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Fri20th Aug 2010

After 5-8 weeks in captivity all 22 White-tailed Sea Eagle chicks collected in Norway this year are being released into the wild in Killarney National Park. The first to go were 9 birds released on 4 August, a further 10 birds on 11 August and the final three birds will be on 19 August. The different release times largely reflected different rates of development, the most advanced bird being released first, and also the need to release birds in more logistically manageable batches. Birds released later also benefit by following earlier released birds to food dumps.

Almost all release birds had good first flights, most taking the usual route towards the shore of Lough Leane. A good north-westerly breeze aided flight on 4 August. Several birds had already found the food dumps by 6 August, much sooner than birds released in previous years. As is the case in all years of the release a few birds were slow to leave. A female in the very first cage to be opened moved quickly onto the release hatch but then spent the next few hours surveying her environment before taking to the air (see photo). Her old cage-mate even flew out past her but yet she refused to budge. Happily she is now doing well in the wild. Another hit the ground rather than negotiate the skies but eventually worked out what to do with those 2.4 metre wings! First flights for eaglets in captivity, like newly fledged chicks in the wild, are always a bit of a lottery, 10 out of 10 for effort but landing is often heart in the mouth stuff! So far only one eagle has ended up in the lake on the day of release. Luckily eagles are good rowers!

Before release, as in past years, all the birds were wing-tagged and had transmitters attached so they could be tracked in the wild. This years tag colour is sky blue (left wing) with white (right wing) being the site colour. A letter, number or symbol on the tag identifies the individual bird. Vhf backpack transmitters were fitted to 19 birds. These can be tracked in real time but have the disadvantage that a signal can only be picked up when the bird is located line of sight to the tracker. Mountains block the signal although a high vantage point (even better a plane!) can allow a signal to be picked up 100km away! Three birds were fitted with solar powered GPS transmitters: female tag b (lwr case) from Hitra, male tag S from Hitra, and male tag 3dot from Leka. All were released on 4 August but remain in the Killarney area. Very soon you will be able to follow their movements online so watch this space!

Many thanks go to the following hardy souls that gave up their weekend to tag eagles: Damian Clarke and Anne Fitzpatrick from Wicklow, Daniel O?Lachlan from Milltown via Belfast, John Lusby (Birdwatch Ireland) from Banagher, Marc Ruddock and Emma Meredith from Northern Ireland. We must have been the only people in Kerry completely oblivious of the scores at the Irish Open golf in Killarney though we could see the crowds from our perch. Only the eagles would have been sharp eyed enough to read the scoreboard!

PS: Male Star has been on a voyage of discovery in Northern Ireland since leaving Lough Gara (Roscommon/Sligo) in mid-July. More of him anon. Female Fiadhna continues to hang out in Donegal. You can check out their movements on the website.

So thats what you gotta do?!
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Mon5th Jul 2010

Just back from collection in Norway. Unlike 2009, when temps reached 30 degrees, this year was cool and wet but thanks to the great work of our Norwegian friends we managed to collect a total of 22 chicks over three days. All this years birds came from the islands west and north of Trondheim: 12 from Hitra and Frøya in Sør Trondelag region, 8 from Vikna-Næroya in Nord-Trondelag, and 2 from Leka in Nordland. This was the first year that no birds were collected on the Norwegian mainland. Overall it appears to have been an above average year with more 2 chick broods available than in previous years. However, in the last few weeks chicks died in some nests and few nests visited during collection had any spare food lying about. It seems likely that the unseasonal stormy weather prevented the adults from fishing as much as they might have and led to some losses due to starvation.

