Planning Your New York City, USA Trip – Zafigo.com, November 14 2018

New York City (NYC) is famously known as ‘The City that Never Sleeps’, and if you try to partake in all the activities and going-ons it has to offer within a week or so, you’re unlikely to sleep either. The opportunities here are endless, so if you’re heading to NYC for a short stint, it’s worth researching and coming up with a game plan. These tips will help you to make the most of your time in the Big Apple:

Travel wise

Tempting as it is to act like they do in the movies, avoid travelling by yellow taxi when getting around NYC. Not only are they expensive, they’re likely to get you stuck in traffic and waste valuable time.

Instead, opt for the subway, which can bring you all around the city and its outskirts quickly and at any time. It’s worth buying an unlimited MetroCard (USD32 for seven days) rather than forking out approximately USD3 for individual journeys. The subway has the added bonus of free entertainment as the carriages and the stations often make the backdrop for buskers like musicians, stand-up acts, and dancers.

Walking is also a fantastic way to explore as it allows you to take in all of the sights and sounds of this diverse city. Though don’t expect to be able to walk around the whole thing – it’s 784 kilometres² after all!

Get some perspective

It’s difficult to get an idea of the sheer size of NYC when you’re standing in Times Square with skyscrapers on all sides. Not until you take a step back (or up) will you be able to truly appreciate it.

Many people choose to gaze down at the world below from the top deck of the Empire State Building, but it’s not the only place to catch a good view. The Top of the Rock observation deck at the Rockefeller Centre and the One World Trade Centre Observatory are other popular choices, while rooftop bars including The Standard and Le Bain are also aplenty.

For skyline shots, take an unmissable sunset stroll along the Brooklyn Bridge or at the elevated park known as the High Line. Both are a photographer’s dream! Taking NYC in from the water with the Statue of Liberty in the background is another magical experience. While there are plenty of boat tours on offer, the Staten Island Ferry is free to travel on and captures the city skyline at its best.

Dress for comfort

With so much to see, you’ll probably only return to your room to sleep and shower, so dressing appropriately is key. Temperatures often plummet in the winter time, so if you’re visiting around Christmas, be sure to pack a good coat and some winter woollies. Summer in the city is hot, so light clothing is best, though rain showers will happen so do pack a raincoat or umbrella. Regardless of the season, the most important item you can bring is comfortable shoes. Subway pass or not, you will be clocking up a lot of steps. Be prepared!

Get out of town

There’s so much more to NYC than Manhattan. Use your time wisely and check out some of the other boroughs such as Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, and Staten Island, to name a few. You can even combine your city slicker trip with a beach break as NYC has plenty of sandy shorelines.

When you need a break from city life, there are also plenty of breath-taking hiking trails and state parks within two hours of the city. Check out Minnewaska State Park Reserve or tackle one of the Catskill Mountains in the southeast of New York state.

Save on sights

NYC is known for being expensive to visit, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you plan to see most of the major attractions, buy a New York Pass, which will give you savings on most of them. There are several free walking tours on offer for those who want local insight into the city, while some museums and attractions are free on certain days of the week.

This site gives a good overview of what sites/activities are free and when. For me, the best thing to do in the Big Apple is explore the streets and laze in the city’s beautiful parks while watching the world go by. Nobody’s going to charge you a dime for that.

For cheap grub, sites like Living Social and restaurants.com always have ongoing deals, while international site mealsharing.com allows tourists to find locals willing to host people for affordable dinners at their homes. Cheap homemade food and some new local friends? It’s a win-win!

Game on

It doesn’t matter if you’re a sports fan or completely clueless to the rules. Attending a sports game is still going to be a fun-filled experience. Visitors between April and October/ November can take advantage of baseball season while winter time sees the kick-off of the American football games. Of course, there are plenty of others sports you can watch, including basketball and soccer. Fixtures for all are easy to find online. With a hotdog in one hand and a humungous beverage in the other, you’re all set!

If you prefer a more casual and free experience, head to the playing fields in Central Park. Fancy having a shot yourself? At Chelsea Piers, you can show off your batting skills in their baseball cages, or have a go at an alternative activity such as rock climbing.

Show time

No visit to NYC is complete without seeing a show on Broadway. There’s literally something for everyone. If you aren’t fussed about planning in advance, do some research on a few shows you want to see, and head along to one of the TDF TKTS Booths on the day. This is where you can avail of a selection of show tickets at a fraction of their regular price.

Here in NYC, top class talent spills far beyond the Broadway stages. Subway stations, Central Park, Times Square, and basically any busy public space are guaranteed to play host to some interesting performers, while the city is also brimming with comedy clubs, jazz and blues bars (like the legendary Blue Note), open mic nights, and smaller gigs.

Enjoy the scenery

The Big Apple isn’t just dazzling lights and towering concrete buildings. Believe it or not, it’s actually home to some beautiful natural spaces, the most obvious one is Central Park. Though an obvious choice to visit, I promise it’s as good as they say. Even those who frequent the park during their trip are bound to find a new corner or interesting sight each time.

Prospect Park, the High Line, Hudson River Park, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden on Staten Island are just some of the others on offer. While the complete opposite of green and serene, perching yourself on the steps at Times Square for a while is certainly going to afford you some unique sights too. Enjoy the view and people watch.

Make a meal of it

New York City’s definitely not the place to go on a diet. When it comes to food, if you want something, you can find it. But I suggest you make like a local and grab a slice of pizza from one of the city’s thousands of pizza parlours. There’s plenty of debate online over who makes the best one but I’d argue that most are delicious. If you fancy something more upmarket than a sidewalk slice, head to trendy Roberta’s – a famous bar and pizzeria in Brooklyn for a full pizza and a candlelit drink.

