildlife crime to contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) or An Garda Siochana and also report poisoning to their local Department of Agriculture office”.

Jimmy Deenihan TD Minister for Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht, at the Department which funded the re-introduction of the kites in Ireland, appealed to anybody who may have more information about the deaths of these birds. “The pesticides used to poison these red kites were highly toxic. As soon as they were ingested these magnificent birds of prey – which are protected by law – would have had no chance of survival. I call on any person with any information about this to speak to the Gardaí or any regional office of my Department”.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service in Wicklow welcomes any information on this case and the use of illegal poisons generally. You can contact the Regional Office in Laragh on 076 100 2667 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The Department of Agriculture can also be contacted about poisons at the Dublin Office on 01 60 72000 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it     

download a pdf version of this document here

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Tue22nd Jan 2013

A new publication, Birds through Irish Eyes, by Anthony McGeehan, and two recent Irish Times articles (15/12/2012 & 19/01/2013), by Michael Viney, have raised the question whether Red Kites were ever found in Ireland and whether bird of prey reintroductions are necessary.  The suggestion in the book that the ‘introduction’ of Red Kite was ‘unethical’ is a slight on the Irish Raptor Study Group, the Northern Irish Raptor Study Group, all the Red Kite Projects Managers in Wicklow, Down and Dublin (2007-2013), the judgement of the statutory licensing authorities in both host jurisdictions and the donor country (Wales), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Golden Eagle Trust. The cumulative impact of 3 separate assertions, from Anthony McGeehan and Michael Viney, who are highly regarded, is now accruing.   These comments could be perceived as questioning the integrity of the individuals and bodies involved and now warrant an explanatory response.

The comments on the merits of reintroduction are less serious, as there is no sacrosanct view regarding the use of scarce resources and the selection of conservation priorities.  Irish raptor reintroductions have been openly and persistently criticised, by a number of influential Irish ornithologists and birdwatchers, since they began in 2001.  They require close scrutiny and a wide spectrum of criticism, if they are to remain vibrant going forward.  Raptors are now an important part of Ireland’s conservation management, at levels more akin to the European conservation norms.  Recent raptor efforts have broadened the once narrow bird conservation outlook, which was limited by resources, of the previous decades. There is some unease about the raptor initiatives and the emerging levels of public engagement, adopted by the established conservation sector.  Irish conservationists cannot tackle the myriad of difficulties faced by nature, on their own - recent decades of habitat and species decline demonstrate this point.  More so than any suite of Irish birds, these avian predators are reliant on good public awareness.
 

(1) Irish Red Kite history

The review states McGeehan clearly suspects the red kite, released in County Down, “was never here”.  But kites were living in Ireland, across the seasons, as documented in numerous centuries and across a third of the counties.  The majority of other native species, ‘presumed’ to have bred here historically, have no proof positive of their former breeding status, prior to the 1800s.  There are no British Trust for Onithology nest record cards or black and white photographs of Buzzard or Hen Harrier nests, prior to or, during the 16-18th Centuries, for example.  The carefully worded IUCN Guidelines, governing reintroduction best practice, anticipated these problems, and state in Section 4 a iii, the release “site should be within the historic range of the species” and in the preamble to the guidelines they mention that reintroduction is a “useful tool for restoring a species to an original habitat” and one should “assess the previous relationship of the species to the habitat into which the reintroduction is to take place”

Ireland’s Lost Birds’

5 pages of Red Kite evidence in Gordon D’Arcy ground-breaking book, (Ireland’s Lost Birds, 1999), concerning the history of extinct native birds, has failed to convince McGeehan, who may have deferred to the opinion of Thompson (1850) or others.  D’Arcy quotes references from Smith (1750 & 1756) who indicated Kites were breeding in Cork and Waterford and were common, like Buzzards, across parts of the country.   There are also references to Kites that were found and killed in Londonderry and Antrim (bordering County Down).  Several Irish Statutes are mentioned, offering a bounty for killing vermin including kites.  Why would a kite be listed as vermin, if it was not present during the hatching time (breeding season) of young domestic fowl and Gamebirds?  This is the primary source of evidence of the kite’s former presence in Ireland and the details below merely try to augment D’Arcy’s findings.  In fairness to McGeehan, he may not have been aware of the following materials.