We began the collection on Vikna on 17-18 June. Bertil Nyheim, Frithjof Pederson and I collected 8 chicks over the two days while Steiner Garstad collected two birds on Leka. This was my first visit to this group of islands although in 2007-2009 a total of 19 of the 55 young eagles collected and subsequently released in Kerry came from the Vikna-Leka area. Although it had been wet and windy we were lucky to get a good days collecting done on 18 June when the wind dropped and the rain stayed off till the afternoon. Thanks to the use of the police boat by Frithjof, a policeman on Vikna, we were able to visit several breeding sites located on skerries, small low-lying islands, around Vikna. All the nests were very accessible on small cliffs or on sloping ground. With no predators on the islands eagles can nest on the ground. It was amazing to moor the boat at times just 50 metres from an eagle nest. The adults usually flew out to "greet" us on approach to the island. One or both parents flew overhead calling while we hiked to the nest. Seeing the stunning adults so close and hearing their calls remains for me one of the iconic images of Norway. Among the islands and fjords its clear why this really is sea eagle country as there is more water than land everywhere you look!

After the trip back to the holding site at Stjørdal with the Vikna-Leka birds, we headed for the islands of Hitra and Frøya along with Torgeir Nygård of the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA). Over the past few months Martin Pearson, Inge Dahlø and Asgeir Østvik had located and monitored 69 sea eagle nests on these islands. Martin, Inge and Asgeir have a superb knowledge of the eagle population on the islands and without the great effort they put in locating two chick broods it would have been very difficult to find the birds we needed. Although six chicks had already been collected by the time we arrived on 19 June, we managed to visit one island site that evening in the company of Torgeir, Inge and Asgeir. We collected a beautiful big female here. Next day we split up into two groups. Together with Duncan Halley (NINA) and Asgeir we visited four sites, three on offshore skerries and one at the end of a lake on Frøya that we reached by rowing boat. One of the sites had lost one of its chicks since it was last checked so we had to look elsewhere as our licence only allows us to take chicks from broods of two or three. Martin, Inge and Torgeir collected a further two chicks from tree nests on Hitra.

All the chicks were driven to Stjørdal where they were given over to the expert care of Tom Roger Østeras, our eagle carer for the past four years. Here they are housed in cages in a barn where they are fed and kept in peace and isolation until the trip to Ireland. On 24 June we took biometrics and blood samples from all the birds to determine their sex. Although we had also measured birds at the nest in an effort to choose the sex we wanted to balance the sex ratio, in many cases both birds in a brood may be of the same sex. Although we were aiming for 50:50 males and females, based on biometrics it looks like we ended up with 16 males and 6 females! Females are significantly larger and heavier than males. However, sexing chicks at 6-8 weeks old isn't foolproof as eagle eggs do not hatch synchronously and first hatched male chicks may overlap in size with later hatched females. Whatever, we will need to scour Norway for female chicks in 2011, the last year of the reintroduction, to balance the sex ratio. As eagles do not generally breed until they are 5 years old and may live to 30 or more years gender imbalance in one year is not too critical. However, a strongly biased sex ratio within the overall population would be detrimental.

Thanks to the expertise of our Norwegian friends and a very smooth flight with the Spanish carrier (LADA), the young sea eagles arrived safely in Kerry on 26 June and are now well settled in to their new home in Killarney National Park. NPWS staff and several volunteers helped greatly on the day to make sure everything ran smoothly. During the next 5-6 weeks the chicks will remain isolated from human contact in spacious flight pens until release in early August. We hope they will do well on a diet of fish, crows and venison. Before they are released we will attach tags and transmitters including 3 or 4 satellite transmitters that will allow the public to follow their movements on our website.
The 2010 collection was not only a success but a really memorable experience. Thanks to Asgeir, Bertil, Duncan, Frithjof, Inge, Livar, Martin, Steiner and Torgeir, for the great effort they put in earlier in the season and during collection. Tom Roger looked after the birds and ourselves as did Arne and Aud Moxnes at Stjordal. Aud was mother to all keeping us fed while Arne looked after the liquid entertainment thanks to his traditional home brewed beer! Martin on Hitra cooked us the best venison steaks I've ever tasted. Bertil's parents put us up and fed us well. We even had time to go to Sweden for 2 days and catch up with stunning birds like Bluethroat, Red-necked Phalarope, Crane, Black-throated Diver, Whimbrel, Pied Flycatcher, Tengmalm's Owl, Gyrfalcon, and singing Brambling, Redwing and Fieldfare. Unfortunately I missed out on Long-tailed Skua. The forests, lakes and mountains were endless and alive with birds. So many birds, so little time!