The city’s bagel shops, diner grub, Italian fare in Little Italy, and a refreshing acai bowl are all worth sampling, while a cookie from Levain Bakery has my vote as one of the best baked goods ever. Don’t believe me? Oprah, Neil Patrick Harris, and Taylor Swift are all firm fans.

If you don’t know what you feel like, Greenwich Village has plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from, while the food halls at Chelsea Market and the Plaza will certainly stir up an appetite.

Tip right

It’s not just a rumour; you’re really expected to tip in NYC. While sometimes this is added to your bill, other times you’ll need to figure it out on your own. A general rule of thumb is to tip 15 to 20 per cent of your total bill to taxi drivers, bartenders, and waiters, as well as for room service. You can tip more if you feel the service was exceptional.

The idea of tipping regardless of the service or meal is bizarre to many, but just go with it. Many service industry workers are paid well below the minimum wage, so tipping is the only way for them to make their jobs profitable.

(First published on Zafigo.com on November 14 2018. Available online at: https://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/women-travelling-new-york-city/)

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Ireland’s Wildlife Warriors – Sunday Business Post, November 4 2018

Across the country, there’s a network of dedicated individuals who work tirelessly to help some of our most vulnerable neighbours.

Late-night feeds, cuts and scratches and constant goodbyes go hand-in-hand with their largely voluntary roles but neither this, nor juggling tasks with full-time jobs, families or other life responsibilities, deters them from their mission.

Indeed, Ireland’s wildlife rehabilitators are a determined and passionate bunch and this shone through at the recent Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference at Rock Farm in Slane. Organised by Emma Higgs and her team at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) – an organisation established to promote wildlife rehabilitation and support rehabilitators – the event pulled together carers from Ireland and the UK to share their stories and knowledge.

Those familiar with the insomnia that can accompany human newborns may not entertain the idea of interrupting a good night’s sleep to feed a furry or feathered friend. So what drives wildlife rehabilitators? Bray-based veterinarian Dr Pete Wedderburn, aka “Pete the Vet”, outlined his own motivations in his talk on why it’s worth rescuing wildlife.

“The first reason for me is compassion for the individual creature,” says Wedderburn, who regularly sees wildlife patients at the BrayVet clinic. Concern for endangered species, picking up new skills to help other endangered creatures later on and raising awareness about the environment are some of the other reasons that Wedderburn is willing to treat wildlife. He also feels it helps to promote kindness in our society.

“The message of being kind to animals does eventually change our culture.”

Deciding whether to rehabilitate a sick or injured animal goes far beyond a love for wildlife, as stressed by all rehabilitators throughout the day. With each creature that comes their way, comes an ethical conundrum: should we leave the animal alone, try to heal it or consider euthanasia? Whatever the answer, the welfare of the individual animal and the likelihood of a successful release is key.

This is emphasised by vet Dr Liz Mullineaux in her own speech. She cites a definition of wildlife rehabilitation as the ‘treatment and temporary care of injured, diseased, and displaced indigenous animals, and the subsequent release of healthy animals to appropriate habitats in the wild.’

“Rehabilitation is not about captive animals. You need to keep that at the back of your mind at all times,” says Mullineaux, an experienced vet and Scientific Advisor to Secret World Wildlife Rescue.

There’s a fine line between wildlife rehabilitation and interfering with nature. While well-intentioned, members of the public often pick up animals they perceive to be orphans, unaware that the mother is nearby. Additionally, sometimes a single orphan is abandoned by a mother who is aware that it’s unlikely to survive.

“We should only take an animal from the wild when absolutely necessary,” founder of Secret World Wildlife Rescue Pauline Kidner tells us, adding that we should really only interfere when a casualty is rooted in human rather than natural causes.

For the less-experienced, whether or not to intervene can be a difficult call to make. This is why observing an animal and liaising with those with wildlife knowledge is critical before a creature is moved.

Observing for blood, limb injuries, vision problems or breathing difficulties, as well as noting whether an animal is conscious, are just some of the things that can be noted down according to Mullineaux. These observations also apply to birds, as can fluffed up feathers and poor feather quality.

Not all potential patients are found at the roadside, as outlined in RSPCA Wildlife Veterinary Officer David Couper’s informative talk on seal rehabilitation. Does the seal have injuries; is it struggling to breathe; how alert is it and is the mother nearby are all questions that should be asked. Hydration levels can also be determined, according to Couper, who explains that a healthy seal will have tears flowing down its face when on land.

Deciding whether to rehabilitate an animal yourself or pass it on to others is largely dependent on experience, time commitment and resources at hand. Additionally, rehabilitation of wildlife casualties requires a licence in Ireland. For those who can’t tick these boxes, it’s usually in the animal’s best interest to transfer it to a trained individual or organisation as soon as possible. The Irish Wildlife Matters website contains a list of Ireland’s wildlife-friendly vets and rehabilitators who are happy to advise on safe transportation and take in casualties.

However, having a university degree in a wildlife-related discipline isn’t essential for those who wish to become wildlife rehabilitators. So how can people get involved?

“People who want to get involved have natural empathy for animals anyway. But obviously, the best thing to do is come to a day like today so you can pick up advice and make contact with people who are going to help you,” Kidner tells me. “You’re going to start by deciding what your ethics are going to be. You have to decide whether you believe in euthanasia or not because that is the hardest question you are going to have. And you have to decide how you are going to do it because it can cost a lot of money.”

For those who do want to become a rehabilitator, WRI runs two-day Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation courses throughout the year, explains WRI chairperson Heidi Bedell. Such courses, in addition to the organisations, vets and other trained rehabilitators who donate their time for free, currently form the backbone of wildlife rehabilitation in Ireland.

