Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Birdwatching Facility at Carlingford

A new birdwatching facility was installed at Carlingford along the shore - the work was completed last week. The facility consists of a 10x telescope, an interpretative panel and a park bench. Two parking spaces are provided and the whole is mounted on a path that runs along the shore at Carlingford. The facility is the result of a collaboration between Greenore Port, Louth County Council, the Heritage Council and Birdwatch Ireland North Louth Branch.

The facility gives views over the mudflats and islands on the bay. It also affords views of the lough and the Mournes beyond. While the birdlife is fairly sparse over the summer months, with terns that nest on Green Island across the bay predominating. However in winter the bay is filled with over 3000 waders and wildfowl covering 30+ species. In particular at high tide the islands, which serve as high tide roosts for the birds, should provide close up viewing opportunities. The telescope is of robust design and should enable children as well as adults to use it.

Thanks to Greenore Port, The Heritage Council and Louth County Council for their support for the facility.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shelduck Ducklings

Shelducks nest in holes, either disused rabbit holes or holes they excavate themselves. The holes may be near the shore or half way up a mountain, generally well hidden under bramble or gorse. About this time of the year the ducklings hatch and the mother duck brings them to the shore, often pellmell down a small mountain stream, often at night, until they get to the shore. Unfortunately the path to the shore is often obstructed by new housing developments, roads, piped streams, weirs etc and as a result the ducklings often get stuck and separated from their parent. If this happens with shelduck ducklings, the first thing is to try to get the ducklings back to mother, and try to get them down to the shore. However if mother is gone, collect ducklings and bring them to the nearest part of the shore where shelducks gather and where there is wet mud and cover, and leave them. The ducklings will call and call and if mother gets within 100 yards or them she will come to the call. Shelducks are also known to adopt orphaned ducklings, indeed in late summer most of the adult birds leave their young to moult their flight feathers. During this month long phase in the shelduck lifecycle, the young birds are taken care of by "aunts" in huge nurseries of up to 100 ducklings.

Weir at Jenkinstown

Many shelducks nest in the Cooley mountains near Rockmarshal and elsewhere. Yesterday Owen McCann called about lost ducklings in the Jenkinstown area - they had become trapped in the same weir as last year and mother had departed over the fields with four of her11 ducklings in toe, and a dozen crows and magpies swooping. Anyway to cut a long story short we rescued the ducklings with a net and brought them down to the shore at Rockmarshal and left them by the shore inside an old pipe that was lying around. Checking back a couple of hours later I was pleased to see that they had been indeed recovered by what I assume to be their parents. I imagine that the crows got the four who had the sense to avoid the weir. Shelducks like other ducks are prolific, producing up to 15 ducklings a year. It is part of shelduck ecology that the vast majority of these do not make it to adulthood (otherwise we would be up to our necks in ducks!) but where they get stuck as a result of human activity, it is worth attempting a rescue.

Ducklings reunited with parents

Shelduck ducklings are black and white with grey legs, quite unlike the brown and yellow mallard ducklings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evening Chorus Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve

Thanks to the 20 odd people who showed up at Rathescar on Sunday evening.
Looping around the outisde of the walk we had the following singing males:

song thrush (6)
blackbird (4)
mistle thrush (1 pair)
robin (4)
long tailed tit (1 family group)
blue tit (1)
great tit (1)
willow warbler (1)
chiffchaff (2)
coot (at least 6)
moorehen (at least 4)
mallard (only 2 females showing)
little grebe (at least 1 pair)
chaffinch (8)
greenfinch (1)
wood piegon (3)
pheasant (2)
wren (9)
magpie (1)

and also distant rookerie but curiously no rooks in Rathescar itself!

