One of the most important groups of species that the INIS Ecology Team are required to assess are raptors. This can include scarce breeding species such as Hen Harrier or Merlin, species of conservation concern such as the Red-listed Kestrel or even commoner and more widespread species such as Buzzard or Sparrowhawk. However, in Ireland we have rather few species of raptor and they tend to be very scarce in the wider countryside, which makes in-field training on raptor sexing, ageing and identification rather challenging. To overcome this challenge, each year INIS organises field trips to Falsterbo in Sweden (2023 is the 7th year for this training trip) for members of our Ecology Team to observe and learn about raptors in flight, with a formal exam on the final day for all participants. This final exam is rigorous but forms a critical part of the internal quality assurance process that INIS operate, to provide confidence that the data we collect is of the highest quality.

What is a good raptor day?

A good raptor day in Ireland might yield two or three sighting of two or three species; at Falsterbo it is common to see hundreds of raptors each day. Falsterbo therefore offers a rare opportunity to examine the skill of our Ecology Team in terms of raptor identification, particularly their ability to determine the age and sex of the birds they are seeing, as well as assessing their ability to judge flight heights. The results of this exam not only allow skill levels to be assessed (and we’re happy to report that they are generally very high!) but also help identify potential areas to improve our training and guidance for more junior ecologists.

One of the best places to observe raptor migration in Europe.

Falsterbo is one of the best-known autumn raptor migration sites in Europe, with raptors (and other migrants) funnelling into the headland on the southern tip of Sweden from across the whole of Scandinavia. As such, it attracts hundreds of bird-watchers to observe and log the passage of raptors through the site. With such a large number of raptors, many of which we would find in Ireland (and a few that are very rare here), it offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the birds we survey in Ireland. The commonest raptors encountered during the weekend were Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, and good views of both species allow age and sex to be determined. Following these, there were also good numbers of Marsh Harrier, Osprey and Honey Buzzard. All three of these species are scarce in Ireland (we may only see a handful every year), so this was a great opportunity for many ecologists to get to grips with their identification, particularly as the populations for these species are increasing in Ireland (Osprey have recently been re-introduced). Other raptors seen included Hobby, Rough legged Buzzard, Merlin, Peregrine, White-tailed Eagle, Common Buzzard and Red Kite – again, most occur in Ireland so this provided and excellent opportunity to see and learn about their identification in the field.