“In Ireland, we don’t have any location that anyone can bring or send wildlife to for something more serious like surgery or rehabilitation,” Bedell tells me.

This is all set to change. WRI are planning the establishment of a large National Wildlife Rehabilitation and Teaching Hospital. Based at a site in Fingal due to be donated by Fingal County Council following the completion of a feasibility study, it will contain enclosures and pools for animals, a conference space, an educational visitor centre and accommodation for volunteers.

“It will also be a very valuable asset for universities,” explains Bedell. “We would hope to have students coming from universities who are studying some aspect of wildlife rehabilitation or veterinary practice. This could be a place where they can live and have stations where they can study and record wildlife.”

WRI will be seeking various sources of funding for the hospital going forward.

Speaking after the conference, Director of WRI Aideen Magee tells me that such an event is important for spreading the word about wildlife rehabilitation.

“We have everyone at it, from members of the public right up to people who do this as a profession,” says Magee, also a wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit. “The more people we have in the community who are aware of wildlife rehabilitation, what it is and how to get involved, the more animals we can help.”

Attendees at the conference all have their own backgrounds and unique motivations. Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker and his colleague and Wildlife Liaison Officer Garda Sharon McGinty came as they’re often called upon to assist with injured wildlife.

“Deer mortality is a problem, particularly at this time of year because you have the rut on,” says Walker. “Motorists should exercise care, courtesy and common sense.”

Walker also has much experience in tackling wildlife crime. In December, An Garda Síochána will run a training course to equip specially-appointed inspectors from each division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime. These inspectors will work alongside the NPWS.

It’s obvious that becoming a wildlife rehabilitator requires much time and commitment. Yet, final speaker of the day Mary Reynolds gives a simple message that everyone can take on board: look after the land that supports us and our wildlife.

“Rewild and remagic your garden,” says the award-winning gardener and author. “Allow it to become what it wants to become.”

Bedell hopes the key take-home message from the conference is one of kindness.

“Do we want to live in a world where it’s quite ok to see other creatures suffering? I don’t want to live in that kind of world, I don’t want my children to be brought up in that world,” she tells me. “I would like to promote that idea that it’s good to make that effort. Do stop, do get out, do help that animal that’s injured. It’s kind and that’s the world that we want to go into.”

TAKING ACTION

Director of WRI and wildlife rehabilitator with Kildare Animal Foundation’s wildlife unit Aideen Magee has a wealth of experience in dealing with wildlife casualties, from rescuing injured otters to nursing baby birds in her box room at home. For members of the public, who might be uncertain what to do if they find an injured or ill animal, she recommends taking the following steps.

“The very first thing is to ensure your own personal safety because if you end up becoming a casualty yourself, you’re no good to yourself or the animal either. Look at the context that you find the animal in. If it’s on the side of a motorway, always make sure it’s safe to stop and intervene,” she says.

“The next thing to do is to observe the animal for a while and see does it actually need intervention or not,” she continues, adding that sometimes seemingly abnormal behaviour is completely natural. “Particularly if they are in an area in which they are more habituated to people, they might not have the fight or flight response.”

If in any doubt whatsoever, she advises visiting the Irish Wildlife Matters website, finding your nearest wildlife-friendly vet or rehabilitator and contacting them for advice. When it’s something straightforward, they could guide you through how to safely handle that animal and transport it to the nearest expert. Otherwise, they might send out an experienced volunteer to assess and assist with the situation.

“If you’re a member of the public and haven’t handled these animals before, never try to do so on your own without getting expert guidance first,” says Magee. “If you don’t have somebody near you on that list, just look up your local vet. They may have contact numbers of somebody else who can offer guidance and assistance.”

(First published in the Sunday Business Post on November 4 2018. Available online at: https://www.businesspost.ie/magazine/irelands-wildlife-warriors-429332)

Curlew task force is on a mission to restore threatened wader bird – Irish Examiner, November 1 2018

The evocative cry of the curlew is a memory of summers past for many in rural Ireland.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s breeding curlew population has plummeted by 96% since the 1980s, so this memory isn’t shared by younger generations.

Loss and fragmentation of its habitats are the main reason why this ground-nesting bird is now on the IUCN red list of threatened species.

These reasons were in turn driven by factors such as drainage and restriction of bogland, agricultural intensification, unmanaged upland burning, land abandonment and afforestation.

Such habitat changes increased vulnerability to predation, further diminishing numbers. Fewer than 150 breeding curlew pairs remain.

That may surprise those who have seen curlew flocks in recent months. However, these are likely to be migrants arriving from Scotland and Scandanavia, from July until the spring. Breeding pairs, on the other hand, can be spotted in April, May and June and are identified by their distinctive bubbling call and circular display flight.

Surveys by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) in 2011 and 2015/2016, plus many calls for action, underpinned the decision by Minister Heather Humphreys to establish a curlew task force in 2017. This task force brings together stakeholders to make decisions aimed at saving the curlew. Established separately but running in parallel is the NPWS Curlew Conservation Programme, focused on monitoring and improving habitats in seven key sites for breeding curlew.

This year’s cold winter and summer drought were particularly difficult for curlews.

 

In monitored sites, 19 chicks were confirmed to have fledged in 45 territories, in 2018. While this may appear low, Barry O’Donoghue, who manages the Curlew Conservation Programme, says it’s “within the range for maintaining a stable population” and an improvement on the first year’s results.

“Compared to projects in the UK with similar numbers of territories, they had zero chicks produced, so we are hopeful that we have begun to see a turnaround in fortunes for the curlew,” he says.

“It won’t be easy, but we have made a good start and in some areas we have actually seen an increase in breeding numbers.”

