Monday, 3 September 2012

OWLS, NIGHTJARS AND A SPLASH OF THE EXOTIC





Sketch of Nightjar by Killian Mullarney
Owls have always held a fascination for people and six species of owl have been recorded in Ireland, of which four have occurred herein Waterford.

Two species of owl are breeding and resident in Waterford –the barn owl and the long-eared owl – whilst the short-eared owl is a regular but scarce winter visitor.

The most widespread owl in the county is the Long-eared. The name (as with short-eared) is derived from the ear tufts visible on the bird while resting – the tufts are feathers covering the ears rather than the ears themselves. Long-eared owls being nocturnal and crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) are difficult to see. However if their daytime roost is discovered they often allow a close approach.

Barn Owl by Colm Flynn
The Barn Owl is the ‘white’ owl familiar to everybody –particularly as it appears with the introductory theme of the ‘Late Late Show’.Barn owls are widespread but in small numbers throughout the county. They are declining over much of their previous range. Barn owls are mainly nocturnal often being glimpsed in the headlights of cars as they glide silently past.Sometimes they oblige by perching in the open. Daytime roosts and nests are usually in old abandoned buildings, outhouses and barns. The call is an eerie drawn out shriek not very bird like but easily identifiable. Their call may Bethe origin of the Banshee myth.

Short Earred Owl by Andrew Malcolm
The Short-Ear Owl is a winter visitor to Waterford and is partially diurnal, so can be seen by day as it hunts. It is most often encountered at coastal locations over rough terrain, fields and marshland.During the past winter a short-eared owl was regularly seen at Ram Head.

Scops Owl is a small summer visitor to Southern Europe with just a handful of Irish records. It is strictly nocturnal, very difficult to see but detectable by its song – a constantly repeated deep whistle. A ScopsOwl was found freshly dead on Brownstown Head in April 1998, so there is a possibility of other undetected occurrences.

The Snowy Owl is a large white owl most associated with the artic tundra. However it is now an almost annual visitor to Ireland’s west coast and there may be one or two resident individuals. Waterford is probably too far south of its normal range.

The Little Owl is another partly diurnal owl resident overmuch of Europe and Southern Britain, where it was introduced in the nineteenth century. It is now widespread in England and Wales so it may be a potential visitor to Waterford at some future date. There are just four records to date in Ireland, the last being in December 1981.

The owl with the most familiar call ‘hoo hoo hoo hooooo’,well known to Hammer Horror film buffs, is the tawny owl. This species has never been officially recorded in Ireland despite being widespread throughout Britain and Europe.

Nightjar sitting by Killian Mullarney
Although not an owl, the Nightjar is a bird most associated with darkness. Nightjars are both nocturnal and crepuscular when they can be seen displaying and feeding on insects such as moths. The song of the Night jar is a continuous churring reel, sustained for hours on end. The flight call is a repeated koo-ik and it also has a loud wing clap during display flights. An old name for nightjars was goatsucker. This derived from the notion that they suckled milk from goats but were likely chasing insects. Nightjars roost by day lying motionless when their intricately camouflaged plumage makes them virtually impossible to detect. Nightjars are a summer visitor to this country and in past years could be seen at Crocaun and The Vee. Sadly there have been no recent sightings in Waterford but perhaps they are being overlooked in the extensive forestry where they were last encountered.
Bee-eater by Andrew Malcolm

In May 2011 Andrew Malcolm and Ann Trimble found a Bee-eater at Ardmore. This beautifully plumaged exotic bird is a summer visitor to Southern Europe and as its name suggests eats bees. Bee-eater plumage is multi-coloured with blue, yellow, white, brownish-red and green hues. It is a very rare visitor to Ireland of less than annual occurrence. Remarkably Andrew and Ann found another (or the same) bee-eater again at Ardmore in May of this year. Another recent visitor to Dungarvan was a gull-billed tern found by local birder Miche├íl Cowming  - a first county record. Unfortunately it lingered for just a few hours before departing. 

Rosy Starling by Una Power/Bernadette Sheridan
On Thursday the 19th of July Ann Daines discovered a Rose-coloured Starling in her garden at Seapark, Abbeyside. This was the second county record of this beautiful pink and black bird. The normal range of this starling is eastwards of Turkey but it is now happily ensconced in Ann’s garden, feeding on fat balls.

Rosy Starling by Daniel Weldon





Check out www.waterfordbirds.com for local wildlife updates. If you have any questions or comments, please email them to japwatntr@gmail.com

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