Vikna eagle nest
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Fri14th May 2010

Another White-tailed Eagle has been found dead in Beaufort, Co. Kerry. This is the third White-tailed Eagle known to have died in the same area in the last four weeks and investigators believe that all three birds died from consuming an animal carcass laced with the banned poison Carbofuran. The latest bird was discovered on 9th May floating in the Laune River near Beaufort by a group of kayakers including mountaineer Con Moriarty, his 12 year old daughter Liadh and sisters Caoimhe, Niamh and Lorna Griffin from Killorglin. This death brings to 14 the number of White-tailed Eagles found dead since reintroductions began in 2007. At least seven of these have been poisoned. Tests on the latest birds are pending to identify if poisons were the cause of death.

The group were shocked to find the eagle in the river suspended in vegetation but managed to free the bird with their paddle and get it to the bank. The eagle had a red tag with the letter J indentifying it as a male bird released in Killarney National Park in 2008. All three eagles found in the Beaufort area in the past month were discovered within a kilometre of each other. The previous two birds tested positive for Carbofuran poisoning. A search of land in the vicinity by detectives from An Garda Siochána in Killarney and a veterinary inspector from the Department of Agriculture located several sheep carcasses in various stages of decomposition. A dead raven removed for toxicology from the land also tested positive for Carbofuran. An investigation is ongoing by the Gardaí and Department of Agriculture.

"Our discovery marks the third eagle found dead along the banks of the River Laune below the mouth of the Gap of Dunloe" said finder Con Moriarty. "Here in the rural community of Beaufort, we feel we live in one of the Earth's most beautiful places, surrounded by some of the most magnificent landscapes in Ireland. It is profoundly sad then that in the midst of this peaceful place, ignorant behaviour has led to the death of these great creatures through what appears to be highly dangerous - and mostly banned substances being recklessly doused on the carcass or young lambs or the likes to attract birds of prey and other wildlife" he added.

Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Öyvind Nordsletten, also expressed his disappointment on the death of a third sea eagle in a matter or weeks. "We in Norway are deeply concerned about the situation and hope that all can be done to make such poisoning illegal. Norwegians and the Norwegian authorities welcome the White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction in Co. Kerry as a positive step in restoring Ireland's biodiversity. We hope that the unfortunate practice of poisoning will be ended so that this magnificent eagle, that we are very familiar with in Norway, can once again be part of the Irish landscape". As the country which supplies the wild eagles for the Irish reintroduction, Norway is home to some 2,500 pairs of White-tailed Sea Eagles and the birds form an integral part of the country?s avifauna as well as bringing economic benefits to rural areas where eagle watching tourism is an important business.

Jerry O'Grady, Chairman of Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce, commented "Killarney Chamber of Tourism & Commerce and its members have supported this wonderful project from the outset and we have seen first hand the incredible level of local and visitor interest in the programme with great economic potential. In 2009 we hosted a visit by an international panel of experts on sustainability, and the most reported element of their visit was the briefing on the WTE re-introduction programme. The highlight of their visit was a sighting of a white tailed eagle over Dinis. Like us, they see the WTE Programme as an integral part of developing and sustaining our natural heritage. We appeal to the farming representative bodies to issue a clear and unambiguous statement that there is no farming organisation support for such indiscriminate poisoning in Ireland, and we appeal directly to those involved to refrain from this activity so that future generations of Irish people can enjoy the company of these magnificent creatures as our forefathers did in earlier times".

Local councillor Michael Healy-Rae also expressed his disappointment. "I'm very disappointed with the losses of eagles to date in Kerry. While I had my reservations about the reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle and possible detrimental effects of the birds, this hasn?t been the case. So I am very disappointed that these incidents have been occurring".