Irish Archaeology

Dr Derek Yalden has compiled a database of 9839 birds, species and individuals, identified in British and Irish Archaeological excavations.  This list includes 7 recovered and verified Irish Red Kite bones from Roscrea, Lough Gur and five sites around Dublin, across a wide time span.  This may appear like quite a small number.  But if one puts it in context, it is actually quite significant, in terms of the paucity of bird remains found in Ireland generally.  For example, one of our commonest birds, Domestic Fowl, only has 30 individuals recorded and Crane, which was relatively numerous, only has 21 recovered individuals.  There is clearly a dearth of published Archaeological bird bone research in Ireland, in comparison to mammalian studies. 

Nonetheless, the extent of raptor bird bone records, from this list, is quite revealing and presents a tantalising glimpse into the status of woodland and wetland raptors prior to the persistent expansion of farming.  The Irish raptor bone list, in numerical order, is as follows; Buzzard (10 individuals), Red Kite (7), White-tailed Sea Eagle (6), Goshawk (5), Marsh Harrier (4), Peregrine and Sparrowhawk (3 each), Kestrel, Osprey, Barn Owl, Hen Harrier (2) Long eared Owl, Golden Eagle (1).  So the question arises; why would these recoveries suggest that the Red Kite was the second commonest raptor in Ireland, if it was never found in Ireland?  The different size of species’ bones and the unknown past human associations with different raptor species, may distort the numerical order of the above list.  But it clearly suggests that kites were once a well known raptor in Ireland.  Smith’s reputation and account of kites, (1750-1774), which were rather arbitrarily dismissed by Thompson in 1850, may merit a more benign contemporary consideration.

Irish Language

Even if only a small minority of people are familiar with Irish - it does contain a legitimate form of historical record.  Kites probably became extinct around the early 1800s and therefore many of the old records will be in Irish, especially prior to the 1600s.  If we are genuine about discovering our avian past, archaeology and the Irish manuscripts, are two resources that have to be placed alongside 19th century English Natural History books. 

Niall O Dónaill, Foclóir Gaeilge- Béarla, 1977, gives the following

Cúr = Kite, Cubhar = Cúr (i.e. look up cúr), Préachán na gcearc = Hen Harrier, Kite

Tomás de Bhaldraithe, English- Irish Dictionary, 1959, gives the following

Kite = Orn. Cúr

Rev Patrick S. Dinneen, Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla, 1927, Cromán = Crow, Kite

Préachán ceirteach = a kite, Préachán geárr = a glede or buzzard (geárr = sharp)

Préachán na gcearc = a kite or a scald crow, Garbh Sheabhac = glede   (garbh means rough and seabhac means hawk), [Glede is an Olde Anglo Saxon or Anglo Irish word for kite]

Edward Dwelly, Scots Gaelic Dictionary, 1901

Préachán Ceirteach = Red Kite, Clamhan gobhlach = a kite

Edward O Reilly & John O Donovan, An Irish-English Dictionary, 1864

Préachán ceirteach = a kite, any ravenous bird, Préachán na gcearc = a kite, a Ringtail

Thomas de Vere Coneys, Focloir Gaoidhilge – Sacs- bearla, 1814

Préachán ceirteach = a kite, Preachán geárr = a glede, a buzzard

John O Brien & Edward Lhuyd, Focalóir Gaoidhilge-sax-bhéarla, 1768,

Préachán na gcearc = Ringtail, Préachán ceirteach = a kite

Bedel, 1662, Préachán na gcearc and Préachán ceirteach

[If you were to solely look at O Dónaill’s standard Irish-English dictionary (1977), you would see Kite (toy) given as Préachán ceirteach.  This can be traced back via, McCionnaith’s English-Irish dictionary (1936), to, O Neill Lane’s English-Irish Dictionary (1921), which has toy kite as Préachán na gceirteach.  This construct has no reference and nor is it included in earlier dictionaries.  Dinneen’s Irish-English dictionary (1927) does not even mention toy kite. Eitleog is the normal Irish vernacular for toy kite.  In O Brien & Lhuyd’s Irish-English dictionary (1786), eitleóg is given as bat and there is no mention of toy kite.  So it appears that some time in the late 19th or early 20th century, scholars attached the previous name for bats or red kite to the newly arrived toy kite, which is rather appropriate when you consider their respective sheering flight patterns of each.]

