Extinct in Ireland, September 18th – the Osprey

From Pádraic Fogarty’s Whittled Away:

Osprey
Breeding in inland lakes including Lough Key in Roscommon in 1779 but no records thereafter, save for the odd vagrant. Given its relatively abundant status elsewhere it is somewhat of a mystery why ospreys have not bred in Ireland in recent times and many suitable nesting sites are keenly watched each summer for activity.

As this 2012 Irish Examiner piece points out, the Osprey is “the wildlife filmmakers favourite bird” and has come back from the brink of extinction in Britain:

With ospreys breeding again in Scotland, England and Wales, Ireland is the odd man out. Birds, from Scotland and Scandinavia, pass through on their journeys to and from Africa, but there’s no direct evidence of nesting here. It’s almost certain, however, that ospreys did so in the past. Gordon Darcy in Ireland’s Lost Birds notes that bones from two individuals were found during excavations at Fishamble Street in Dublin. They were dated to the 10th or 11th Centuries; were ospreys persecuted by Medieval game-keepers protecting fish stocks in the Liffey? Gerald of Wales, who visited Ireland twice in the 12th Century, describes the bird, but some of his other claims are so outlandish that nothing he says can be believed. A description in a manuscript attributed to the 17th Century naturalist William Molyneux is more reliable. Darcy claims that the illustration of an eagle, representing St. John in the Book of Armagh, looks suspiciously like an osprey. There is a reference in Irish to a bird of prey catching salmon in its talons and some Irish bird names seem to refer to ospreys. The Irish Rare Breeding Birds Panel lists the species as an ‘anticipated’ or ‘possible-probable’ nester. Their most recent report, which covers 2010, lists three sightings for ospreys between May and August.

Nineteen records, involving about 11 birds, appear on the Irish Birding website for the same year. So, will the bird return to Ireland of its own accord? Should we build platforms at suitable locations to encourage them? Would the Scots give us some of their chicks? Now that our introduced red kites are breeding well, golden eagles have nested and white-tailed ones are holding territory, ospreys re-colonising would be the icing on the cake. Come back, fish eating hawk, all is forgiven.

And let’s have some videos to show just why the Osprey is such a favourite of filmmakers:

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