Finding the Falcons

Helena Jackson, a student on the Diploma in Field Ecology writes about her research work:

Image: Greg Humes (Wiki Commons)

Image: Greg Humes (Wiki Commons)

It’s 7.30 am and I’m sitting in my car with the heater on full blast waiting for a quarry manager to allow me entry into a disused quarry in North Cork.  I’m  researching the use  of man made structures (including quarries) by peregrine falcons  for my  Diploma in Field Ecology.  Every waking moment is currently set aside in this pursuit as the weather and passing time unite against me.

Help and advice has been very forthcoming since I started the project, including guidance from number of experienced raptor conservationists, NPWS rangers, and a wildlife photographer.     Local knowledge during field work has been just great. There was the farmer who dragged me knee deep in muck across ‘the spuds’ to show me where ‘them huge fekkers’ were, and who, 5 minutes later, ‘advised me not to  look down’ and to ‘aim for the bush’ if I slipped, as we scrambled up the steep slope with me clinging on to him for dear life.  He pointed out the barn owl nest and the badger trail.

And then there was the local man who advised me that the best time to catch the farmer was definitely ‘not after a few pints’, who pointed out ‘the bull’ and told me about the bird bones he had seen on a ledge in the castle ruins . There was the greenkeeper who showed me the best view over the quarry from the golf course, and of course yesterday  the two farm dogs that lay at my feet in the sun while I surveyed a ruined castle overlooking the Blackwater. I wasn’t sure if they had taken a shine to me, or if they were just keeping an eye on me in case I got up to anything. I didn’t make any sudden moves.

Inactive quarries are desolate, beautiful eerie places with unexpected wildlife including ducks on the quarry lakes, other bird species and badgers. Sitting still, with the sun warm on my back, eyes peeled, binoculars in hand waiting for a peregrine sighting and listening keenly for any alarm calls, all doubts about my decision to tackle year 2 of the Diploma vanish.

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