This repetitive list shows that Irish speakers, from at least 1662 to 1927, regarded ‘Préachán ceirteach’ as a kite among a variety of other names for kites.  ‘Ceirteach’ means cloth, rag or clothes.  It infers ownership and possession of the cloths/rags by the kite.  

Préachán Ceirteach’ is not a mere translation from English, Olde English or Anglo-Saxon words.  It apparently reflects Irish-speaking people simply observing Red Kites carrying off rags and clothes, from around people’s settlements, to build nests.  Kite workers in Britain and Ireland can confirm that kites use items of wool, cloths, rags, gloves, plastic or rubbish to decorate nests – it is the best way to separate a kite nest from a buzzard nest. 

Shakespeare himself noted the same kite trait, when he said “when the kite breeds, look to lesser linen” – which is generally understood as a warning that during the kite nesting season, not to leave out your laundry to dry on the hedge, because the kite could snatch them for lining its nest.

An account from Phoenix Park

Phoenix Park dates back to 1662, when the Duke of Ormonde fenced off land north of the Liffey and established a Royal Hunting Park for visiting British Monarchs.  In 1669, Phoenix Park was stocked with deer, pheasant and partridge.  Colonel Edward Cooke, who was one of the keepers of the Park, wrote about the foxes, kites and poachers carrying off all the partridges.  The evidence of the presence of kites during the summer or connected with nest building is all we can legitimately expect, as they was little reason to systematically record the nests of non falconry birds in the distant past.

Magilligan

County Londonderry, Ireland, Civil Parishes Tamlaghtard or Magilligan (description from Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837.) (see www.from-ireland.net/lewsis/derry/tamlaghtard.htm)

The 5th paragraph states:  “some eagles breed in the heights of Benyevenagh; kites and hawks abound there”.  There are also references to the abundance of nearby rabbits [36,000-48,000 sold to the hatters] and pigeons.  This reference supports D’Arcy’s reference to the statistical survey of Londonderry (Sampson 1802), “Milvus, kite is frequently seen hovering over poultry”.

Kildare Poems 1330

On the web there are also references to Glede (Anglo – Saxon word for kite) from the Kildare Poems, written by the Anglo-Irish in the Middle Ages, sometime in the 1330s.  Look at ‘Satire’ section 5 and ‘Song of Michael of Kildare’ section 4. (see  http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/E300000-001/text004.html)

St Colman’s Ducks

Under www.libraryireland.com/articles/DucksJoyceWonders/index.php  there is a mention of kites in the County Wexford Legend, “St. Colman’s Ducks”.  The tale tells of a group of ducks that were forded special protection by the dead saint in the 8th century.  A kite was once seen to fly off with one of the ducks, thought to be Teal.  It landed in a nearby tree and as it set about killing his prey, the kite fell to the ground and died – as witnessed by several people.

Irish Falconry

Liam Ó Broin, the author of The Sparrowhawk – A Manual for Hawking (ISBN no 09521029 00), self published, 1992, has carried out detailed research on Irish raptors.  His book contains a detailed account of the history of Irish Falconry.  He has uncovered documentary proof of Irish bred Goshawks being exported, to Spanish and Portuguese Kings, and foreign correspondence on how suitable the imported Irish birds were.  He also has evidence for Irish bred Hobbies being used and exported for falconry. 

The relevance of this point, as regards our kite inquiry, is that Goshawk and Hobby are not fully recognised in some of our primary ornithological reference books either – just like Red Kites.  Yet, there is archival literary proof that Irish bred Goshawk and Hobbies were collected and exported from Ireland for falconry.  Therefore the much vaunted seminal Ornithological accounts, from the middle and latter 19th century, have a limited temporal accuracy, as regards the status of many extinct or rare Irish Birds.  Our true native avifauna list cannot be solely defined by the safety and certainty of books written by our earliest exceptional Naturalists.  We need to look further afield.