Independent curlew task force chair Alan Lauder also notes an improvement on previous years, saying we should monitor what is happening at the most successful sites and learn from them.

He says, as monitored sites don’t contain the whole population of breeding curlew in Ireland, there were potentially more chicks elsewhere.

Senior conservation officer with BirdWatch Ireland Anita Donaghy says the results are “mildly encouraging” but echoes the sentiment that we have a long way to go.

“Farmers are the number one land managers when it comes to curlew in Ireland,” says O’Donoghue.

Indeed, farmers have been heavily involved in curlew conservation, in the many agri-environment schemes and in task force discussions.

For example, farmers with curlew in their area were prioritised for entry into GLAS, and the opportunity to get €5,000 annually for avoiding damaging activities and promoting suitable habitat.

The Curlew Conservation Programme has established curlew action teams, with advisers, curlew champions, and nest protection officers, in each monitored area.

Comprising people from various backgrounds, these teams work with the community and landowners to monitor sites and improve habitats.

Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity (CABB) was launched in December to improve breeding habitats for curlew and other species.

Supported by the EU, the €4.9m project aims to restore 2,228 hectares of blanket bog in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“As part of this, BirdWatch Ireland is implementing a small number of management agreements directly with farmers who have breeding waders, including curlew, on their lands,” says Donaghy.

“We provide advice, pay them for basic habitat measures and have the facility to pay for capital works programmes.”

June 2018 saw the completion of the Results Based Agri-environment Pilot Scheme (RBAPS) in Leitrim and the Shannon Callows. Predominantly funded by the EU, it rewarded participating farmers for biodiversity measures on their land.

Looking ahead, a three-year Irish curlew breeding European Innovation Partnership trial (EIP) will soon commence in southern Lough Corrib and south Leitrim.

Overseen by BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA), Irish Grey Partridge Trust,and Teagasc, it will focus on training and assisting farmers in predator control, says INHFA vice president and EIP operational group member Henry O’Donnell, a cattle and sheep farmer in Co Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula.

“This is going to be a source of income for farmers and will supplement their conventional agriculture.”

Longer-term schemes would be extremely beneficial going forward, says Lauder.

“Curlew have large territories and often move big distances between farms,” he says. “It would be encouraging to have a scheme promoting a level of integration between neighbouring farmers.”

Agri-environment schemes are praised by O’Donnell, but he hopes other factors don’t override their success.

One of his concerns is the push for agricultural intensification, which he says is driven by Teagasc’s farm advisory services, Harvest 2020, and “other objectives not in keeping with sustainable agriculture”.

“Farmers should be advised that if you kept less animals in a less intensive situation, it would be better for conservation, better for your bank account and more sustainable for the environment.”

“The basis for environmental schemes and protection of endangered birds is to provide a suitable habitat and try to increase their numbers.

“That ignores the reality of things like predators, and the fact that blanket afforestation with conifers has provided an ideal habitat for predators.

“That is as much an issue in the decline of the bird species that we are concerned with as is producing a suitable environment for them.”

For Donaghy, agri-environment schemes like GLAS need to employ ecologists giving specialist advice to farmers, something she says proved very beneficial in RBAPS.

“That’s really going to improve results on the ground in terms of better habitats and better nesting conditions.”

While glad to see the curlew issue addressed by the Government, she’s equally “dismayed” that calls for action were responded to so late, saying that the curlew’s situation would be better if action had been taken “even five years ago”.

However, Donaghy is “cautiously hopeful” that efforts from all sectors can improve the bird’s prospects, and says, we “must not give up”.

Working with Nature

The Curlew Conservation Programme focuses on seven key areas for breeding curlew: Lough Ree, Lough Corrib, Stacks Mountains, north Roscommon, Leitrim, Monaghan and Donegal. Pat Devaney, who farms along the shores of Lough Ree in Roscommon, is one of the many participants. Through his involvement, he worked alongside NPWS ecologists to carry out habitat improvement measures on his land; these including clearing shrub to create open habitat for breeding curlew and erecting a predator-proof fence.

“I have been aware for some time of how sensitive the area where I farm is to the wading birdlife such as the curlew, geese and lapwing,” says Devaney, who farms suckler cows, sheep and ponies on his farm based in the townlands of Cloonmore, Clooneskert and Rinanny. “It’s an SAC area and I participate in GLAS which is a great scheme. When approached by the NPWS to restore the area to its former glory and the natural habitat for these birds, local farmers and the NPWS have cooperated very well, each realising the important role we both have in ensuring that farming and wildlife can co-exist in harmony. I was delighted to take part.”

(First published in the Irish Examiner on November 1 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/farming/curlew-task-force-is-on-a-mission-to-restore-threatened-wader-bird-882531.html)

Ireland’s battle to save our wildlife – Irish Examiner, September 3 2018

Amy Lewis highlights the measures taken in tackling crimes against Ireland’s wildlife and the need for more action.

Protecting the voiceless victims of wildlife crime is a constant battle.

The ongoing persecution of wildlife overseas is often highlighted but such incidences aren’t as far away from home as one might imagine. In fact, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Gardaí face them each week.

In July, two men were charged before Portlaoise District Court for the trapping of protected wild goldfinches using bait and rat glue.

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway in Louth regarding the unlawful killing of two peregrine falcons nesting in the Cooley Mountains.

However, these and other known cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Many cases go undiscovered because by their nature, they’re suspicious and secretive activities,” says Dr Barry O’ Donoghue from the NPWS Agri-Ecology Unit.

The stakes are being raised to combat wildlife criminals and their increasingly sophisticated methods.

