Monday, 22 December 2014

In search of Heather. Happy Christmas!

21st December 2014. The longest night in the earth's history. Short days and low light levels meant Heather's satellite tag missed some scheduled transmissions - the first time this has happened really. Worrying. But like a ray of light, data comes in from the satellites in space to tell us Heather is alive and well. The data shows she is roosting back in her home range where she has spent the past few months in South Kerry. There is a good chance of seeing her leave her roost in the morning. 

Through some of the most stunning scenery known to man, but invisible in the dark and fog, I travelled through the night to meet the local IHHWS volunteer, for whom Heather has highlighted two new roosts. In this weather and low visbility, the entire journey to one of the far reaches of South West Ireland could be in vein - would we see her at all? As always with Hen Harriers, it was worth the effort even just to say you were within a couple of hundred metres of these rare birds - anything after that was a bonus.

We assumed position. Pat on one side of the bog, his back to a fine big reek of turf; while I was at the other side of the bog, with a small herd of 7-8 cows for company. We waited eagerly. At 0831 I saw a flash of light on the far side of the bog - it was Pat's phone, calling to let me know Heather was in the air, flying towards me. I did not answer the phone as I already had her in my sights - the phone on silent, vibrating in my raincoat pocket. Closer and closer she came until she was within 40-50m. She looked fine and healthy. It was an absolute joy to see her in the flesh once again.

2014 was a very memorable year for Hen Harriers and all involved in their research and conservation in Ireland and indeed in Britain. From Galway to Dublin, Kerry to Antrim, Cork to Donegal, and everywhere in between, people have been striving towards finding out more about Hen Harriers in Ireland and people have been advocating strongly for their protection, and the protection of the habitat that they and so many other species depend on. This has been a personal highlight of 2014 - to see so many people become so independently minded on Hen Harriers in Ireland, progressing their own local studies and spreading the word on how wonderful a native Irish bird this is.

2015 will be difficult. Vested interests who want to remove the habitat of Hen Harriers (and Curlew, Red Grouse, Snipe, Skylark, Merlin, Meadow Pipit, Cuckoo...the list goes on and on) in favour of more "profitable" developments continue to lobby for such destruction. Sickeningly, these vested interests are trying to turn the custodians of the landscape who have managed the habitat for generations against conservation. The say "SPAs are stopping people living and farming" whereas there is in fact a clear solution - support farmers in the SPAs to live and farm and support the habitats and species (using the money the EU has provided for same). The SPAs would be seen as the most positive thing to ever grace these marginally productive lands, but instead because forestry is being touted as the only game in town, with large grants to get people to stop farming and plant their land, the SPAs are being seen as restrictive. What is more restrictive than planting the land of previous and future generations for the sake of a 15-20 year grant? Anyone who knows these areas can clearly see the decimation not only of landscape and wildlife, but of local communities, cultural and social heritage...and future. 

There is no doubt but that the passion instilled in people's hearts who have seen these birds in their natural habitats will also come to the fore in 2015. In Britain they have serious issues with persecution and they have had marches and petitions with 10's of thousands of signatures in support of Hen Harriers. Here we have serious issues with habitat loss, which is arguably even more serious. If we lose what little habitat remains (natural/semi-natural habitat has now been lost from the vast majority of the Hen Harrier SPAs), and if we lose the farming people who manage these habitats, what hope would we ever have of holding our Hen Harrier population? 

Thanks for all your input in 2014. We look forward together to a progressive 2015.

Have a wondeful Christmas.

Hen Harrier Ireland

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Heather makes a stunning and unexpected return home! Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin!

Heather as a chick at Mount Eagle and as a one year old in South Cork.

Heather, after travelling the length and breadth of the country, from Mount Eagle in Kerry to Lough Neagh in Antrim, from Mayo to Dublin, has spent recent weeks in South Kerry and has now returned to her home - Mount Eagle.

She is now among her own tribe - in a communal roost. Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey volunteers have moved to see Heather at her roost. It'd be nice to think she might stay here but as always, we are happy once she is happy and healthy! Heather has shown us so so much through her movements, and her tendency to use communal roosts so regularly points strongly to the information sharing value of these centres, from which individual birds can find out where to hunt and where to spend the winter nights. 

