We're on the search for sightings of swallows, plus we hear about Derek's pheasant experience on the road back from Cork. We learn about new Dutch research into computer dating for orang-utans. Dr. Richard Collins gets up close and personal with some Brent Geese. And reporter Terry Flanagan investigates the flourishing industry that once was the rabbit business...
Mary O’Grady, a listener in Limerick, e-mailed us during the week about hearing her first swallow of the season. She wrote:
Just a short time ago I saw our first swallow of 2017 flying overhead in our yard here in Knockainey, Co. Limerick. Last year there were much fewer swallows than in previous years - so hopefully more to follow and that this will be a good year for them. They have been nesting in our sheds through the years and are always just a joy to watch.
Barn Swallow; photo: Stephen McAvoy / BirdWatch Ireland
Don’t forget to let us know if YOU see any swallows – and send us in pictures. And as we mentioned last week, we want a Mooney Goes Wild listener to be the first to hear the cuckoo cry this year – and be sure to record it and send it in to us telling us where and when you heard it. Please e-mail your sightings details to email@example.com, and also, don't forget to record it with Spring Alive, which seeks to log all sightings of Barn Swallow, White Stork, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, and European Bee-eater birds across Europe. For more details, visit www.springalive.net.
Derek had an encounter of his own with some of our feathered friends earlier this week. Driving back an the old road from Cork to Dublin, around the Limerick area he spotted a pair of courting pheasants. By the time he'd driven past them and gone back to take a closer look, one of them had disappeared. Or had it? What struck Derek was, how hard it was to find them - because of how brilliantly they are camouflaged!
Where once it was the matchmaker who found us our perfect partner, in the 21st century, that role is increasingly being played by computers – with the internet currently playing cupid to an estimated 91 million people worldwide, through online dating apps like Grindr, Match.com and Tinder. The way Tinder works is that is offers you potential matches in an area near you - and if they take your fancy, you swipe right to 'like' them, or swipe left to 'pass'. If they've also 'liked' you, then it’s a match – and after that who knows where it all might end?
But apparently computer dating is no longer just for humans. In a bid to improve mating successes, a Dutch zoo is developing a kind of Tinder app for orang-utans - so that they can play a part in choosing their own prospective partners. The idea is that the female will be shown pictures of possible suitors, and then the male she chooses will be flown in for “a date” - from countries as far away as Singapore - to make the match.
Staff at the Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn hope that if the female orangutan can choose her own mate, then the pitter-patter of tiny feet won't be far behind. Photo: Pixabay
Derek and Dr. Richard Collins recently spoke to Dr. Mariska Kret, who is Assistant Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and the principle investigator in this fascinating new research...
The flock of Light-Bellied Brent Geese that can currently be found on the North Bull Island in Dublin Bay are fattening up in preparation for their epic migration away from our shores, on their arduous journey of about 4,500 km to their breeding ground in high arctic Canada. These small, dark birds with their distinctive white neck patch are one of Dublin’s most iconic wintering species. The geese gather here each year in their thousands, with numbers quadrupling over the past fifty years.
Researchers preparing the netting
So it’s the perfect time of year for studies to take place - which is why this is the time of year when researchers from the University of Exeter carry out their tagging operation, part of a long-term study led by Professor of Animal Ecology, Stuart Bearhop. Dr. Richard Collins joined them on Bull Island to find out more...
Left: Stuart Bearhop and Richard Collins; middle: Richard, Stuart and Mooney Goes Wild producer Sheila O'Callaghan; right: Richard on Bull Island
If you’d like to see the geese, you’d better hurry as they’re preparing to leave. Bull Island is home to an incredible array of wildlife, and UNESCO has designated it a “biosphere” (the only capital city to achieve this status), because of the connection between nature and culture, and its rare and internationally important habitats and species of wildlife. For more information about Dublin Bay Biosphere, visit www.dublinbaybiosphere.ie. And for more information about Professor Bearhop and his work, visit ornithology.ucc.ie/people/prof-stuart-bearhop/.
Although population numbers fluctuate, rabbits in Ireland are still common and they are widespread. The rabbit was first recorded in Ireland in the 9th century, and by the 18th century it had spread to all four provinces and to all of our islands. And despite the introduction of Myxomatosis in 1954 which devastated population numbers, the rabbit has survived.
This you may already know – but were you aware that during the late 1800s and early 1900s there was a flourishing rabbit industry in Ireland? Millions of rabbits were caught each year providing a livelihood for the many poor and unemployed - and for thousands of professional trappers.
After many years of research, Dr. Michael Conry has written a book on the subject - aptly named The Rabbit Industry In Ireland. (For more information about the book, visit www.conry-michael-books.com/8_rabbit_industry_in_ireland.) Early last Sunday morning, MGW reporter Terry Flanagan met up with Michael on Castletown Estate in Co. Carlow, hoping to see some rabbits and to learn something new about an old way of life!
Hedgerows: It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.
UPDATE: February 29th 2016 - Press Release From BirdWatch Ireland:
Putting the record straight: Dates for burning and hedge-cutting have NOT changed
BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation charity, is very concerned about misinformation that is currently circulating regarding the dates within which the burning of vegetation and cutting of hedges is permitted. It would like to remind landowners that all burning and cutting must cease on 29th February this year and that burning and cutting remains prohibited from 1st March to 31st August.
Despite attempts by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., to change the laws regulating these dates by introducing the Heritage Bill 2016 earlier this year, it is important to note that the proposed date changes were ultimately NOT made. This is because the bill failed to pass through both houses of the Oireachtas before the recent dissolution of the Dáil in advance of the general election.
The laws in place governing the dates for hedge-cutting and upland burning therefore remain unchanged. The period within which cutting and burning is prohibited are set down in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended in 2000), which states that:
(a) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
(b) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection (above).
The existing law provides exemptions for road safety and other circumstances and should be read carefully to ensure compliance.
Section 40 of the Wildlife Act exists to protect nesting birds. Many of our upland bird species are in decline and are in danger of extinction in Ireland; amongst them is the Curlew, which has declined by 80%. Many birds which nest in hedgerows into August are also in serious decline, including the endangered Yellowhammer. The changes to the cutting and burning dates which had been proposed in the now-defunct Heritage Bill 2016 would have caused serious impacts to these birds. A petition launched by BirdWatch Ireland in conjunction with several other national conservation organisations to stop these changes attracted more than 16,200 signatures and rising.
BirdWatch Ireland would also like to advise members of the public that if they see hedges being cut or fires in the uplands on or after 1st March, such activity could be illegal. In such cases, we would encourage people to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service (www.npws.ie) to report such activity.
BirdWatch Ireland warmly welcomes the demise of the Heritage Bill 2016 and sincerely hopes that any future administration will consider the importance of Ireland’s natural heritage and will not attempt to reintroduce such a flawed and damaging piece of legislation.
To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.
Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.
If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie