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  09.06.06, 7.55pmhrs  |  reported by siteadmin
  Sharks and Whales off Inishowen

Inishowen, June ~ The recent spell of calm summer weather has seen an unusually high number of basking shark and whale sightings around Inishowen?s coastal waters.

There has been regular sightings close to shore and in bays all along the coast along Inishowen head to Crummies bay, the main area of activity as usual at this time of year has been Malin head. Basking sharks are not uncommon around the Northern coast and they are usually sighted between June to July around the coast, but this years amount and density is exceptional.

Basking sharks are gentle giants as they feed on plankton by filtering water through their huge mouth and straining it over their gill rakers. The basking shark is the largest fish in Irish waters and the second largest in the world. They can grow up to ten meters in length but average about six to seven meters. They are normally seen feeding around the surface as they follow the tides and sea currents that move and shift the patches of plankton.

Very little is known about these huge fish, only that they are believed to breed in the north Atlantic during May and are almost certainly migratory. Basking sharks were under pressure during the 1950?s as a result of fishing interests mainly for their oil and fin?s. During this time their numbers dropped drastically as they only reproduce every two to three years. This recent spate of sightings is very encouraging and could suggest that the species are gradually making a comeback. Basking sharks can sometimes get caught or tangled in nets and we would appeal for people to take the time to release them unharmed.

A large group of Minke whales were also sighted feeding and breaching a few miles off Malin head along side the basking sharks. Minke whales also feed on plankton and can grow up to ten meters in length. They are one of the more majestic mammals that can be seen in our coastal waters.

Remember when at sea and whale watching or watching groups of birds feeding please try to reduce the disturbance and keep to a minimum distance of 200-300 metres. Turn your engine off and let them approach you, if they want to. They are wild animals and are protected under law.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group record all sightings of basking sharks and cetacean?s. If you see Basking sharks or cetacean?s please get in contact through their web site or contact the local National Parks and Wildlife Ranger for Inishowen ? Emmett Johnston on 074 93 22628.
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  09.06.06, 7.45pmhrs  |  reported by siteadmin
  Butterfly workshop a great success

Inishowen ~ A large group of enthusiasts who turned up to gain some knowledge off Donegal?s leading butterfly expert Bob Aldwell of the Dublin Naturalists Field Club.

Considering the brisk breeze that was blowing on Sunday the 28th a good selection of Orange Tips and Green-Veined Whites were seen. More interestingly Green Hairstreaks were confirmed at a number of new sites and also some great news was received as local man George McDermott discovered wall browns at Lennan. This record is a first for Inishowen.

Many thanks are due to all who turned out and to Bob for his enthusiasm in sharing his knowledge.
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  17.05.06, 8.12pmhrs  |  Diary of local naturalist
  'WildWords' May


Lying in the heather at Croaghdoo on Inishowen's rugged northern coastline surrounded by peacock butterflies, bumblebees, ladybirds and the odd midge, winter seems like a dreary dream in black and white. I feel like I?m soaking up the colours and smells of orchids and whin?s, the dainty look of ladies smock with orange tips alighted on. Its feels like a dark cloud has been lifted and an early summer has arrived.

Twenty-three degrees it reached as we skirted the northern coastline surveying for Chough pairs. Shorts and t-shirts the order of the day, I even went so far as to put on sun cream! People had the whole summer planed to a day, barbecues and outdoors taking centre stage. What a premature mistake we make every year. Two days later I was trapped by floods and had to practically sit in the kitchen range to get dry. I wonder what spring will bring next?

This Island weather of ours is so unpredictable even the birds and plants get it wrong sometimes. One minute its summer the next its gale force winds and the rivers and streams are bursting their banks. The floodwater running into the Sea Lough?s create a brown slick, which drifts out of the Swilly and Foyle on the tide. Salt and fresh water colliding and churning around each other.

The plants love it. Big sun, big water everything they need at once. Our weather provides so much humidity with sunny spells some day?s it feels like were all living in one of those huge glass houses in the botanical gardens. Inishowen really benefits by the protection of South Donegal with the Derryveagh and Bluestack Mts. They thankfully soak up most of the prevailing rainfall and winds. The same southerly winds bring the wheatear and Corncrake that are now settling for hopefully another brood. Crex crex I heard the cry in a small nettle patch while out running it seems early but who am I to judge.

With the big floods those Salomon which where jumping in the waiting pools at Swan park will now be well on their way up stream to their spawning grounds. Usually it's about late May that the first Salmon of the season is caught. The Dam is stocked, waders are dusted off and ol boat is repainted as the fishing season swings into play.

Blue bells, wild garlic and primrose cover the woodland floor like a carpet of colour and scent. It appears like a young child?s drawing with colour splashes everywhere and little dots making up the bigger picture. Badgers and other little mammals like shrews are on the roam. This time of year is a one of the best times to watch wildlife, with long days and twilight animals are sometimes too busy with feeding their young to take notice of a stranger lying still, or the whirl of a camera.

The dawn chorus never fails to wake me, its powerful sounds seem amplified, not muffled by all the new leaves. The blackbird performs on our gable with such gusto you would think he was singing for his life. His song is maybe not appreciated to its fullest extent at 5am after a late night working, shame I know that would give old Austin Clarke a furled brow. We even had a cock pheasant on the windowsill one morning clucking like a rooster. Sparrowhawk and blue tit, long tailed tits and buzzards its amazing what you can see out your kitchen window while trying to wake oneself up. Between Ravens pillaging eggs and cookoos try to slip them in, peregrines and sparrowhawks, floods and twisters it?s a wonder any of the small birds mange to rear a young brood.

At Doagh Isle we saw a selection of whites and some green veined butterflies. The sand feels warm on ones bare feet the water crystal clear with different divers and shags fishing out in the channel. New talk of dolphins and porpoise around the coast and more regular whale sightings off shore, a reflection of increased human activity at sea, not of marine mammals on the increase.

At Inch and Burt black headed gulls wheel around behind a tractor as it ploughs the earth, long straight lines seem to appeal to the eye and the photographer in me. The Tern?s racket up the noise as they dive bomb along the shoreline, sometimes accompanied by their larger friend the gannet. Their daily trip frm Ailsa Craig in Scotland always a bit of a mystery to me. Why not go north?
All the sea birds have come ashore nesting and breeding. Kittywake, Fulmar, and Shag colonies litter the coastline. Some unusual turn-ups for the month were a redwing and golden eagle on Inishtrahull, a probable breeding ring ouzel and breeding snow buntings on the North coast a variable record by any accounts.

Last but not least the ash and beach have eventually opened their leaves, bright nearly translucent green begins to shade out the colourful carpet of under-story flowers.
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  17.05.06, 7.48pmhrs  |  reported by admin1
  Golden Eagle sighting

Inishtrahull, May ~ A golden eagle was spotted on Inishtrahull Island on the 8th of May by some of the Irish lights workers stationed there. The eagle had no visible tags so it possibly have been a Scottish bird although this is not usually the time of year for young birds to be wandering. The eagle was seen feeding on sea birds and the Irish lights staff discovered two kills on the eastern end of the Island.

Large pellets have been recovered off Inishtrahull in the past and a small number of sightings of eagles around the north Inishowen coast last year and over the winter could suggest a regular feeding visitor. Interestingly one of the reintroduced golden eagles was seen near Dunree last year. Inishowen has a healthy population density of buzzards and ravens, which are both indicator species for eagles. Inishowen could possibly see the meeting of reintroduced eagles and their Scottish mothers in the not to distant future?

Thanks to the Irish light staff for the report and special mention to Donal O?Sullivan who follows in his fathers famous footsteps with his interest in wildlife.

We?d love to hear off anyone who thinks they?ve seen an eagle in the area. Some key ID features to look for are.

  • Tell tale long flat plank like wings which run straight across unlike a buzzards wings which are angled slightly forward
  • Also the young birds have large white spots on the under wing
  • All the reintroduced eagles are colour coded with tags and are easily identifiable

Check out the Golden Eagle Reintroduction Website on our links page for more information !

Remember to keep your eyes peeled...
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  17.05.06, 7.47pmhrs  |  reported by admin1
  Peregrine Falcon shot dead

Culdaff, May ~ A Large female Peregrine Falcon was found dead at Culdaff last week. The bird has been x-rayed by vet Susan Rollston and was found to have two shotgun pellets inside it body. The bird looked to be in a bad state of health and was just clipped by shotgun pellets in or around the first days in May. The Falcon subsequently died of lead poisoning or starvation due to lead poisoning and its inability to hunt.