A cuckoo was heard just before we arrived and called once or twice distantly. The woodland consists mainly of beech with some very fine oak. Willow dominates around the lake with dense stands of dogwood. There is a good deal of laurel and some rhododendron. The woodland floor is dominated by ivy. The canopy is generally closed. It is interesting to note that the more diverse wood and garden around Listoke house held about as many species and numbers despite its much smaller size. Nevertheless Rathescar is a beautiful place to go for a walk at any time of the day or year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dawn Chorus and Evening Chorus 2009

Thanks to everybody for showing up at 5am last Sunday at Listoke House for the North Louth Birdwatch Ireland Dawn Chorus outing. About 35 people showed up at the beautiful walled Edwardian gardens, with their exquisite herbaceous border, lush undergrowth and mature trees, they making a superb habitat for birds. The highlight was no less than three male blackcaps singing in the main garden. Others were robin, blackbird, song thrush, wren, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, goldcrest and more. We finally broke up at 7am after coffee and tea generously served by our hostess.

A special thanks to Patricia and Patrick Barrow for facilitating the event.

Following requests from attendees, we will be running a second event at 8pm at Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve. Directions here. Meet at the car parking area. For further information please ring Breffni 087 9145363.
Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How To Rescue Lost Mallard Ducklings

Mallard mother with young duckling

At this time of the year (from April) ducklings may get lost. This is not supposed to happen as ducklings, although capable of feeding themselves, are entirely dependant on their mother for warmth, security and guidance. This is how things are supposed to happen:

The mallard pair, male and female, will bond during the winter (these pair bonds can last for life) and a nest site will be found. They will choose a quiet place near water usually, but have been known to nest in the flowerbeds of shopping centres, in back gardens, near busy roads etc. The female lays eggs over about two weeks finally producing 10 – 15 eggs. Once all eggs are laid the female will sit on them and incubate for 30 or so days. During all this time the male will discreetly hang around the area protecting the nest and mother. Finally one day inApril or later in the summer, the ducklings will hatch and the mother will lead them to water to feed at the edge and maybe to have a quick swim. The water is also the getaway in case a predator arrives so they will naturally go onto water when they are disturbed. Mallard ducklings can only tolerate being on water for short periods as they quickly get cold and need to return to the warmth under their mother’s wing. They cannot produce the oil that insulates their mother yet and so obtain iil from being brooded by the mother. The ducklings will remain with their mother for a further eight weeks or so until they can fly and then are completely independent.

If you find a single ducking by itself it is critical to get it back to its mother as quickly as possible. Generally the duckling will call continuously for its mother and if there is no disturbance the mother will soon return. However if there is no sign of the mother after an hour or more and there is no obvious disturbance (you should observe from a hidden place), the duckling may be completely separated from its mother. This could have occurred or a variety of reasons, eg duckling or mother and brood could have been carried away on a stream, or frightened by a wild predator or domestic cat or dog, perhaps crossing a road, one duckling got left behind. So if the mother duck definitely cannot be found, put the duckling in a warm box with some wet porridge for feeding and a sacucer of water for drink – duckling will eat some porridge and then drink water to swallow. Now try again to find the mother duck by backtracking from where the duckling was found.

If there is no sign of the mother there are three options:

Release the duckling at the nearest point to where you think it lost its mother ensuring that there are no predators or cats/dogs around; the mother may be hiding somewhere waiting for you to go away.
Contact an animal rehabilitation centre and ask them to take the duckling or find it a home.
Keep the duckling and rear it yourself until it is old enough to take care of itself (up to eight weeks) – it will need food, warmth, access to muck/water, and a secure pen. Release it to a place where there are other mallard once its flight feathers have pushed. Details of caring for ducklings are here:
Try to release it to another brood. Generally the new mother will not recognise its call and reject the duckling, even attacking it, but if there are many broods on the same pond, it may have a chance in the confusion, particularly if the duckling is a few weeks old.
Find a local farmer with ducks and put it in with his – a domestic duck may be less fussy than a wild one. I have even heard of a hen adopting a lost duckling.

Remember that ducks are very prolific and it is nature’s way that only one or two of the brood of up to 15 ducklings will make it to adulthood. If it his were not so and every duckling survived to breed we would be quickly drowning in ducks!

This advice generally applies to all dabbling ducks (ducks that filter-feed on mud including pintail, teal, wigeon, gadwall, gargany and others). In the case of shelduck, lost ducklings are much more likely to be adopted by other ducks (aunts).

Mallard with older ducklings