Local children have taken a keen interest in the eagles but recent deaths diminish the chances that they will ever see eagles nest in Kerry. "I love seeing the eagles near my home in the valley" said 9 year old Fiadhna Tangney from the Black Valley. "Finding the dead eagle makes me very sad. Why do people want to kill them? Farmers should stop poisoning" she asked. Fiadhna has a special connection with the White-tailed Eagle Reintroduction project. Ever since the birds began to spend time in the Black Valley in winter 2007 she has watched them roost near her house in the valley. The children at Black Valley National School have taken a keen interest in the project. Fiadhna has helped make and paint the tags the eagles have on their wings to indentify individual birds. She even has an eagle named after her! In August 2009 satellite tagged female eagle Fiadhna left Killarney and travelled to the north coast of Co. Antrim where she spent the winter. Since then she has travelled all over Northern Ireland and Donegal, returning to Kerry briefly in early March before heading to Connemara then to Wicklow and back to Antrim. The fact that she has travelled over much of the country without harm suggests that many farming areas are safe places for eagles. But the threat from poisoning remains real.

White-tailed Eagle Project Manager, Dr. Allan Mee, was equally shocked by the discovery of another eagle within a stone's throw of the national park. "I feel utterly devastated by this. Losing yet another bird is tragic. I'm gutted at the loss of this bird, the third on a few weeks in Beaufort. But I'm even sadder for the children who found the bird with Con. What can I say to the kids like Fiadhna who love the birds and have been out with me to watch them in the wild? I saw their faces when I went to the Black Valley School and told them about the first eagle poisoned back in 2007. I feel that with every passing death that another light goes out and children who should be talking about out living heritage are hearing only about death. Their and our heritage is being stolen from us as we speak by a few mindless people. Poisoning is destroying everything we are fighting to achieve. The only word for it is reckless vandalism. We can't sit back and let it happen" he added. "It is time for the government departments to act to ban the use of poisons. The Department of Agriculture has a critical role to play here as it is responsible for farm inspections and environmental grants. Not only do we need to get rid of poisons but the Department needs to urgently address the obvious contradiction of certain individuals getting grants to support environmentally friendly farming and at the same time poisoning wildlife including protected birds such as white-tailed eagles. What does this say to farmers who are doing their best to farm and do not use poisons?" he added. "We are also worried not only about the immediate future of the project but the effects this is having on the perception that people who might want to visit Kerry as a tourist destination is having. We know that eagles are a real attraction to outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers and big numbers visit the Scottish Islands every year to see White-tailed Eagles. I would worry about the message the poisoning is sending out about how we as a people treat the environment" Mee added.

Con Moriarty, who found the dead eagle along with local children, added "Since the arrival of the birds in this area some two years, this project has had a dramatic and highly positive effect on our community. Throughout the region, the presence of these wonderful birds has stirred something deep within people. Sightings in the area are greeted with excitement, families hike to known locations in the hope of seeing them and once again, as in Victorian times, visitors are returning to Killarney to see eagles. Young people in the area have been particularly enthusiastic about the birds, nowhere more than in rural schools like the Black Valley where children from sheep rearing families are actively involved in the monitoring and conservation of the birds. With each death, these children are exposed to the narrow-minded behaviour of neighbours they struggle to understand, of their nation's inability to take meaningful action to protect what it says are important and of the serious danger of denying another generation of Irish children their right to live in harmony with the world around them" he added.

Although the use of poison on meat baits for the control of crows was banned in 2008, the use of meat baits to kill foxes is still permitted under current regulations (Protection of Animals Act 1965). This loophole has allowed the continued use of poison and continues to pose a huge threat to our native birds of prey. However, an amendment to the Wildlife Act which will outlaw all use of poison on meat baits is imminent. In addition, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food fails to ensure that farmers, who are in receipt of direct payments (Single Farm Payment and Rural Environmental Protection Scheme) under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, comply with the Cross Compliance Policy and that they duly implement the Statutory Management Requirements in respect of the obligation not to harm Annex 1 birds of prey (which are protected under the Birds Directive). The Golden Eagle Trust is calling on the Department of Agriculture to initiate immediate farm inspections where poisoning is found to occur.

