Thursday, 27 August 2015

Behind the Predator Fence

This year I was lucky enough to start as an intern with BirdWatch Ireland. One of my first tasks was to help get the predator proof fence on Inishee up and running. I’d heard a lot about this fence and its success, so was really excited to get an opportunity to work on it. There was a very late spring flood this year which meant that work on the fence was delayed. We couldn’t begin until the flood dropped which wasn’t until the first week of May.

Volunteers working on the fence© K. Bismilla
 We had a great bunch of enthusiastic volunteers this year.  Everyone worked really well together and were in high  spirits despite the horrible working weather! The late start  on the fence meant that we were lucky enough to see some  of Ireland’s rarest breeding birds up close. It was great  becoming familiar with their distinctive calls and a real  highlight was getting to see Lapwing and Redshank nests and chicks. I was amazed at how well camouflaged Lapwing chicks are and how still they keep in order to avoid being detected by predators. Great care had to be taken when walking around the island to avoid stepping on one! 

Rowing volunteers onto Island (© K. Bismilla)

We had been working for only a few days when the torrential rain started to fall causing the river to flood once more. The river level rose so fast! One morning we arrived on the island and I was shocked to see that part of the fence that we had been working on the afternoon before was now completely submerged in water. The rising flood meant that we had to abandon work by the end of the week, leaving some of the gaps open.

Trampling vegetation (© K. Bismilla)

Once the flooding receded myself and another volunteer went back to finish the little bit of work left and finally the birds were protected. A couple of weeks later the pair of us were back on the island carrying out vegetation control. The spell of warm weather made the work enjoyable and we were lucky to see more Lapwing chicks and fledglings. We were also delighted to see two pairs of breeding Curlew and a couple of drumming Snipe.

Unfortunately, flooding meant that normal breeding wader population and productivity monitoring in the Callows was not carried out this year. Many birds were displaced by the flood causing them to give up on breeding. This would have made the results incomparable to previous years and wouldn’t have given us any indication as to how the population is faring. However, we did keep an eye on Inishee as much as possible and we know that thirteen pairs of Lapwing successfully hatched chicks and we know that three fledged chicks. We also know that there were  four pairs of Redshank, two pairs of Snipe and two pairs of Curlew with chicks. This is a great result given the year that was in it.

We will be back on the island next week to open the gaps and carry out some more vegetation control. Thanks to all the volunteers who have helped out this summer and to those who are going to help out next week. Hopefully we will have some good weather!

© K. Bismilla
© K. Bismilla
Over the summer we visited the other sites and I have to say the farmland in the Callows is really lovely. I was very impressed to see such a rich floral diversity in the meadows. Coming across beautiful orchids was a real highlight!

On a late June visit to Inchinalee (where the new predator fence has been erected) we saw two pairs of Lapwing, one of which had successfully fledged a chick, and seven pairs of Redshank. We were surprised to also find a Lapwing nest so late in the season.

New feeding habitat on Inchinalee (© K. Bismilla)

This year for the first time ever there were no Corncrake heard in the Callows. This devastating news has really saddened the locals, farmers and all of us here at BirdWatch Ireland.

Working with BirdWatch Ireland in Banagher has been a fantastic experience and  what was particularly nice was getting to meet the farmers involved in the Breeding Wader Grant Scheme. Really lovely people who without a doubt care about the survival of our rare breeding waders.

Lapwing and chick © R. Kennedy, RSPB

Hopefully next year will bring more favorable weather for breeding waders!