Friday, 29 June 2012

More Rain and More Flooding

The summer flood has progressively got worse since my last blog and is now the worst summer flood that I’ve experience in my eight years working on breeding waders in the Shannon Callows. Flooding is now at proper winter levels.

Flooding on Inishhee © K. Finney 

Inishee Island is partially under water and I’ve had to turn off the predator proof fence. The water levels in some sections are so high they are interfering with the electric current and there's a risk that it could blow the fencer unit.
Flood waters nearly covering the predator fence. © K Finney

Mark boating up a flooded drain to pick me up. © K Finney

The flood has meant that I can't get to some of our island sites. Luckily Mark the NPWS predator control operative was able to give me a lift out to these sites.

Inchinalee Island, up near Athlone is nearly completely under water, the cattle stranded on what is left of the island. The distance to shore has increased from about 30 to over 500 meters and the current is so strong that swimming them off the island is impossible, for now. They have enough grass, but if flood waters persist or rise the farmer will have to provide them with additional feed or find some way of getting them off the island. Amazingly the last remaining pair of Redshank managed to sucessfully hatch its chicks in the worst of the weather and the male is continuing to raise them.
Flooding on Inchinalee Island. © K Finney
Flooding on Inchinalee island. © K FInney

Redshank fledgling swimming in flood waters. © K Finney

Although there have been wader nest losses, we have been lucky. Many sites had already fledged or hatched their chicks before the flood rose. Inishee has done amazingly well despite the weather, probably because the chicks were already a few weeks old before the worst of it hit. Splashing through puddles this week we turned up 27 Redshank, seven Lapwing and five Snipe fledglings.  Breeding is still ongoing for 16 pairs…. hopefully predators will stay away even though the fence is off.

We’ve been helping out with the Whinchat survey and although many areas are inaccessible we have turned up a number of breeding pairs in meadows that are nearly completely under water.  We’ve even recorded some birds carrying food to chicks, so some at least are surviving.
Flood waters on Fanns Callow and a breeding male Whinchat (circled in red). © K Finney 

Flood waters on Esker Callows. © K. Finney

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A Summer Flood

Poor weather in summer puts everybody in bad form, but for the Callows farmers and its wildlife it has a real impact.

Flooding on the Callows 2012 ©  H. Denniston

Last week it rained for over 48 hours straight, in some parts three inches falling in just a day. Wader chicks would have been unable to feed, the adults having to brood them constantly to keep them dry and warm. Young chicks would have suffered the most and anything unlucky enough to be hatching during this period is unlikely to have survived.

Anyone who saw the BBC’s Spring Watch on Monday would have seen the devastation that prolonged heavy rain can have on young Lapwing.

Flooding on the hay meadows 2012  ©  K. Finney
The river Shannon drains a fifth of Ireland and when heavy rain is experienced nationwide, as was the case last week, much of the water makes its way into the river system. The Callows are now under a summer flood, its true extent hidden by the long meadow grass. Nests will have been flooded, chicks displaced and the farmers have lost their grazing land, in a year when grass has been in short supply. If the flood persists, they are in danger of losing their winter fodder – the grass in the hay meadows will simply rot.

It may be weeks until we can assess the extent of the damage. Some sites are inaccessible and we have been unable to survey them, while on others we can only carry out a partial survey.

Thankfully the Corncrake meadow is not yet under flood, although there is a risk of further flooding as more heavy rain is forecast.