The ongoing use of toxins in the Irish Agri-Food industry will in time begin to tarnish the very valuable image of natural clean Irish food products especially in foreign markets. The Irish farming sector quite rightly highlights the very highest environmental standards our farmers follow. But the growing evidence of illegal use of poison by a tiny minority of sheep farmers is a gross contradiction of this valuable marketing tool used by an Bord Bia and others. Using poisons tarnishes the clean, green image that the Irish agri-food sector has built its reputation on. The fact that the vast majority of farmers successfully produce food without recourse to poisons begs the question why a small minority can undermine the good image of Irish food production and rural development by using poison. Likewise, poisoning does nothing to enhance the image of the Irish countryside which is important to the tourism industry. On the contrary, ecotourism including wildlife tourism and eagle watching safaris bring in over 2 million pounds annually to the economy of Mull in western Scotland and have the potential to be an important additional selling point in Kerry where eagle tourism is just taking off. Visitor numbers at Glenveagh National Park have increased over the past few years and the resident Golden Eagles have proved to be an important attraction to the public

Red tag J dead Beaufort Co Kerry
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Fri26th Mar 2010

Female White-tailed Sea Eagle Fiadhna (tag F) continues to explore much of Ireland after leaving her wintering area in the Antrim Hills. A quick look at the map following her journey since leaving Kerry back in August 2009 suggests she has now been to every county in Ireland, north and south, except for Wexford, Mayo, Sligo, and Roscommon!

Her amazing journey saw her finally leaving the Antrim hills on 29 Dec 2009 and moving a short distance west to the Lower Bann River, 4km west of Ballymoney. Here she remained until 8 Feb 2010 when she headed west towards Lough Foyle, roosting that night on Binevenagh Mt., just north of Limavady. The next day she was seen on the Roe estuary (E side of L. Foyle) before moving west to Inishowen, Co. Donegal. Over the next three days she toured Donegal from the west coast near Dungloe (10/2), the Bluestacks (11-12/2), before heading north to Glenveagh (13/2). Amazingly she roosted that night within a short distance of the 2009 Golden Eagle nest. It would have been interesting to have been there to see the reaction of the resident Goldens to this young intruder! The next day was spent in the Glenveagh area before she headed south, crossing back into Northern Ireland on 15/2, roosting near Castlederg, Co. Tyrone, over the next three days.

On 18/2 Fiadhna moved into the Sperrin Mountains east of Strabane, remaining in the uplands until 28/2 when she moved SE, roosting that night on the shore of Lough Neagh south of Ardboe. Next day she moved south along the west shore of L. Neagh, then SSE to roost on the Cooley peninsula, Co. Lough. On 2/3 she headed west then SW into north Co. Meath, south Cavan, to the Longford-Westmeath border. Here she roosted and foraged along the Inny River north of Lough Derravaragh for the next 2-3 days. On 5/3 Fiadhna began to move SSW through Westmeath, Offaly, and into north Tipperary, roosting near Templemore. Next day she continued south then SW to the Galty Mountains, west across south Co. Limerick over the Mullaghareirk Mts. to Castleisland, Co. Kerry, before heading NW to roost on Kerry Head on the N side of Tralee Bay. After almost 8 months away from "home", Fiadhna had come within 20km of the Lakes of Killarney but kept on going. It is hard to believe that she didn?t see a soaring eagle or two over the lakes, perhaps the first she had seen in 8 months, but chose to do some more exploring!

On 7/3 Fiadhna headed north to roost near Asdee in north Kerry. Next day she crossed the Shannon into Clare, followed the west Clare coast past the Cliffs of Moher, crossing Galway Bay from near Black Head and continuing north through Connemara. Over the next 12 days Fiadhna foraged and roosted over a small area of multiple small lakes, bog and forestry south of Maam Cross (apart from one day trip 35km NW to just north of Clifden). On 20/3 she made the big move SW across Galway into Leinster, roosting near Ballyraggat, Co. Kilkenny. Next day she headed east into Carlow then NE into Wicklow, roosting 6km SW of Wicklow town. At present she is still near Wicklow town in an area of mixed farming, apparently causing great interest among the locals (bovines and corvids!) as can be seen from the photo (thanks Brendan!). Here?s hoping Fiadhna keeps safe during this dangerous period for all eagles and kites with the threat of poison out there.

