Irish Wildlife – Past and Present

European RobinThe Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig is set on a five hundred acre estate, consisting mainly of coniferous plantation forest (Sitka Spruce) but with some pasture and remnant native woodland as well. There are white swans on the lake (I’m used to black ones!) and swathes of bluebells as far as the eye can see. The wood is very dark, like something out of Macbeth. I’ve seen Red Deer on its edge, but unfortunately have yet to see a badger or pine marten.

I’ve been intrigued to see what wildlife lives here. Birds abound. Species spotted so far include: Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Jackdaw, Rook, Magpie, Common Swift, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Song Thrush, European Robin (Robin Redbreast) and what I think was a Eurasian Kestrel. A little thrush is singing in a tree outside my window as I write this post, and it rivals Australia’s Butcher Bird for the beauty of its song. I haven’t mentioned birds which I commonly see back home as introduced species, such as blackbirds and sparrows. The very first bird I saw at Dublin Airport was disturbingly an Indian Myna, a destructive invasive species worldwide, but thankfully they don’t seem to have reached this far into the Irish countryside.

As I wander about this beautiful estate, watching for wildlife, I am aware of what is missing, almost as much as what is present. Once upon a time this was a vast oak woodland. Grey wolves and brown bears roamed, along with elk, beavers and lynx. Six bird of prey species have gone extinct here, although attempts are being made to reintroduce the Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite into nearby national parks. Only twenty-six land mammal species were ever native to Ireland, because it was isolated from the European mainland by rising sea levels after the last ice age. Many of those that have survived are now under threat from invasive species, habitat loss and illegal hunting. Wherever I go in the world, the presence of our lost creatures seems very real to me. Maybe ghosts haunt more than houses.

Indian Myna Birds

Indian Mynas are one of the most invasive animal species in the world. Introduced into Australia in the late 1860s to control insects in market gardens, they have now spread to most of coastal Australia and New Zealand. Mynas are a serious environmental threat to native wildlife, taking over nesting hollows, evicting birds and small mammals, and preying on nestlings.

I admire these adaptable little birds, I really do. Their success is testament to their intelligence and devotion to their young. They are also great songbirds and mimics. Nevertheless, I am a member of a landcare group that routinely destroys these birds. I have personally trapped sixty six mynas at Pilyara in just three years, handing them over to be euthanased.

This makes me very sad. Each time a group is consigned to be gassed, I say a little prayer and apologise to them. After all, this isn’t their fault. We brought them here.They are innocent, just surviving – doing what mynas do, and making a pretty fair fist of it.  And that, of course, is the problem. For one myna becomes ten in just three years. That means my sixty six birds would have become six hundred and sixty by now. Local wildlife could never cope with such an onslaught. So I continue my involvement with the program, and monitor the skies for mynas. I just never forget who the true culprits are.