Peregrine Falcons are the fastest known creature on the planet. They can reach over 200 miles per hour when they spectacularly stoop for their prey. Peregrines catch rooks, magpies, hooded crows, jackdaws and some small birds, they do not feed on carrion. A Peregrine is a great addition to any farmland area as they keep these vermin in check. They are so effective, falconers are employed for vermin control at places like airports, football stadiums and large warehouses.

A peregrine is easily distinguished between a buzzard in flight as it moves fast and horizontal or dives down off high vantage-points, unlike the buzzard which soars on thermals watching for small mammals like rats and crows.

Its such a shame to see a bird like this killed at any time of year but especially during the breeding season when she most likely had eggs in the nest. It would have taken a concerted effort to shoot such a bird and I have no doubt that it was intentional. A peregrine is a fantastic free benefit to farmers during the important springtime when reseeding and crop planting comes under pressure as a result of rooks and other vermin.

Shooting of a wild bird is a criminal offence and is prosecutable under the Wildlife act 1976 and 2000. The purprotrator can receive sentences as severe as twelve months in prison and a hefty fine of thousands of Euro. Guns can be confiscated and licences revoked if found guilty.

If you have any information relating to this or other wildlife issues please contact the National parks and Wildlife Conservation Ranger for Inishowen, Emmett Johnston on 074 93 22628 or emmett.johnston@environ.ie .
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  24.04.06, 4.36pmhrs  |  Diary of local naturalist
  Spring arrives

As we begin April and see the tail end of winter fade away one wonders at the movement of seasons, their changing light and cloud cover, their changing moods.

I have been watching family groups of Whopper Swans heading up Lough Swilly?s shores, using it like a guiding road each headland another obstacle to round or pass. I love listening to the squabble and honk of the large V formations of geese that congregate and mass at Malin Head. They set off on their return journey to Greenland and Iceland like a fleet of bombers from an Old World War Two movie. Their formation is immaculate, each one taking his or her turn out front in the hot seat. Malin head acts like the arrivals and departures terminal of a huge natural airport, Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle its operating runways. These migrations help raise ones awareness of the passage of time and they always start me wondering about how people have become somewhat distanced from its basic natural measure, the seasons.

In the city or town the winter brings darkness but buildings don?t shed leaves or volume. The town?s basic structure stays the same, it just seems/appears different under electric light and dark shadows.
The countryside does change its very make up changes. The winter bareness and hibernation only becomes apparent when you see it beside spring, it becomes obvious now you have something to compare it with. When the leaves appear the countryside seems to billow out like a huge canvas sail on one of these tall ships we seem to hear so much about nowadays.

I saw my first Wheatear, Swallow and Sandwich Tern all on the same day! All African migrants they probably arrived on the same change of wind. A wind which has stayed intense from the start of April, northerlies and westerlies both dominating. I?d imagine migrant birds must have been cursing its direction. I know how hard it is to cycle against this wind for a short time, imagine what it?s like to fly thousands of miles and have the wind blowing against you.

Primrose abounds under trees and along hedgerows, cowslip, and wood anemone complement it under flashes of blackthorn flower. For me nothing ever competes with the scent of gorse or whin, like a tropical fruit it releases its coconut scent whenever the sun stays long enough to provide some real heat.
Ash Buds and willow catkins burst from branches and the fresh flush of grass is now well established. The buzz of bumblebees starts to fill the air as all the typical spring goings on begin to establish themselves.

Imagine early nesters like Rooks and Ravens could even have young chicks by now. Most other birds are still choosing their nest sites or finishing up the home improvements. Everyone has little signs or associations like little psychological steps, which tell us spring has arrived. The most important for me is when I?m finished my evening meal at about 6 or 7 PM I can still hop on the bike or head out for a walk.

I?m still awaiting my first Cookoo and Corncrake calls, they seem late this year but who knows what is going on between here and where they started their journeys.

Bird flu is all the rage these days. Wildfowl and Swans are coming in for a special type of scrutiny. As the paparazzi fall over themselves to read up on birds and their migratory habits some good things have come from the current state of affairs. The flu has helped to educate people on the migrations of birds and how they move with the seasons, just like the old folks that head from Miami to Canada and back again in the autumn. We even have our own Irish seasonal migrators who take themselves down to Spain or the South of France during the dark winter months, for medical reasons of course. The simple fact that we have more than one species of swan has been raised by the bird flu publicity surge. Most people must just see a big white bird that?s until it becomes a big white bird with the flu. Old tails like the Children of L?r seem to have an uncanny knack at hitting close to the truth.

Finally spring has arrived and it?s definitely arrived with style !
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