Good luck to you Heather!


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Heather has her very own island! Halloween Winter Roost Weekend!

The South Kerry island that Heather has made home
 Heather, the intrepid young female Hen Harrier is still in the Kingdom of Kerry and surely fit for the Queen of the Kingdom is her very own island! The above island has been home for Heather for the past while. It probably makes good sense too - especially from a safety point of view - no predators or disturbance.

Continue to follow Heather and other Hen Harrier news on this blog and on and on Twitter @HarrierIreland

This weekend sees the annual Halloween Hen Harrier Roost Watch. It is a real experience to be at a reedbed or bog on Halloween, with a half moon overhead as you finish your watch. Friday and Saturday currently look to be the best bets weather-wise. For details contact

Winter Roost Scene

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Heather is a Kerry girl at heart!

Heather is a Kerry girl at heart!

Heather has now returned to Kerry after another stay at her 'home range' in Cork. She has been deciding between the two counties for some time now, switching from Cork to Kerry, Kerry to Cork and so on. This is very interesting behaviour, which would not be known only for Heather and her satellite tag. These movements are not insignificant either - Heather's latest move from South Cork to South Kerry is 150km in a straight line and surely lots of ground travelled and encounters along the way for Heather. Why has Heather made this move?? For now, see Heather's latest movements and an excellent photo of her latest view - of the Skelligs (Skelligs image copyright Eoin Kavanagh).

Skelligs (c) Eoin Kavanagh - Heather's current view

Heather's most recent movements, now in South Kerry

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Notes from the first week of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey 2014-15

Volunteers throughout the country from Cork to Donegal, Galway to Wicklow, have been out looking for Hen Harriers for the first week of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey. This is the tenth year of the survey and it is important that as much coverage as possible is achieved so that the Hen Harrier population and range over the past decade can be fully reviewed.

If you see a Hen Harrier - please report it to

If you want to do roost watches, contact

So far, the first week has seen harrier sightings reported across the country and a number of roost watches completed, including last night in Cork, when Heather, the satellite tracked female from Kerry, was seen at roost with a friend. She has returned to her favoured spot by the coast, where she spent last winter and again this autumn until she moved to Kerry for a couple of weeks - no doubt to celebrate Kerry's success in the All-Ireland!!

Also, we are close to finding a new roost in County Louth. Finding roosts is especially important for the direct conservation of Hen Harriers.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Hen Harrier Ireland on Blogspot - Facebook - Twitter

The tenth season of the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey promises to be the most important to date.

Follow onsite live updates from roost watches and even contribute your own updates from your roost watches (be sure to mask the location of the roost site).

Hen Harrier Ireland can be followed on Twitter, Facebook and Blospot

Twitter                               @HarrierIreland

For sightings and participation on the Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey, email

Monday, 1 September 2014

Eadoin - a harrier is named. News from Slieve Blooms bird in Antrim. Heather in South Cork.

Eadoin - young male Hen Harrier from the Slieve Blooms, born 2014

Clara Bog Visitor Centre recently held a poll to name one of the young Hen Harriers wing tagged in the Slieve Blooms. The letter on his tag is 'E' and he has received the beautiful Gaelic name of Eadoin, meaning 'blessed among many friends" doubt the friends of Hen Harriers throughout Ireland wish Eadoin and the other young harriers born this summer the very best in life. Let's hope we hear positive things from him again.

We have just received news that another young bird, this time a female, from the Slieve Blooms is currently in Antrim! This bird was born in 2013 and it is great to hear of her whereabouts. Antrim seems to be a very important place for Hen Harriers in Ireland - remember both Heather and Miranda have spent time there and so too have other tagged birds. It is of course on a flight path between Ireland and Scotland and it is likely there is interchange between the two sets of populations there. Exciting stuff to hear from another tagged bird!

As for our star Heather - well as predicted (and that is a big ask with harriers!) she has travelled further south to rest by the Atlantic cliffs of South Cork. She spent this time last year in the very same spot until the stubble fields were sprayed and ploughed. Check out the video by Dave McGrath on for a piece of video of what is believed to be Heather! You can see why she is there - plenty of tillage and straw - good habitat for finding rodents to eat!