Present Day Red Kite Ecology and Dispersal within the British Isles

Because kites survived for longer in parts of Britain, than Ireland, and because of a greater volume of written records, their former historical occurrence and abundance in Britain is more widely accepted.  As a result of a reintroduction programme, that began in 1989, on the Black Isle; during the 1990s, it was well established that up to 10% of first year Scottish Kites spent their first winter in Ireland. (See BTO Migration Atlas).

These records include released Scottish birds; poisoned in Laois, poisoned in Waterford, overwintering in Rogerstown, Dublin, overwintering in Tullow, Carlow and one poisoned near Glenarm, Antrim.  The released Scottish kites quickly established two dispersal routes to Ireland; one took them SW from Inverness through the Great Glen and down as far as Argyll and out to the Kintyre Peninsula and onward toward Rathlin and Antrim, the second route was used by kites from both the Inverness and Central Scotland release schemes, flying SW to Dumfries and Galloway and out onto the Rinns of Galloway, before crossing to Down and sometimes Antrim.  The subsequent Red Kite releases in Dumfries & Galloway and Aberdeen have also provided several Red Kite records in Ireland, from Donegal, Down and Wicklow - see Adam McClure’s recent RSPB Kite newsletter.  It is believed that all Scottish kites, wintering in Ireland, reach or pass through County Antrim or County Down.

The book and articles, that concern us, may contain two glaring contradictions, when examined closely.  Firstly,  consider the views, “were never here”, and then, “in the natural way of things, he argues, wandering juveniles can increase the range of their species ‘under their own steam’, rather than be repatriated by PR zealots” and “ get habitats right, he urges, and pioneering wanderers will find them - or not, as nature decides”.  Now, if wandering Scottish Kites could have found County Down by themselves, in the future, how come similar wandering kites, from a once vibrant Scottish population, never found County Down or County Antrim, a mere 35km or 20km away, respectively?  To infer that Gordon D’Arcy’s book “seemed to allow that kites might have roamed north from Leinster” is to miss the larger context of the kite’s former range.  Neither the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, nor the short sea crossing to Scotland, would have had little or no impact on the range expansion of the, once abundant, British Red Kite population.  The habitat condition would have been more pristine in the past.  There were several thousand years for this chance event to occur.  But of course Scottish and Irish Red Kites would have mixed in the past, if you consider all the evidence, including the influence of recognised historical oscillating weather patterns.

Secondly, it may be a contradiction to infer that, “since 2008, as he sees it, the provenance of any red kite in the Irish skies is forever tainted”.  Because the kites in Irish skies, up to 2008, were predominantly reintroduced Scottish kites.  Red Kites were reintroduced in Wicklow in 2007 and since 1990 reintroduced Scottish Red Kites, have turned up or passed through Northern Ireland annually.  It is unclear whether these kites are viewed, by the author, as tainted or not. If not, this apparent contradiction is not valid.  This argument goes back to 2001, when another well known birdwatcher complained that Golden Eagles in Ireland could no longer be positively ticked, because they were released birds.  So 13 years later, there are still competing arguments between the merits of restoring a native species over an individual birdwatcher’s annual tick list total. 

Summary of Historical Irish Kite Records

1.       The kite records in Ireland are from a wide geographical area, especially from the richer more afforested landscapes, east of the Shannon – ( See D’Arcy’s Lost Irish Birds, pages 49-55).  11 of the 32 counties, on the Ireland of Island, have former kite references including; Antrim, Derry/Londonderry, Cavan, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Wexford.

2.       The material and documentary kite evidence in Ireland is spread over a wide time period, including the 6th, 10-11th, 12th, 13-14th, 17th, 18th and early 19th century.

3.       The Archaeological evidence, collected to date, suggests that Red Kites may have been the second commonest bird of prey in Ireland, historically.  Though this ranking could quickly change with future excavations, this concrete evidence of their former occurrence cannot be ignored or dismissed.

