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Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Request for Merlin and Short-eared Owl records

IRD Duhallow RaptorLIFE and BirdWatch Ireland are currently conducting a survey to establish the distribution of breeding Merlin in Duhallow (E Kerry & NW Cork) and the importance of the uplands for this elusive and poorly understood raptor. 

We also hope to gather information on Short-eared Owl in Duhallow to help target survey work to determine if this species is breeding in the region. Both species are difficult to detect and occur in very low densities and therefore we would greatly appreciate any information on both species in the Duhallow area which will help us to identify the most suitable areas to focus survey work.

If possible, we would be grateful to know;
- the date (even approximate)
- the location, including grid reference (visit to check grid reference or drop a pin on Google Maps) 
- the nature of the sighting (hunting, single bird, pair, and breeding behaviour, etc.)

All such sightings will be held in the strictest of confidence. Please send any information to this email address HERE.

Left) Merlin (Neil O’Reilly). Right) Short-eared Owl (RT Mills).

A map of Duhallow is shown below. It covers most of north-west Cork, and east Kerry and the far southern border of Co. Limerick. This area includes the southern part of the Mullaghareirk Mountains, the eastern side of the Stack’s Mountains, and to the south it includes the northern edge of the Derrynasaggart Mountains, with the Boggeragh Mountains to the south-east of the area. 

The Duhallow area (click image for a closer look).

Any sightings of either species over the past ten years within or in proximity to this area would be very useful.

Merlin in Duhallow 
Previous research and monitoring of Merlin Falco columbarius in Ireland has been limited, resulting in an absence of comprehensive data on distribution, abundance and ecological requirements of the species. Evidence from the Breeding Bird Atlases suggested a moderate decline in the breeding range of the Irish population over the past 40 years. However, due to difficulties associated with detecting breeding Merlin, the Breeding Bird Atlases may not provide a true indication of the abundance, densities or distribution of the population.

In the absence of more comprehensive species specific monitoring, sufficient data on the status and ecology of Merlin necessary for the design and implementation of an effective conservation strategy is lacking. The Action Plan for Upland Birds in Ireland 2011-2020 identified significant gaps in knowledge of the Irish Merlin population, as well as the necessity to establish baseline data and conservation priorities for the species. Merlin are an Annex 1 species on the European Birds Directive 2009/147/EC (OJEU 2010), and there is a requirement to address these issues to afford the species the appropriate protection. Merlin are also one of the priority species within the RaptorLIFE project through IRD Duhallow.

Breeding Merlin populations are typically associated with upland habitat types, where they occur in low densities. In Ireland, they have a widespread but sporadic breeding distribution. Due to numerous factors associated with their nesting ecology and their discrete breeding behaviour, it is generally accepted that the Merlin are a difficult species to survey.

The recent Bird Atlas 2007–11 indicates two records of Merlin in the Duhallow uplands during the breeding season, however additional sightings have been recorded since through IRD Duhallow, as well as other independent sightings, and there are areas which are considered suitable for breeding Merlin. Although breeding has not been confirmed in Duhallow in recent years we hope to change that this season with an increased survey effort, and to gather baseline information as to the suitability of the area for Merlin.

Short-eared Owl in Duhallow
Short-eared Owl Asio flanneus is a scarce winter visitor to Duhallow, and although there were no winter records during the Atlas period (2007–11) there have been several since. For instance, at Barna Bog (see link HERE).

There have also been several reliable records of Short-eared Owl in suitable upland habitat during the 2016 nesting season which includes a suspected but unconfirmed breeding pair (see link HERE ). 

With your help we hope to increase our knowledge of both species in Duhallow this season.

Many thanks in advance,

RaptorLIFE & BirdWatch Ireland