Going back to the recent TallaFest, I had an unexpected opportunity to meet some really stunning birds. I never really had an interest in birds except for the numerous pairs of budgie’s we had as kids, and to be honest the only experience I have had shooting (with a camera) these gorgeous birds was at the Brian Boru Festival last year. Little did I know, that this was about to change. When I first spotted the Display enclosure on the grounds of the Priory, curiosity got the better of me and I went over to have a closer look. Seeing the birds on display, standing on their perches reminded me of the first time I saw a bird of prey in action. It was at a medieval re-enactment about 15 years ago in Kells. One of the re-enactors had brought two Peregrines’ and a Kestrel with him. Watching the Falcon soar up into the sky was quite impressive, but what happened next was amazing. After circling a nearby field a couple of times, she suddenly dive bombed in a matter of seconds, disappearing in the long grass, only to reappear clutching another smallish bird in her talons. Ok so we have all seen this on the TV, but to see this in person is a completely different experience.
Before I go on, I have to say a big thank you to both Carol and Donal, including all the team from WoodlandsFalconry for inviting me into the enclosure and for spending so much time educating me about these great creatures. I never would have thought when I got up that morning that I would be lying on the ground, looking through my cameras viewfinder, only feet away from a bird of prey. It was amazing and the birds were so well behaved, not once did I feel anyway threatened, even when the young Sea Eagle periodically jumped of his perch and started flapping around. That said, you still need to respect their awesome power and majestic qualities. From a previous post you would have seen James, the Golden Eagle, so allow me to introduce you to the rest of the gang. Their was Layla the Long Eared Owl, followed by the young and rather feisty white tailed Sea Eagle known as Angry Angus, Baidhbhin the Barn Owl, Peadar the Peregrine Falcon, Grace the Red Kite, and last but not least Seamus the Kestrel.
In ancient times many of these birds were quite popular with our ancestors. Evidence of Falconry dating back to 3000B.C. has been found in places like Dalkey Island and Newgrange. The first recorded reference to Birds of Prey comes from a 12th century Manuscript based on the early Christian Abbot, Colman of Lann. Entitled “Betha Colmáin Maic Lúach’ain; or the life of Colman, son of Lúachan”. It describes how the Ard Ri, (High King) had in his possession, a pair of hunting hawks. Even the 12th century chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis, whom I have mentioned in previous posts, spoke about the quality of the Irish Birds of Prey, ‘Ireland has none but the best breed of falcons’. Medieval Ireland had many laws in place concerning Falconry, and there were restrictions on taking these birds out of the country.
Sadly many of these birds have gotten a bad rap over the years as farmers would blame them for killing sheep etc. And so their persecution by shooting and or poisoning eventually led to their demise. It is quite hard to believe, but many of these native birds were extinct in Ireland until recently. Up until 2007 the Golden Eagle had not been seen on these shores in over 100 years. After being reintroduced in Donegal, there is now a small population flourishing. The White Tailed Eagle had not been seen in 110 years, but have now settled in Kerry. As for the Red Kite, they were missing from our skies for over 200 years. The first one hatched in Wicklow in 2010. A tremendous amount of work has gone into reintroducing these birds back into the Irish Landscape and it continues as various conservation groups attempt to preserve their place on Ireland. This involves a lot of hard work, such as monitoring nests, tagging and tracking, research, and educating the public.
Even with all the great work being done, there have been a number of shootings and their food chain has been affected by illegal poisoning whether intentional or not! I would love to know what sort of idiot would go out and intentionally shoot on of these stunning creatures. As you could imagine, the process of reintroducing these birds and the ongoing conservation work costs a hell of a lot of money. If you would like to help out, you should check out the Golden Eagle Trust where there is a vast array of information on the work that they do. Or if you would like to get up close and personal with some of these birds, I highly recommend paying a visit to the nice folks in Woodlands Falconry. They are based down in Carlow and run a Birds of Prey centre. I know I will be taking the kids down to see them, also check out and follow their Facebook page for regular updates.