Monday, October 31, 2011

Dying Out

Ag Dul in Éag
Brown Bear mother & cub on the Finnish/Russian border © John N Murphy

Next Tuesday 8th November 2011, sees the release of our new six part wildlife series, due for broadcast on the Irish TV channel TG4. The series explores species in peril and the reasons why others are no longer in existence.  We are grateful to TG4 and the Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI), for backing us in this project.

Ag Dul in Éag” or “Dying Outtakes a broader look at threatened Irish wildlife and recounts the fascinating stories of how some of Ireland’s species ended up falling into extinction.

Some of our most interesting species have been decimated; whether centuries ago or in the past few hundred years. The Wolf, the Wild Boar, the Eurasian Crane and the Brown Bear; were once plentiful in our woodlands, waterways and caves. Some were hunted out of extinction either by directive or demand such as the Wolf and the Wild boar, whilst others fell prey to the clearance of our woodlands such as the Brown Bear, the Capercaille and the Red Squirrel. Whereas there are many other species such as the Eel, the Little Tern, the Bittern and the Yellowhammer currently clinging on for their lives on our island nation.   

Little Terns are still holding on at Kilcoole through the efforts of Birdwatch Ireland & the NPWS © John N Murphy

The clearance of our native Oak woods played a large part in the drumming echo of the Woodpecker disappearing from our forests centuries ago. But in the past decade we have seen the return of these colourful birds to many areas of the countryside; this is a very welcome development and in this series we’ll explore what has contributed to this resurgence.

The introduction of non-indigenous species into the countryside can also have a negative effect on rare and precious species.

A bounty on the Wolf cleared them from our countryside © John N Murphy

To eradicate a species once is regrettable, but to allow it to disappear for a second time is simply irresponsible. This could be the fate of our native Red Squirrel. In the past the clearance of our native woodlands and the open killing spree that was waged on the Red Squirrel decimated this cute little mammal. But after the English restocked the countryside with them, the introduction of a non-native Grey Squirrel from America in the 1800s once again put them in danger of survival. If these aggressive Grey Squirrels aren’t kept in check they will very soon eradicate our native Reds, as has happened in Britain.
Red Squirrels were once wiped out of Ireland © John N Murphy

Another example would be how the introduction of Mink to the wilds of Donegal is severely endangering the survival of Red-throated Divers in the area.

Ongoing efforts to ensure the protection and preservation of other species such as the Artic Char, Irish Pollan, the Red-throated Divers, the Irish Red Deer, the Grey Partridge and the Little Tern are also charted in this series. 

A pair of Red-throated Divers on breeding grounds in Sweden © John N Murphy

Relics from the Ice Age are few and far between, but two are hidden away in mountain corries and some of the larger lakes in Ireland. The Arctic Char and the Irish Pollan are the only living link back to the time of our ancient ancestors. Both of these are under enormous pressure and we find them on the brink of extinction, but there is excellent work being carried out by small groups of volunteers to save them from oblivion.

Adult Eurasian Crane in Hungary © John N Murphy

The strong links to Irish folklore that many of the extinct species have is also explored, a reminder of the unique and once integral part they played in the Irish countryside.

The fearsome Wild Boar went extinct in Ireland around the 12th century and it features prominently in our native folklore. There are many legendary stories of the Fianna hunting boar and the Cork town of Kanturk got its name from Ceann Tuirc, meaning Boar’s head. The people of Kanturk still have an affiliation with this tasty pig and are now asserting the aphrodisiac qualities of the meat.

Controversy surrounds whether we should re-introduce wild boar to Ireland © John N Murphy

Other species looked at in this series include, Eurasian Bittern, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Squirrel, Grey Partridge, Capercaille, Yellowhammer, Beaver, Corn Bunting, Red-necked Phalarope, Black Bear, Racoon, European Eel, Black-throated Diver and many more.

 Bittern, Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, Doncaster, UK © John N Murphy
 Grey Squirrel, St. Annes Park, Dublin © John N Murphy
 Great Spotted Woodpecker, Finland © John N Murphy
 Grey Partridge, Boora Bog, Offaly © John N Murphy
 Male Capercaille, Scotland © John N Murphy
Eurasian Crane, Sweden © John N Murphy
Red-necked Phalarope, Iceland © John N Murphy
 Beaver, Sweden © John N Murphy
 Black-throated Diver, Sweden © John N Murphy
Badger, Clare © John N Murphy
Corn Bunting, Lesvos, Greece © John N Murphy
Racoon, Vancouver, BC, Canada © John N Murphy
 Grey Heron is often called the Crane © John N Murphy
 Red Deer, Glenveigh National Park, Donegal © John N Murphy
 Great Northern Diver in summer plumage, Lahinch, Clare © John N Murphy
Black Bear, Ucelet, Vancouver Island, Canada © John N Murphy
Cranes, Hortobagy National Park, Hungary © John N Murphy
The Turkey like male Capercaille displaying, Scotland © John N Murphy
 Yellowhammer, the Burren, Clare © John N Murphy
Female Red-necked Phalarope, Iceland © John N Murphy

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Upland Sandpiper

While in Mayo yesterday 25th October 2011, the Upland Sandpiper appeared from his hiding place in the corner of a rushy field giving us distant but prolonged views in the dull conditions.  This rare North American vagrant was not so tame and ran into cover like a Pheasant if anyone walked the nearby roadside.  It was my first time ever encountering this species and he really looked like a cross between a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Whimbrel.

American Golden Plover

I travelled to Bell Mullet in County Mayo yesterday 25th October 2011, to look for the Upland Sandpiper.  While there I managed to see the Upland, along with three juvenile American Golden Plovers on the peninsula, one adult White-rumped Sandpiper, one Curlew Sandpiper and a Lapland Bunting.  It was such a dull day and the following series of photo's depict how dark it was on the day.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Whoopers Swans

Whooper Swans arrived back this week in County Clare in large numbers.  Small family parties and groups have begun to take up residency for the winter on favorite lakes and flooded fields throughout Clare since arriving back from the breeding grounds in Iceland.


During the week on one of my excursions to Loop Head, I took in Kilcredaun Marsh to search for the two Blue-winged Teals that were there a few days previous.  While searching from the road on the east side of the marsh, this young Kestrel came close to my jeep and began diving into the grass to catch beetles and other small invertebrates.  The bird was oblivious of myself and the jeep and continued feeding along the roadside.