An Garda Síochána recently announced plans for a wildlife crime training course. Commencing in September, it will equip specially-appointed inspectors from each Garda division with tools to recognise and deal with wildlife crime.

Each inspector will work closely with their opposite number in the NPWS.

“Information is key. We want to show [inspectors] what the main offences are and demonstrate how to deal with them and prosecute them in the District Court,” says Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker, who previously led the Garda’s anti-poaching investigation Operation Bambi alongside the NPWS.

Although the Wildlife Act is the principal legislation regarding wildlife crime, Supt Walker says prosecution powers within it are limited.

Through training, he hopes to encourage Gardaí to ‘think laterally’ about other legislation that relates to these cases.

A surreptitious nature is a common denominator among wildlife crimes but offences take many forms.

According to Supt Walker, the illegal hunting of deer at night using lamps or lurchers is common.

Indeed, the Irish Deer Commission recently reported a significant increase in deer poaching and badger baiting in the Midlands.

“That’s particularly cruel. These animals release stress hormones and the meat isn’t even fit for human consumption. It’s just an absolute bloodlust,” says Supt Walker.

Catching finches is widespread, as is hare poaching with hounds.

“People are hunting hares across farmer’s land. They’ve no authority to be there, farmers are afraid and sometimes their livestock is getting injured,” says Supt Walker, who says that poachers often use hunts as intelligence-gathering operations for farm theft.

Birds of prey are also regular targets. The RAPTOR (Recording and Addressing Persecution and Threats to Our Raptors) protocol is a collaborative approach between the NPWS, Regional Veterinary Laboratories and the State Laboratory to determine non-habitat related threats to birds of prey.

“We needed a mechanism of investigating and recording incidents, as well as using that data to inform and provide intelligence for addressing these issues,” says O’ Donoghue, who is a Project Investigator for RAPTOR.

The sixth and most recently published report showed that in 2016, there were 19 poisonings, six shootings and one incident involving a vehicle collision.

Common buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons were the most highly-recorded victims.

Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland notes that peregrines are common targets.

While he says some crimes have been at the hand of pigeon-fanciers, he stresses that most people involved in this hobby wouldn’t harm peregrines in any way.

Project Manager of the White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project Dr Allan Mee adds that peregrine chicks are sometimes taken from the wild by those without a licence.

“Buzzards are [also] being targeted because some see them as a threat to pheasants being released. Buzzards aren’t well-regarded by some gun clubs in parts of the country,” continues Mee, stressing that generally, his team have a good relationship with gun clubs.

“Buzzards were almost extinct in Ireland but now have spread across the country. There’s no earthly reason for anyone to persecute them,” adds Hatch.

People are sometimes worried that they’re a threat to lambs but they couldn’t kill a lamb in a million years. They’re nothing but a benefit to a farm as they kill rats and rabbits.

The RAPTOR report notes that some poisoning incidents, particularly those involving buzzards, red kites and barn owls are the result of bio-accumulation i.e. birds ingesting rodents that have been poisoned with rodenticides.

These cases are considered secondary and unintentional.

Through spreading awareness, Mee has seen that this can be mitigated.

Of 14 confirmed poisoning cases of white-tailed sea eagles, since their reintroduction from Norway commenced in 2007, Mee says not one has taken place since 2015.

He credits this to awareness, education and working with landowners.

“In the past when they were poisoned, it was largely because people weren’t aware that the birds were out there or of a change in their population.”

Some other poisoning incidents are more sinister, such the illegal placing of poisoned meat baits.

According to O’ Donoghue, some have been laced with enough poison to kill a human if touched and accidentally ingested.

To tackle these crimes, it’s universally agreed that more education and public awareness is key.

“We must engage with local communities so that they have someone they know and trust they can report something to,” says O’ Donoghue.

The 2013 and 2015 Wildlife Crime Conferences organised by Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland have helped to spread awareness.

The organisation, who run the information website Wildlifecrime.ie, will hold a public Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference in Slane this October which includes talks on wildlife crime.

Additionally, Hatch says that more resources could help.

“The NPWS needs to be much better resourced. They’re doing great work but are struggling because they don’t have the resources they need and deserve.”

Supt Walker hopes that with the upcoming training, potential plans for a wildlife crime recording system and liaising with various stakeholders, wildlife crime nationwide will be minimised.

This can be aided with the cooperation of the public.

If aware of a suspected wildlife crime, they should report it to the Gardaí and local NPWS ranger.

Supt Walker stresses that anyone who reports will have their anonymity fully respected.

(First published by the Irish Examiner on September 3 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/irelands-battle-to-save-our-wildlife-866228.html)

Watching from the wings – Irish Examiner, August 13 2018

Just a stone’s throw away from the world-acclaimed Wexford Opera House, it’s easy to get a front-row seat at arguably the best and most diverse show in town. This is a show where nature takes to the stage.

On this summer afternoon, now unfamiliar clouds serve as a slow-moving backdrop while swallows dip and dive over the gently lapping water.

Ducks of various varieties bob along before a heron swoops in from the wings, causing an eruption of squabbles and commotion. Unaware of the fuss, a pair of goldfinches dance and whistle around one another before settling on a nearby swaying branch.

The smell of salty sea air wafts in through the open door. Wind whispers through the reeds. As far as shows go, it’s certainly a feast for the senses.

All of this unravels before the Pump House Hide overlooking Wexford Wildfowl Reserve’s main water channel. It is one of the reserve’s three bird hides – a simple shelter used to observe wildlife at close range without disturbance.

Birdwatching from the hides or the reserve’s elevated observation tower gives people the chance to remain sheltered from the elements while still getting to witness nature’s spectacles. In fact, nature often brings itself even closer.