4.       Numerous Irish references suggested that Irish people were familiar with kite nesting traits and named the bird accordingly.

5.       The kite records in Ireland are found in several different languages including Old Irish, Latin, Middle Irish, Anglo-Irish, Irish and English.

6.       The kite records in Ireland, when examined and considered, demonstrate that kites were present throughout the year, in some parts of the country at least (Cork).  They were at least resident in the summer elsewhere – as they were a perceived threat to young goslings, ducklings, possibly young or newly released partridge.  They returned to an area outside of Belfast annually - when it was time to sheer the sheep.

7.       The extinction of the kite was probably due to sustained persecution, culminating in the eradication of a more exposed breeding population, after the almost complete deforestation of Ireland by 1800 (see Reading the Irish Landscape, Frank Mitchell, and the data on trade in timber exports and game rearing since Tudor times).

The primacy of the Oral tradition and the paucity of earlier written evidence in Ireland, compared to Britain, cannot be underestimated when searching for Irish kite records. The inherent limitations, of a variety of key reference materials, needs to be fully recognised.  For example, the bibliography for Holloway’s Historical Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland, only contains 11 solely Irish references from a total list of 693 references. 

If we did nothing, the reintroduced Scottish kite population, especially in Dumfries and Galloway, would establish itself in Northern Ireland within the next 30-40 years or earlier.  But what is ethical about waiting for a reintroduced population to wander and settle in Ireland?

 

(2) The Merits of Reintroduction

‘Don’t do that – do this’ is an age old argument.  This type of mindset could lead one to flippantly suggest, ‘why carry out any manner of conservation research, management or writing? – go trap some crows instead’.  In the mid 1990s, the IRSG was told by Dúchas that a national survey of Hen Harriers was a much greater priority than releasing Golden Eagles, so we were the catalyst in establishing and facilitating the first national Hen Harrier survey in 1998-1999.  Afterwards, another set of obstacles and priorities were placed in our way.  Now another labyrinthine argument, to focus on habitat work before species actions, is put forward.  There is a constant pendulum of effort, from species to habitat, among conservation priorities.  Many people try to work on both simultaneously.  But the kite habitat was already in situ – look at the expanding County Wicklow and County Down breeding kite populations. 

Of course there are difficulties, often with policies and enforcement, as well as habitat.  We were once advised to lobby former Agricultural and Environmental statutory management and seek changes to the poisoning legislation, as a prelude to a raptor release scheme, but it was a waste of time.  It took an official European Complaint to finally get the political consent to step forward, about 50 years, and finally tackle illegal poisoning in the Republic of Ireland.  What did the statutory authorities do, over two decades, to tackle the known plight of Buzzard poisonings in the Republic of Ireland, prior to the restoration programmes?  Despite notable exceptions, they did very little, in our view.  One ornithologist has even suggested the onus is on raptor workers to ensure compliance with statutory agricultural and environmental poisoning requirements, enacted by National and European legislation!

The spread of the Buzzard has been greatly enhanced by the increasing public awareness and tolerance of bird of prey and the poisoning issue, in the four corners of this island, largely initiated by the release programmes.  The loss of several Red Kites in Dublin, in 2011, has highlighted the underlying threat from Rodenticides, alongside Birdwatch Ireland’s Barn Owl research, and the ongoing cooperation with the Department of Agriculture on the matter, will also benefit Buzzards over time.  We can all appreciate the inherent value of more Buzzards, eagles and kites improving our natural world.  But that expansion was stymied for decades by an official indifference to poisoning.  Let us be honest about that and not simply ignore years of anti-poisoning campaigning by raptor workers.  The expansion of Buzzards is not merely a result of their natural range expansion dynamics – it was also the result of suppressing their primary constraint, namely poisoning.

