On Mooney Goes Wild tonight: Special - Irish Ornithological Research Conference
We celebrate the latest Irish research into Ireland's bird species, as Derek and Dr. Richard Collins meet up with Professor John O'Halloran, and a wealth of scholars, for the 7th Irish Ornithological Research Conference at UCC.
Sir David Attenborough is peerless in the field of natural history broadcasting. The various documentary series that he has been involved with as a writer, presenter and narrator - in a career spanning more than half a century - are too numerous to list. The body of work is quite literally awe-inspiring.
The current BBC TV series, Blue Planet II, is another tour de force – once again bringing the drama, beauty and magnificence of the natural world into our front rooms. But although the personal affection with which Attenborough is held is unrivalled, and indeed well deserved, there are legions of people without whom these programmes simply would not be possible. They are the unsung heroes – foot-soldiers of the environmental sciences and students, researchers and scholars of natural history who can spend decades discovering, documenting and collating the information which paves the way for the cameras and programme-makers to move in.
Tonight, Derek presents a special programme in which he meets many such passionate and dedicated experts and researchers, at the Irish Ornithological Research Conference in University College Cork. It’s the 7th such annual conference, and has been organised by Professor John O'Halloran - recently appointed Vice-President for Teaching & Learning in UCC.
Over the course of the two-day conference, which took place last weekend, 27 different presentations were made during sessions which covered Emerging Technologies, Conservation Biology, Bird Surveys and Monitoring and Biology and Ecology of Birds. Dr. Richard Collins and Prof. John O'Halloran spoke to some of those presenting to find out more about their research...
For more information about the Conference, visit www.ucc.ie/en/corc, and to read the Book Of Abstracts, which has further details of all the research presented, click here.
Linking seabird behaviour with their space use enhances marine conservation
A. Kane, M. Bolton, A. Bennison, J. Crane, E. Critchley and J.L. Quinn
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College, Cork
Prof. John O'Halloran (l) with Adam Kane (r) of UCC
Seabirds are at direct risk from a range of human-related threats at sea, notably, from fisheries as well as the renewable energy and petroleum industries. But such risks are behaviour dependent. Whereas a transiting bird will not be affected by an oil spill, a resting bird will, and the opposite is true for wind turbine collisions. Thus, it is vital to combine the behavioural ecology of seabirds with their spatial ecology if we are to be effective in conserving them. By combining GPS tracks of seabirds with high resolution environmental data from their environment we can identify areas of behavioural space use, adding to previous work which identified space use alone, without differentiating behaviours. We achieve this by applying state space models to fine scale tracking data which allows us to tease apart three distinct behaviours, namely, resting, foraging and transiting. We then correlate these behaviours with relevant environmental data such as those areas with high primary productivity; indicative of suitable food patches for seabird species. What is more, we identify when these behaviours occur, adding a temporal dimension to our work. Here, we showcase some of our research by identifying behavioural space use of two far-ranging seabird species, the European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus and the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus, encompassing populations of each species from Ireland and the United Kingdom over multiple breeding seasons. If we improve our understanding of seabird spatial ecology in marine systems by including a behavioural component then we are better placed to advise relevant industries as to the placement of their infrastructures, their shipping lanes and so on, an essential step in 21st century marine conservation.
The Irish Rare Breeding Bird Panel (IRBBP) compiles records of rare breeding birds, typically those species with 100 or fewer pairs in Ireland. Recently, some financial support has been provided by NPWS towards supporting IRBBP in attracting more records on rare breeding birds across Ireland, and for completing the next Birds Directive Article 12 Report for these species. Our bird populations are constantly changing, and it is all important to be able to track the fortunes of these rarer species, some of which are colonising and expanding (such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker), but more worryingly there are several that are declining with increasing pressures from a broad variety of factors. IRBBP is actively seeking records on rare breeding birds. So if you are out and about next summer, and/ or if you do know of the locations of any of our Rarer Breeding Birds – please contact Gerry Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citizen Science utility in monitoring of raptors in Northern Ireland
E. Rooney and M. Ruddock
Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group
The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG) is a voluntary organisation that monitors birds of prey in Northern Ireland and along border counties with the Republic of Ireland. The NIRSG has a small network (about 150) of expert volunteers. Since around 2008 the group has been working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) on the centralised co-ordination of monitoring, reporting and analysis of data. NIEA funding has facilitated an extensive programme of training for volunteers, workshops, conferences and reports annually. Up-skilling, resource provision and support of the specialist surveyors within the raptor network are important in maximising data collection and standardisation. The data generated by the network and centralised by co-ordinators has resulted in between 442 and 1,144 raptor breeding season sightings and 255 and 530 winter sightings recorded each year, along with 408 to 636 nest records being generated annually. More than 3,900 records have been collated across a range of species with most records aggregated for Peregrine Falco peregrinus (n = 1569; 2008-2017), Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus (n = 849; 2006-2017) and Buzzard Buteo buteo (n = 498; 2008-2017). Historical records (prior to 2008) have also been collated, with an additional 4,201 records added to the centralised raptor database. The utility of such data is high and centralised resources are able to carry out more formal analysis; e.g. for peer-reviewed publication, strategic and framework analysis such as management and action plans and directly inform conservation and management action such as nest protection and strategic spatial planning. The feedback and annual reporting to the raptor network is a key to encouraging the volunteer resources and adding value to nest monitoring, winter monitoring and sightings data to obtain scientifically robust information on distribution, occupancy, productivity and threats and provide direct conservation protection and analysis of raptor data. The key to this is citizen-science, with an expert raptor network, but it is essential to have a formal and centralised staff resource to maintain and support the scheme.
