Survey work is now drawing to a close on what is possibly Ireland's most  significant winter roost for Hen harrier. Since early November 2015 volunteers have been surveying the winter roost, which is located outside of the Special Area of Protection, with the RaptorLIFE team based here in IRD Duhallow. Under the direction of Dr. Brin McDonnell, who is the local expert on Hen harrier, the crews have taken part in a rota covering the winter period right up to this month. 


Surveys were conducted at dusk, just before the birds return from their feeding forays, to hunker down for the night and take shelter from the severe Winter elements. Weather conditions were often less than favourable, as driving rain and Arctic winds lashedsurveyors on exposed terrain in an effort to cover the full extent of the roost area and get an accurate count. Both males and females were recorded, although males were always dominant numerically, young and older more mature birds also being recorded. Interestingly the direction from which the birds arrived varied and seemed to be associated with prevailing weather conditions. Bird counts were as high as 14 birds on some occasions, and even higher on one occasion, although this tally requires further checking to ensure that the data did not contain double counts. When weather was most severe, birds flew in and literally dropped down to roost, whilst when weather conditions were calmer, birds took their time to settle and often moved around. Coming to the end of the survey period, a dawn survey was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Alan Mee and Tony Nagle of the Irish Raptor Study Group. Once the birds had dispersed, a ground survey was carried out to gather up any pellets which would give an indication of what the birds are feeding on. This information is vital, as little information is available on the feeding preferences of Hen harrier over the Winter period here in Ireland. 

The information collected is currently being collated and will be forwarded to the site owner who is in regular contact with IRD Duhallow with regard to management options for the roost area. A preliminary report was forwarded to NPWS and we are looking forward to working more closely on the management of Hen harrier in Duhallow. IRD Duhallow has requested a dedicated contact person to liaise directly with the project. At a recent meeting it was agreed that NPWS and IRD Duhallow would collaborate in a Hen harrier satellite tracking programme, to share resources and information so that the best outcomes for Hen harrier can be achieved in terms of learning more about their behaviour, especially in winter. Naturally this information should lead to better management of the birds and also inform future Locally Led Agri-environment schemes and other conservation management initiatives. We would like to thank all of our volunteers and staff who braved the elements, the Irish Raptor Study Group for their technical input and especially Dr. Brin McDonnell of the Duhallow Birdwatch Group for his continuous dedication and support for the project and not to mention all of the missed Christmas puddings, the abstinence from which ensured that a complete survey was carried out over the festive season.

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