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RK Project Updates

I got the call from Lorcan O'Toole asking would I be interested in working on red kites... wow, I felt very humbled. Damian Clarke's secondment to the Golden Eagle Trust (GET) was coming to an end and he was returning to Wildlife Ranger duties. Damian has and continues to do an amazing job on the kites and raptors in Wicklow and beyond and the success of red kites breeding in Ireland is testament to the hard work of both Damian and the Golden Eagle Trust team.

I was of course extremely sad that Damian was leaving the GET as I have worked alongside Damian for many years. His involvement and passion for the red kites and all things raptorial in Wicklow and Ireland is inspirational and continues unabated. Damian's advice and discussions during red kite fieldwork and talking about Wicklow and the red kite areas is unwavering, always with time for my questions.

For me it seemed like a life-time ago that the Golden Eagle Trust, Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and Irish Raptor Study Group made a foray to Scotland to look at the possibility of re-introducing red kites in Ireland and the early proposal meetings in Belfast. That same trip to Scotland we all attended the Scottish Raptor Study Group conference and the rest of the trip was very hazy, which is not unusual when Scottish raptor fieldworkers Dave Anderson and Ronnie Graham are about....

The ensuing months in 2006 and 2007 solidified the partnership between the Golden Eagle Trust and the Welsh Kite Trust and with the required funding obtained the success of the red kite project in Co. Wicklow and also the RSPB Co. Down red kite project is astounding.... Ireland now has red kites breeding again!

The Golden Eagle Trust had been inspirational to me for many years. Lorcan in particular has always been at hand for a much needed piece of advice or long chat about raptors in Ireland during my PhD and for many other young raptor researchers. Ah, those long days when all I got to do was watch peregrine behaviour! I had been working on the hen harrier survey all summer for the Irish Raptor Study Group and Golden Eagle Trust and this was an amazing thing to look forward to working on an amazing project on the red kites.

First I had to chair the UK & Ireland Red Kite Committee meeting in October in Newcastle and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the red kite researchers who provided much helpful advice about my carrying on with the Irish red kite project. I will confess to being initially slightly nervous at the meeting with so many well known red kite researchers, but everybody was so friendly and welcoming. At the meeting Brian Etheridge informed us of some of the signs to watch out for of rodenticides poisoning and we learned about the pressure of second generation rodenticides from Lee Walker from the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS). The high point of the meeting for me was everyone being ecstatic at the recent strengthening and implementation of the poisoning legislation in Ireland to help protect Irish wildlife from indiscriminate poisoning.

I was heading away to New Zealand and Australia during December so Brendan Dunlop and I headed for Wicklow in November to spend a few days with Damian and get stuck into the radio-tracking and see some of the roost and nesting sites in Wicklow. Brendan was doing the radio-tracking when I was away and I have to say I was slightly envious of the deep snow fall and adventurous car journeys that Brendan had when I was in New Zealand on the beach...honest :-)

Radio-tracking has revealed good survival rates over winter with at least 73% of the 26 released kites seen in February, only one is confirmed dead having hit power-lines and another was radio-tracked right to a fox den ? so presumed killed or scavenged and the remaining kites have not been seen in the main study areas so are presumed to have dispersed or perhaps dead. Many of the radio tags have now fallen off as kites have started moulting although several still have active radio tags and we continue to monitor them.

Several Wicklow and untagged kites have been reported from Wexford, Limerick and Kerry over the winter and amazingly one report in February included one of Brian Etheridge's Northern Scotland 2010 kites (blue 59) in Co. Kerry and this same has just been seen in early May in Wicklow.

Unexpectedly too, a red kite that was transmitting a radio signal from the train tracks, near Avoca, all winter and which we presumed had been killed was seen alive in early May by a good friend of mine that I worked with in South Africa, James Irons. This was observed perched in the same tree as the Northern Scotland kite. Just shows the value of the wing-tags in establishing survival and what a good Leica telescope can do! I got a brief glimpse of red-tagged central Scotland kite seen near Avoca in December, although the tag code was unfortunately not seen. Robert Straughan, RSPB Northern Ireland red kite project officer, also recorded a central Scotland kite over the winter. So it seems clear that kites from elsewhere are passing through during dispersal and hopefully settling to help increase the Irish populations.

The Golden Eagle Trust have been working hard over the recent months to complete proposals and additional funding applications for the final phase of the red kite releases in Ireland. I was fortunate to make it to the Welsh Kite Trust AGM to discuss the proposed additional release location in north Co. Dublin and it was great to meet so many that have helped the Irish project.

The Wicklow kites are doing well, with 107 kites released to date and at least 12 Irish chicks born in Wicklow during 2010. We currently have 10 nests identified in 2011 and hopefully a few more to find, although I am increasingly realising how much woodland there is in Wicklow! Since the RSPB release finished in 2010 we propose to collect the final 53 kites from Wales this year and put some in Wicklow and some in a new area, half-way between Co. Down and Co. Wicklow, in order to maximise the donor stock and help secure the Irish east coast population of red kites to help the spread west across the rest of Ireland.

The Irish red kites would not be where they are today if it were not for the hard efforts of Tony Cross and all the Welsh Kite Trust volunteers, directors and all the kite watchers in helping to find nests and collect the donor stock. This last year of collection will hopefully secure the long-term future of the Irish red kites and in this final year we thank you all for the continued efforts and we look forward to seeing you in June.

Since taking the reigns of the red kite project it has been challenging and rewarding sometimes with both emotions in a single day and the project team cannot wait to see the 2011 Wicklow chicks hatching and the final year of Welsh kite donor stock as we move to complete the release phase of the restoration of the red kite in Ireland.