Protecting seabirds using chemosterilants to exterminate rats (Rattus species) from islands: the steps to be taken on Lambay Island, County Dublin
D.P. Sleeman, S.F. Newton and M. Jebb
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College, Cork
Prof John O'Halloran (l) and Dr. Paddy Sleeman (r) answer questions from conference attendees
In order to survive, certain seabirds need predators eliminated from their nesting habitat. Common predators are rats, both the Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus and the Ship Rat Rattus rattus. Unusually, both are found on Lambay Island, without mice. There is an urgent need to exterminate rats from islands off Ireland, as they predate nesting seabirds, and could also act as a prey for predators such as Mink Neovison vison. Considerable progress has been made in exterminating rats from islands, however, at some cost. The preferred rodenticides for such projects are second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGAR), which are toxic. They cause both a loss of ‘natural’ prey for predators, but also secondary poisoning. There was interest in chemsterilants for rats in 1970s, but these were never widely used. A new liquid product produced in the United States by Senstech prevents rats from breeding. It has been deployed in areas of the United States, for example the New York subway. There would be four phases to the planned extermination process on Lambay Island. First, all buildings and boats would be rat-proofed. Then surveys would be done of rats, and of life on selected seashore sites. The latter is the primary rat foraging habitat. Phase three would involve delivery of baits over a two week period along with concurrent monitoring of the rats. During this phase a training course would be organised and digital mapping, climbing and rodent management skills would be taught. There would then be a fourth phase where rats would be trapped and their reproductive systems monitored long-term, on the island, by a small team. It is hoped that this would lead to extinction, and steps would be taken to ensure that if rats returned, for example from a ship wreck, a prompt response would ensure their elimination. Finally, there would be a re-survey of selected seashore sites one year after the extermination, and of burrow breeding seabirds.
Survey of breeding wader populations at machair and coastal wetland sites in north-west Ireland, 2017
C. McMonagle, M. Bell and A. Donaghy
In Ireland, severe losses in population and range of breeding waders have been recorded. This study assessed seven breeding wader populations at 34 sites on machair and coastal wet grassland sites in north-western Ireland in 2017. Across 25 sites a total of 491 pairs was recorded; Tory Island and Inch, both being counted comprehensively for the first time, had 172 and 78 pairs respectively, whilst Rinmore, the third most important site, had 37 pairs. Almost half the sites had less than three pairs. Fifteen sites were surveyed in 1985, 1996, 2009 and 2017. A comparison of Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and Redshank Tringa totanus populations across these sites shows that overall the populations declined by 35% since 1985, but since 2009, have increased by 73%, mostly as a result of a 144% increase recorded at three sites protected by predator fences in 2012/13. Unfenced sites declined by 4% since 2009. For all species, declines of up to 48% in breeding density were recorded, together with a contraction in the overall range. The complete loss of breeding Dunlin Calidris alpina (21 pairs from 6 sites) recorded in 2009 was confirmed. However, six pairs were recorded on Tory Island. Lapwing productivity was also assessed; productivity was zero at several sites, including one fence site, Sheskinmore. Productivity was very low on Tory Island, indicating possible significant problems with avian predation of eggs and chicks. At only two sites, Bunduff and Inch, was productivity above the level required to maintain populations. These results demonstrate the continued severe plight of breeding waders in Ireland. However, it also shows how active management programs, such as predator exclusion fences, can allow local population recovery over short timescales, though long-term productivity, even at these sites, needs further action to bring about sustainable increases.
How many Woodpigeons Columba palumbus in the urban environment? Some observations from Cork city
J.D. Luscier, M. Clifford, M. Wilson, N.E. Coughlan and T.C. Kelly
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY 13214 USA
The Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, an obligate herbivore, is well known to be a pest of cereal and horticultural crops. However, the species is also a hazard to aviation and considerable damage may follow its ingestion into a jet engine. A recent estimate puts the total number of Woodpigeons in Ireland at 2.3 million (upper bound 3.17 and lower bound 2.15 million) individuals – following a major increase that commenced in the 1990s (BTO data). Woodpigeons are known to occupy two major habitats in Ireland, namely urban and rural and that the former breed in the spring while the latter do so in the late summer and autumn. In Cork City, 2016 and 2017 springtime densities ranged from 1.5 (1.0- 2.5) birds per ha in commercial areas to 5.6 (3.3-9.8) birds per ha in city parks. Specifically, Woodpigeons had the highest densities in city parks in the core of Cork city – 8.6 (3.5-21.4) birds per ha. The purpose of our study is to estimate the numerical abundance of Woodpigeons in Cork city based on surveys conducted during the winter, and during the spring and summer.
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