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Murlough is cared for as Ireland's first nature reserve since 1967, the fragile 6000 year old sand dune system offers some lovely walks. Due to the reserves wild nature you can discover birds, flowers, butterflies and more, all overlooked by the rounded peaks of the Mourne Mountains to the south.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Talking to the Heron's

Grey Heron (by Rosemary)
One of our springtime surveys is the counting of heron nests in the main avenue leading into the reserve.  We have a resepctable siege of herons who are often seen standing in the adjacent field, amongst the cattle, talking intently about something or other (or so we like to think).  Sometimes they are joined by plucky Little Egrets too.  Anyway, as soon as the winter chill subsides they start work on a selection of impressive nests in the nearby trees.  In turn we go out counting them.

The idea is to see how many nests there are, which are active with chicks and which have been abandoned since last year.  It's not easy, the tree foliage is dense, the nests are denser, and may only be visible from odd angles.  There is a lot of craning of the neck involved, and staring upwards for hours at a time through binoculars.  Great for learning steady binocular-holding technique.  After a day of this we all went a bit crazy, I experimented with mimicking heron calls.  They seemed to answer back?  Passing visitors looked confused and aghast, but this is the inevitable outcome of doing conservation biology is it not?

Claire gazes upward in reverence, observing the romantic movements of frisky herons.

The herons make a distinctive cry as they swoop in carrying twigs and branches, and make a low purring throaty call when their partner comes in to land (from what I observed).  Chicks apparently make a chick-like noise.  I've not heard this yet as last time I went out they were all still eggs.  The late spring and inclement weather over Easter killed off the first batch we think.

Then...just as we settled into a Zen moment of observational alertness...Psycho crow dived in!  A hooded crow started chasing the herons and attacking their nests.  He/she was a persistant little beggar and really dived onto them relentlessly.  It took a few to defend the nests, and even after that the crow just loitered about shuiftily and launched more sideways attacks at regular intervals.

We are told that a similarly psycho-crow dismembered a live pigeon  on the beach a few days earlier.  A volunteer had to rescue the poor thing and put it out of it's misery.  It's Hitchcock all over again...

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