Next to the wooden bench I’m perched upon is a sign requesting that hide windows are left open, to allow for the resident swallows to return to their nests. Sure enough, a mud-bound dwelling is nestled into the wooden ceiling above my head. In the upper floor of the hide, which overlooks Wexford Harbour, there are several more.

Despite the myriad of activities, Education Officer at the reserve John Kinsella tells me that summer is quiet season. A ‘ballpark figure of 260 species’ have been recorded on the 200-hectare reserve, which is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and jointly owned with BirdWatch Ireland. Many birds will arrive later this year.

Perhaps the most famous winter residents are the Greenland White-fronted geese, whose expected time of arrival is October.

The reserve welcomes up to 8,000 of the visitors – approximately 45 per cent of the world population – each winter and many birders swoop in to greet them after their long journey.

“The geese have a 15 to 18-hour flight from Greenland to Iceland, their halfway point,” explains John, adding that they stop for four weeks in Iceland before taking the second 18-hour flight to our shores.

“By the time they reach Ireland, they have lost above half a kilo in bodyweight, which is the equivalent of about two stone for us humans.”

This is no issue for Europe’s rarest geese, who replenish their energy stores by feeding up on rye grasses and sugar beet in the following months. The geese remain in Ireland, as well as their other wintering spot in Scotland, before making the journey back to Western Greenland in April.

However, John points out that one individual has decided to stick around a bit longer. From the reserve’s eight-metre high observation tower, a lone goose with a distinctive orange bill can be spied sitting comfortably in a field.

While unsure as to why he remains, John says that the goose is healthy and will likely return to Greenland next year. The influx of Greenland White-fronted geese is an indication that winter is coming, says John. “Cue Game of Thrones music,” he laughs. Until then, there’s still always something to be seen.

From the tower, a group of godwits can be seen prodding in the grass for food with their strikingly-long beaks. Several curlews walk among them, likely migrant birds rather than members of our breeding population, which has declined by 96 per cent since the 1980s.

Little terns, sedge warblers and great-crested grebes are just some of the other birds that can be spotted in summer, while pale-bellied brent geese, Slavonian grebes and great northern divers may be ticked off the list in winter.

The North Slob is also an Irish Hare sanctuary and we spot two on the grass as evening sets in, while at least five species of bat have been recorded here.

In the summertime, the reserve plays host to several events, including the popular weekly pond-dipping and bug discovery activities. This year, a special photography exhibition telling the reserve’s story will be held in the Visitor Centre during Heritage Week in advance of the 50th anniversary in 2019.

While the reserve was officially established in 1969, its history began long before that. The North Slob, where the reserve is located, is a 1,000-hectare mudflat that was reclaimed from the sea for farmland in the 1840’s.

Nowadays, along with being a Nature Reserve, Wexford Wildfowl Reserve forms part of the larger Wexford Slobs and Harbour Special Protected Area (SPA) – a habitat designated under the EU Birds Directive for the protection of endangered species of birds.

The remainder of the North Slob still consists of farmland and the reserve team liaise with local farmers to ensure birds are not disturbed. When the geese arrive, local landowners are subsidised for halting any potentially disruptive agricultural activity on nearby land.

“Goodwill is very high,” says John when asked about cooperation.

Bar the occasional incident with poachers and this year’s heavy snow – more problematic for reserve staff and visitors than birds – John says the reserve has been confronted with few challenges since its foundation. However, they are faced with an issue universal to most environmental efforts: climate change.

Last year, the reserve welcomed less Greenland White-fronted geese than usual. Although ongoing long-term research must be completed to be certain, it’s believed this is a result of climate change.

However, scientists are not yet sure exactly how this affects them or whether the decline will change.

Butterfly walks on the reserve have also yielded less sightings than usual.

Only time will tell what the consequences of our rapidly changing planet will be for birdlife worldwide. In the meantime, staff here will continue to do what they can to protect the many species that call Wexford Wildfowl Reserve home.

(First published in the Irish Examiner on August 13 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/watching-from-the-wings-where-nature-takes-centre-stage-861738.html)

Umbrella Species: Conservation’s Poster Children – The Scientist, August 1 2018

Regardless of how sturdy your umbrella is, someone’s always going to get left out in the rain.

The concept of umbrella species is the central tenet of a conservation strategy that focuses on protecting the habitat of one species in the hope of protecting many others in the same ecosystem. But recent research questions the effectiveness of this strategy. It’s likely that not every species whose range overlaps with that of an umbrella species will benefit—in fact, some may even suffer as a result of the interventions—and conservationists are beginning to call for a revaluation of this conservation approach.

“There’s a misinterpretation of the concept that an umbrella species is going to shelter everything under the umbrella,” says John Wiens, a retired ecologist formerly of Colorado State University who most recently served as chief scientist for a number of conservation nonprofits. “Like all things in ecology, it’s not as simple as it looks.”

study published this May on the use of the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as an umbrella species illustrates the problem. After three years of ecological monitoring in an area where the sagebrush had been mowed to improve nesting habitat for the sage-grouse, researchers from the University of Wyoming found that two “background” species, the Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri) and sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus), fared less well than they would have without the habitat alteration. This was likely due to differences between the species in nest site preferences. While ground-nesting sage-grouse are thought to prefer mowed sites due to the increased availability of food for their chicks, Brewer’s sparrow and sage thrasher nest almost exclusively in shrubs, habitat that was largely wiped out by the mowing. The overall abundance of Brewer’s sparrow remained the same, but the overall abundance of sage thrashers decreased by nearly 50 percent.

“This paper focused on the fact that we don’t always just protect, we often manage the habitat, and that can have unanticipated consequences,” says Jason Carlisle, a former University of Wyoming graduate student and lead author of the study. While not surprised at the results, he hopes that they will encourage others to adopt caution when carrying out habitat management.

