In an extraordinary twist of fate, two Barn Owls chicks, ringed at different nest sites in Kerry on the same day last August, were both found dead yesterday within 5km of each other on the Tralee Bypass.
Three Barn Owls and a Long-eared Owl were found dead along the 14km route shortly after the road opened in October 2013. Since then, two more Barn Owl casualties were found during weekly survey visits, and another was found dead by the roadside two weeks ago just 300m south of the Bypass. Though central Kerry is a stronghold of the species, seven Barn Owl deaths (that we know about) along this short stretch of road must surely be having a seriously detrimental impact on the local population.
A beautiful male Barn Owl, Tralee Bypass, 13th February 2015. He was fledged from a nest near Castleisland in August 2014, about 15 km away (Michael O'Clery).
This male featured on nest box footage from last summer. See this post for more. Here's a short video clip with the male and his three siblings last July.
Four Barn Owl chicks at a nest box in near Castleisland, one of which - the bird on the left - is the male above (Filmed under licence from NPWS: M.O'Clery & J. Lusby).
A second bird, a female, centre foreground. She was the only fledgling from a nest near Milltown last summer, about 18km distant. The rough, ungrazed grassy embankment is ideal for small mammals and probably attracted the Barn Owl to hunt. Kestrels are also seen regularly hunting along this stretch (Michael O'Clery).
More photos and information can be seen on the Irish Raptors website HERE.
If you find a dead Barn Owl or other raptor on the Tralee Bypass, or anywhere in Kerry, please contact us at the above numbers/email.
You can also download a free Barn Owl booklet HERE. Lots of info about Barn Owls in Ireland.
Siberian Chiffchaff, Ross Castle, 12th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
One of the four 'Sibes' ringed by the end of January/early February.
Another, unringed Siberian Chiffchaff, Ross Castle, 12th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
Three birds were present without rings.
Ringed Chiffchaff, Ross Castle, 12th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
Thirteen Chiffchaffs out of an estimated 25+ present at Ross Castle in late January 2015 were ringed. Today another 20+ were present, but only about one in five were ringed. The true number present in the area over the past weeks may be 40 or more, perhaps a lot more?
Goldcrests are also benefitting from the insect activity at Ross Castle (Michael O'Clery).
Black Brant, with Pale-bellied Brent Geese, Sandy Bay, 10th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
This Black Brant seems particularly bad-tempered, spending a fair bit of its' time giving out to flock members. It not only snaps at Brent which invade its' personal space', but will also swim over to apparently innocent birds to give them a good ticking off.
Black Brant (left), with Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Sandy Bay, 10th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
Black Brant (front), with Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Sandy Bay, 10th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
The prominent white 'necklace' almost meets on the hindneck.
Black Brant, Sandy Bay, 10th February 2015 (Michael O'Clery).
Two Twite (leftmost and third from left, with Linnets), Scraggane, 7th February 2015 (Kilian Kelly).
Four Twite (second, third, fourth and fifth birds from the left), with Chaffinch and Linnets, Scraggane, 7th February 2015 (Kilian Kelly).
Twite probably no longer breed in Kerry, with the last proven breeding in 2006 near Ballyferriter. Since then there have only been sporadic winter records, mostly from Carrahane and the Magharees area.
A general switch from tillage to grazing combined with continued burning of heather and overgrazing of uplands means there is probably no longer any suitable breeding habitat in Kerry.
With just around 100 breeding pairs remaining in Ireland, it is worth looking for coloured rings on any which make it to Kerry, as many of the core Mayo population have been so ringed, but it is also possible that our occasional winter visitors to Kerry are from the much larger west Scotland population.
Unless you are the most fanatical of birders, a flock of Common Gulls feeding in a field in winter might just about be worth a look, at best for maybe a Ring-billed Gull. This bird, seen yesterday by D. Farrar in a field near the Cashen Estuary, seems to want to give us a shake and make us think again about what might be possible in the murky and difficult world of gull identification.
So, a field full of Common and Herring Gulls, and one adult Common Gull jumps out from the posse. It has a mantle a good shade or two darker than others nearby, close even to our local graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On closer examination, it also seems to have a pale eye.
(You can click on the images for a closer view)
Common Gull showing dark mantle and hint of a pale eye? (All photos: Davey Farar).
Other subtle features include a slightly longer primary projection and just the faintest of smudges toward the end a longish bill.
The same gull in flight.
And another, in flight (top bird).
A close up of the bill showing just a faint gonys spot.
Comparison with four adult Common Gulls (left) and the much darker individual on right.
So, what could it be? There is a North American version of Common Gull, now often referred to as 'Short-billed Gull' (and just to muddy the waters a little, was formerly called 'Mew Gull') but as the name suggests, the N. American form has a short bill - unlike this one. It is also predominantly a W coast species, breeding in Alaska and wintering S along the W coast of America.
However, there are also two 'eastern' races of Common Gull which show some or all of the features of the above bird. The nearest to us is the subspecies heinii which nests from roughly Moscow, E across Russia to central Siberia, but which winters largely in SE Europe. The other race is camtschatchensis (or Kamtschatschensis)- sometimes called 'Kamchatka Gull' - which breeds in NE Siberia and winters in Japan and E China.
Our own subspecies canus interbreeds with heinii where they overlap in Russia, but camtschatchensis apparently does not, or rarely does, which has prompted proposals that 'Kamchatka Gull' should be split. As to this bird in north Kerry? The jury is out. Better flight shots would be needed, but it does seem to be of one of the two 'eastern races'.
There's more on these races on the Birding Frontiers website HERE and an account of a probable Kamchatka Gull in Newfoundland HERE.
Davey sarched high and low for this bird today, but to no avail. There was another 'eastern Common Gull' seen by David O'Connor at Black Rock in 2013 - we'll post a link/images if we can find out more.
Time to take note of any unusual Common Gulls! Surely Kerry is the most likely spot in Europe to turn up a North American 'Short-billed Gull', and there are also 'Russian Common Gulls' and even 'Kamchatka Gulls' to look out for too. Any of these are possible. If Slaty-backed Gull can reach Ireland twice...