by Paul Cormacain
THE sun is shining here in Praha, the capital of the Czech Republic. Many tourists arc visiting, and they all look happy, the natives are happy and friendly. This is our first time in the Czech Republic, and we are most favourably impressed. We were told to beware pick-pockets, but all we have met are friendly locals and friendly tourists.
Eva was in charge of the raptors near the Castle on the hill in the north west of the city.
The most familiar one was the peregrine falcon, a bird we would see regularly, but not ever quite so close. It was tethered for the display, as were all the birds, but at other times the birds are free to fly.
The peregrine is a powerful, stocky, heavy chested falcon with broad pointed wings. The adults show a thick, black, moustachial stripe, a dark crown, and a white face and throat. The upper parts are blue grey, and the underparts are white with fine delicate barring.
The peregrine can be a very noisy bird during the breeding season, but Eva's bird was well past the breeding season, and was quiet. It was well fed, and felt no urge to hunt. In the wild, it uses a good technique for catching its lunch.
It flies high, and when it sees lunch, it dives at a high speed towards the lunch with its wings held tight against its body. It is quite ruthless, and can take birds the size of a pigeon. The bird also goes for rabbits and other smaller mammals, and will dive into a flock of waders or ducks.
It is believed that the peregrine falcon has decreased in numbers over the last fifty years. This is put down to habitat pollution, and egg theft, and also the stealing of young birds for falconry. This bird is to be found all over Europe, although never in great numbers.
The goshawk on show was the first goshawk I had ever seen. This is a powerful raptor, much larger than a sparrowhawk.
It occurs but little in Ireland and Scotland. And it would not be much more common in Wales and England. You would have a better chance of seeing one of these birds in continental Europe, especially Praha.
Another type of bird not usually seen here is the saker falcon.
Eva had one of them as well. She may well have got it somewhere further east, for this bird inhabits open plain, semi desert and desert, to the east of the Czech Republic. It looks like a very pale peregrine falcon.
The steppe eagle may well have come from the same place as the saker, for it is not a bird you would usually see in Europe. Again, it was first time of ever seeing this bird.
Then there was a collection of owls, some familiar, some not so familiar. There was a barn owl and an eagle owl, and tawney and long-eared owls. We would have the barn and long eared owls here, but not so close as Eva. She was wearing a protective glove, and had a long eared owl perched there. Children who came close were invited to stroke the breast of the owl, and the owl seemed to be enjoying it.
The barn owl has golden buff upper parts, a white face, and sparsely spotted under parts, which renders it very conspicuous if you happen to see one in the day time.
But you are more liable to spot this owl in the evening dusk, and then the colour will appear to be almost white. It is quite a spectacular sight. The barn owl is found over most of Europe. It is sparsely distributed in north Africa from Morocco to Egypt, and more are to found even cast of here.
The eagle owl has never been recorded in Ireland. Records exist for sightings in Scotland and England, with no reference to Wales. The bird can be found over most of Europe, from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, and eastwards into southern Russia and Asia.
The tawny owl lives in Wales, England and Scotland, hut not in Ireland. A sub species of the tawny can be found over much of Europe, and further east into Asia.
The long eared owl has good taste, and it lives in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. It also lives all over Europe, north Africa, and eastward as far as Japan. And it has long car tuffs, hence the name.
So, if you go to Praha, and you wish to see some raptors, go to the park at the entrance to the castle, and check if Eva Sukova is in the vicinity with her birds of prey!
Saturday 17th, Sunday 18th September - Basket Making
Event at Oxford Island, starting at 10am, phone the Island on
Green Living Fair at Castle Espie, give them a call on 91874146
Thursday 29th September - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, why not phone on 9187 4146.
Saturday 1st October - Honest Home Event, at 2pm, and more information from Oxford Island on 3832 2205
Saturday 15th October - Homes for wildlife, at II am, Colin Glen Forest Park, details from the Park on 9061 4115