We must be honest about what assumptions we make, whether they’re justifiable, and whether they can be examined in advance using data.

—Jason Carlisle, University of Wyoming

Just because it can act as a double-edged sword, however, conservationists shouldn’t throw the umbrella species concept out of the conservation toolbox, says University of California, Davis, behavioral ecologist Tim Caro. Rather, he says, researchers and managers should be aware of the approach’s limitations and critically evaluate its effectiveness in meeting intended goals.

“The heart of the problem is there are always going to be trade-offs,” notes Wiens. “You need to do an analysis of who benefits and who loses, and then you can assess whether the trade-offs are worth it.”

Choosing the best representative

Evaluating those trade-offs depends on what background species are considered. For example, the jaguar(Panthera onca) is often cited as an effective umbrella species for many large mammals across Central America, but smaller critters, such as hares, moles, and shrews, aren’t as well shielded by habitat protections designed to conserve jaguar numbers. Similarly, a study assessing the effectiveness of using the coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) as an umbrella species in British Columbia found that while fish species with similar resource and habitat requirements benefitted, most amphibians inhabiting some of the same freshwater ecosystems as the salmon did not. And Carlisle and his colleagues have found that species with similar habitats and traits to those of the sage-grouse, such as sagebrush sparrows (Artemisiospiza nevadensis),  vesper sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus), and pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis), were protected better than others.

For an umbrella strategy to benefit as many co-occurring species as possible, researchers must choose a species that best represents the ecosystem and all it encompasses. “It’s clear that picking the right umbrella species is key,” says Carlisle, now a biometrician at the environmental and statistical consulting firm Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. While researchers are still working out what makes a species a good umbrella, there are a few characteristics that conservationists generally aim for, including a large range and ease of sampling. In addition, umbrella species should be sensitive to human disturbances while being unlikely to become endangered or go extinct.

Barry Noon, an ecologist at Colorado State University, suggests adding one more trait. “The umbrella species should be one that uses a diversity of resources or habitat types for different life history stages.” Other scientists have argued for the use of multiple umbrella species, whose spatial, compositional, and functional requirements are different from one another and, collectively, encompass those of all other species in the ecosystem.

Whatever species are chosen, researchers must continue to evaluate their suitability to represent the ecosystem. Noon and his colleagues have demonstrated, for example, that while the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) was initially an effective umbrella in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, after a significant drop in its population—first due to logging of old-growth forest required for nesting, then as a result of the barred owl’s (Strix varia) unexpected invasion—it was no longer a suitable representative of the ecosystem.

“Initially the northern spotted owl was a good umbrella,” says Noon, explaining that this was because it uses forest habitats of varying levels of maturity throughout its lifespan. “Now, if we use the [umbrella] criteria and look at its viability, northern spotted owls are in significant decline,” he says. Rare and declining species are less likely to make effective umbrellas, as they occur in so few locations and are less likely to protect others.

Umbrellas rally support

Taking a step back from the umbrella species concept to focus on simply protecting a large area could be a better approach for wildlife conservation than focusing on one or several species, says Noon. In fact, many of the more successful umbrella studies suggest that focusing on a broad area, rather than the umbrella species themselves, as the reason the conservation efforts proved effective, he notes. Indeed, Caro’s analysis of East African reserves that were established 50 years ago using large mammals as umbrellas suggests that background species have been well protected because most reserves were initially large. Similarly, in a study published last August, Carlisle and colleagues found that priority areas for conservation (PACs) set up to protect the greater sage-grouse in the western U.S. were no more effective than randomly selected PACs of the same size at protecting golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos).

But selecting an umbrella species is often helpful for getting political and social support to protect areas, Carlisle says, noting that focusing on the iconic sage-grouse was what garnered support for the protection of the 70 million acres of the Midwestern grasslands in which it resides. This makes it a “flagship-umbrella” species, meaning that it combines the functions of a flagship species—to promote public awareness and raise conservation funds—with the intended role of an umbrella species, to protect co-occurring species and habitats. Caro argues that such flagship-umbrella species could be a boon to conservation efforts. Indeed, a 2016 study demonstrated that the flagship species the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) could also be an effective umbrella species because its range overlaps with many other endemic species in China.

But the criticism of umbrella species strategies is valid, says Carlisle, and it’s important to be realistic about the approach’s weaknesses and assess what background species need for protection. “We must be honest about what assumptions we make, whether they’re justifiable, and whether they can be examined in advance using data.”

INFOGRAPHIC: CHOOSING THE RIGHT UMBRELLA

Umbrella species are often chosen to represent an ecosystem in need of protection. The idea is that protecting the umbrella species will indirectly benefit habitat and other species in the area. But the strategy has its weaknesses. There are three varieties of the umbrella species concept as coined by Tim Caro in his book Conservation by Proxy—classic, local, and management— each of which is liable to fail if implemented incorrectly or in the wrong circumstances.

Classic umbrella strategy

Assumes that if researchers can protect the area that contains a viable population of an umbrella species, that effort will also maintain viable populations of other species in the area.

Risk: The reserve might not be big enough to cover viable populations of other species of concern.

Example: The jaguar (Panthera onca) served as an effective umbrella species for protecting other large mammals in Latin America but was less effective at shielding smaller animals such as rodents, likely due to differences in the size and scale of their respective habitats.

Local umbrella strategy

Makes no viability assumptions, instead simply assuming that protecting the areas where an umbrella species is present will also protect many other species in the same area.

Risk: Other species of conservation concern might not co-occur with the umbrella species and might therefore be unprotected.