Obviously many of us are demoralised and exhausted by the continuing loss of Biodiversity in Ireland.  But small patches of nature and semi-natural habitats remain across Ireland.  Yes, our terrestrial wilderness is long gone, but nature still sustains us and some of us like to think we can make a small difference. Does that mean we should give up?  Too often, Irish conservation has been in defensive mode, bemoaning the encroachment of competing sectors or trying to tackle yet another threat.  But at times, an assertive pro-active approach can be the best form of defence.  For too long, our society was indifferent or tolerant of the loss of species, and raptors bore the brunt of that indifference.  It would be naive to wait for the perfect moment to launch any bird of prey programme in Ireland.

A small band of raptor enthusiasts, North and South, are no longer content with centuries of “wildlife weeding”, which wiped out so many Irish birds of prey.  We submit that Irish birds of prey deserve a bit of effort NOW, after three hundred years of persecution, negativity and indifference.  Everybody has their own priorities and perspectives, which they are free to choose.   We are tackling poisoning, upland habitats, and policy issues as part of our work programmes.  It used to be said that former US President, Jimmy Carter, ‘could not chew gum and tie his shoelaces at the same time’ – hopefully Irish raptor workers can continue to do somewhat better.

 

Red Kite with gloves
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Wed24th Oct 2012

The successful Dublin red kite project launched in 2011, with support from National Parks & Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, The Welsh Kite Trust, Fingal LEADER Partnership, Fingal County Council and a suite of volunteers; the Golden Eagle Trust reports that there were three pairs of young kites established in the summer of 2012 in North County Dublin. However, none of these kites successfully nested.

The kites are still too young to breed, but showed signs of pairing up this year and hopefully 2013 will see successful breeding in Dublin. The Golden Eagle Trust would like to express their considerable thanks to all the landowners and the public for the phenomenal support shown for the re-introduction project in Fingal and is asking for everybody to mindful of wildlife when using rodenticides at this time of year.

Following the deaths of nine (9) red kites between November 2011 and January 2012 in Fingal, Co. Dublin all rodenticide users are being urged to consider the local wildlife population and help protect the red kites this autumn and winter.

Rat populations need to be controlled in a variety of situations in both urban and rural areas, particularly around farm buildings, landfills and other sites where an artificial food source is available. The most commonly used method is the laying of baits containing poisons, known as rodenticides. However, these products are also toxic to other wildlife, domestic livestock and pets.

Six of the dead kites were confirmed at post-mortem analysis to contain the rodenticide, brodifacoum. This is a second generation anti-coagulant (SGAR) rat poison, which causes internal bleeding. It is widely recognised that rodenticides can kill non-target species.

At this time of year rats may begin to move, as fields are cut for silage and crops are harvested. These areas therefore often attract natural rat predatory and scavenging raptors including barn owls, long-eared owls, kestrels, buzzards and red kites.

Dr Marc Ruddock, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust said "There is no doubt in my mind that these poisoning cases are just tragic accidents but by making informed choices about pest control, we will be able to reduce rat numbers effectively as well as preventing unnecessary damage to our local wildlife". Dr Ruddock continued "With advice from RSPB in Scotland and the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Usage (CRRU) we have drafted a leaflet offering best practice advice and urge everyone to think about wildlife (and particularly the red kites) before using rodenticides".

The public, landowners and professional pest controllers are urged to firstly prevent rat infestations by cleaning up or barricading areas which attract rats and secondly to utilise other legal forms of control, such as trapping or shooting, before using rodenticides. If rodenticides are being used it is fundamentally important for everybody to closely follow the instructions on the label and not risk exposure of these toxins to our native wildlife.

Best practice rodent eradication strategies record information such as the quantity and location of all baits and require the baits to be regularly inspected. These should not be left in the open or exposed to non-target animals and birds. Dead rodents should be collected and disposed of safely and baits should be removed at the end of the treatment.

The Fingal red kites are typically located in the areas surrounding Lusk, Rush, Donabate, Swords, Balbriggan, Skerries, Rogerstown, Ashbourne, Malahide, Ratoath, Ballyboghil, Oldtown, Dunboyne and Portrane. The public in these areas are therefore urged to be particularly careful with rodenticides and also report sightings of the red kites to the project website at www.goldeneagle.ie or to the local NPWS ranger.

Red kite in flight, Fingal Co. Dublin
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