Fiadhna and some interested locals!
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Wed27th Jan 2010

Almost 6 months after his release, male Star continues his love affair with the Sligo coast. Released on 7 August 2009 Star soon began his wandering moving east into Co. Cork, then north into Co. Limerick, before following the River Shannon all the way from Limerick City to Lough Allen. Star made it to the Sligo coast on 22 August, 280 km NNE of his release site in Killarney National Park. Over the next 10 weeks Star took up residence along the coast from Mullaghmore-Streedagh feeding on diverse prey and carrion from gulls to beached dead seals. He made his first move south on 3 November to Lissadell before crossing Sligo Bay on 7 November.

Over the next two weeks Star hung out in the Skreen area west of Ballysadare Bay, mostly frequenting coastal farmland. Unfortunately (or fortunately) Star was picked up in bad condition on 16 November by a local man and taken into care at the raptor centre at Eagles Flying near Ballymote. First impressions were that the bird was hypothermic and might possibly have succumbed to Alphachloralose poisoning, a narcotic poison used mainly to kill crows and which causes death by lowering the body temperature. However, tests were negative and so other possibilities were considered. When Star was found his feathers were apparently saturated and he appeared unable to fly. The previous few days had been very wet and extremely stormy. One possibility was that Star had been in poor condition, was struggling to find food, and extremely wet conditions could have resulted in its debilitated state. However, five days after being found (21 Nov) he weighed 5.2 kilos, a good weight for a male Sea Eagle, which suggests that food was not an issue. Another possibility was some form of oiling. On examination it was clear that Star's body feathers were in poor condition and had an oily feel. Given that Star had previously been seen eating gulls, and fulmars were still common on and near coastal cliffs, oiling by fulmars could have occurred. In fact oiling of Sea Eagles by fulmars has been previously documented. Here is what John Love had to say in his book The Return of the Sea Eagle (1983): "Several of the Rum eagles also leant to catch both gulls and fulmars in flight, the latter seemingly possessed of a suicidal curiosity! Fulmar chicks may be approached as they sit on the nest ledge but the eagle renders itself liable to being spat upon. This foul oily liquid proved the ultimate undoing of one of the Fair Isle eagles." In Scotland today, fulmars are the single most abundant bird item in the diet of Sea Eagles but they may occasionally pose a threat by oiling especially to naive young Sea Eagles.

Star made his return to the wild on 26 November after being released back into the wild. On 22 December he moved back to Maugherow-Lissadell, the 'peninsula' on the north side of Drumcliffe Bay, Co. Sligo. Over the last month Star has been resident in this area where he has become something of a local celebrity as he is often to be seen perched on fence-posts in farmland or flying along the coast. Over the last 2-3 weeks Star has also been spending all or part of the day on offshore islands. Although these islands hold some bird populations even in winter, he may have also discovered a seal carcass or two. The Maugherow-Lissadell area is also home to over 3,000 Barnacle Geese (3,930 in spring 2008, almost a third of the Irish wintering population) which visit the area in winter from their breeding grounds in Greenland. Despite these numbers Star is no threat to the goose population. Apart from being outnumbered 3000/1 (!) barnacles are way too large for the average eagle although weak or injured birds might be of interest. So far we have had no evidence of any interaction between Star and the geese either from personal observation or those of local people. Of greater interest to Star is likely to be rabbits found along the shore. Livestock carrion (dead animals), although important for eagles in the uplands especially in winter, is unlikely to be found in the area. Dairying, dry cattle and sheep rearing are the main farming methods in the area, with lambing indoors and lambs left out at a month old. In the last week I called to local farmers to talk about Star and to hear if they had any concerns. It was great to see the interest farmers had in the bird and feel that farming and conservation can work together. Local schoolchildren are also much enthused about the celeb eagle and I hope to take them out to look for Star soon.

Much thanks must to the following people who have looked out for/after Star in Sligo: Micheál Casey, Pedro Soltani, Kieran Kennedy, Lothar Muschketat, and Ulrike Schwier.

Follow Star's progress on this site by clicking on GPS Data & Maps, then Search Data and Select male Star. Regular updates and photos are also likely to appear on the Sligo birdwatching website at www.sligobirding.com

Star in Sligo
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