Example: The northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) was found to be a good local umbrella species in the Italian Alps, offering protection for other birds species as well as butterflies and other background species. In northern Japan, however, despite being an effective umbrella for a variety of birds, goshawks were not effective as an indicator of the species diversity of butterflies, beetles, or native forest-floor plants.

Management umbrella strategy

Assumes that planned human management and intervention targeting an umbrella species will benefit a suite of other species in the same area.

Risk: The management actions taken to benefit the umbrella species might harm other species.

Example: In Wyoming, mowing intended to benefit the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) resulted in a higher abundance of vesper sparrows but lower abundance of Brewer’s sparrows and sage thrashers, likely due to differences in land use.

(First published by The Scientist on August 1 2018. Available online at: https://www.the-scientist.com/features/umbrella-species–conservations-poster-children-64507)

High temperatures send bats swooping in – Irish Examiner, July 2 2018

Bats are harmless and benevolent. Amy Lewis presents a beginner’s guide to spotting these wonderful creatures in Ireland.

As darkness descends on another long summer’s day and we tug our curtains shut, a group of unique creatures are just beginning to emerge in every county across Ireland.

They can eat up to 3,000 insects in one night, have been found to defy some of the usual processes of ageing and have echolocation so finely tuned that they can navigate around a single strand of hair.

While they might sound like something from a sci-fi novel, they’re actually something we are all familiar with: Bats. Ireland is currently home to nine resident species of bat and summer is the ideal time to witness them in action.

“In summer, bats are not long out of hibernation, while it’s also reproduction season. This makes it peak foraging time for them,” says Megan Power, PhD research fellow at the Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Mammalian Phylogenetics in UCD.

“The weather we’ve been having is ideal for them too. If the weather is good, insect populations will be high.”

Our most common bats are the common and soprano pipistrelles and the Leisler’s bat, also known as the Irish bat as Ireland is a stronghold for the species. Regardless of your location, Paul Scott of Dublin Bat Group and Bat Conservation Ireland says bats are easily found.

“The best place to spot them is somewhere with water and not too much street lighting, so perhaps by canals or in public parks. To see larger numbers, large lakes or canals are best,” says Paul, who adds that anywhere with trees or waterbodies attracts them due to the availability of insects. “The time to look for them is just after sunset.”

When it comes to choosing between rural and city living, bats aren’t fussy. In Dublin, places such as Phoenix Park, and the banks of the Dodder and Tolka rivers are popular bat-spotting sites, while Paul has even witnessed them flying above O’Connell St.

“You find them in strangest of places. They’re not at all bothered with people.”

Bat populations in Ireland can generally be described as stable, according to Dr Tina Aughney of Bat Conservation Ireland, adding that we must be cautious when saying this.

“Bats are very slow reproducing animals and only have one baby per year. You need to get about 25 years worth of data to see what is happening with them before you can really say something about their populations.”

To help in the conservation of Irish bats, Bat Conservation Ireland currently manages four main monitoring schemes: The car-based bat monitoring surveys, the brown long-eared bat roost monitoring scheme, lesser horseshoe bat roost monitoring and the all-Ireland Daubenton’s bat waterways survey. They place a great emphasis on citizen science and offer free training to members of the public who wish to get involved. The waterways survey, which takes place each August, is their most popular.

“We have up to 200 people participating each year. Along with learning to spot various species of bat, it’s great for seeing other wildlife such as badgers foxes and owls,” says Tina.

Volunteers can participate in one of the many two-hour training courses nationwide in July. The survey itself sees every team monitoring ten spots along a one kilometre stretch of waterway, each one for four minutes each. Bat Conservation Ireland will loan bat detectors — devices that pick up ultrasound and convert it to an audible sound — to anyone taking part.

People can also take smaller steps in their locality to help in bat conservation, by erecting a bat box, planting night-scented plants and reducing the amount of light in their garden and community. Additionally, they can take part in a bat walk held by one of the many local bat groups nationwide. Paul currently leads the Dublin Bat Group walks.

“Although it’s a night-time activity, you would be surprised at the number of kids there. Kids will be there until 11pm. because they’re fascinated by bats. When you start to tell anyone the facts, they become fascinated too.”

Paul tries to kick off the walks by dispelling some of the myths about bats. They are more closely related to humans and primates than rodents. Contrary to common belief, bats aren’t blind and they don’t get caught in people’s hair or spread rabies.

“Everyone is afraid of things that creep around in the dark,” he says. “For a long time, people didn’t know much about bats because they’re harder to study so people generated myths around them.”

The true facts about bats are as astounding as the myths. Earlier this year, a team of UCD researchers discovered one reason why certain species of bats have extraordinarily long lifespans relative to their small size. By focusing on telomeres — structures at the end of chromosomes that usually shorten with age and lead to cell breakdown — they found that some species of bat retain long telomeres throughout their lives. Through her research, which is funded through an Irish Research Council Scholarship, Megan is building on these previous findings.

“I’m trying to discover whether bats are regulating their telomeres during stressful life events,” she explains, adding that some bats have been found to live to 41 years of age.

While bats may help scientists to unlock some of the secrets about ageing, they also play other useful roles. “They are a bio-indicator meaning they are good indicators of how healthy our environment is,” says Paul. “Bats are an extremely vital part of our ecosystem,” adds Megan. “They help maintain and regulate insects. They provide key ecosystem services worldwide through the pollination of plants and crops.”

“I always encourage people to have a look at the many species of bat and the different things they do. I may be biased but I think they’re beautiful.”

More information can be found on the Bat Conservation Ireland Facebook page or website.

(First published in the Irish Examiner on July 2 2018. Available online at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/lifestyle/features/high-temperatures-send-bats-swooping-in-852307.html)