Tuesday, 12 June 2018


As you can guess from the title...we've got chicks!
22 days since our first egg was discovered and the first few clutches are starting to hatch here at Kilcoole. This morning while doing nest checks I found our first Little Tern chick, small, frail and still wet from the egg, but ready to take on the world! The team this year have decided to name this wee ternlet 'Laurence' after the excellent and enthusiastic classes we had visit from St Laurence's NS in Greystones. It's amazing looking at this tiny hatchling and imagining the monstrous migration that it will begin in only a matter of weeks... For now though, it's content under the warm wing of an incubating parent. This first chick was actually in the southern 'satellite' colony. We've got cracks appearing in a further 15 or so eggs, so this first chick won't be alone for long.

So far things are looking good for the terns. We're on over 140 active nests, and suspect this number might grow slightly. Although marginally below last years total this is still excellent going and we're hopeful for the coming weeks.

Weather is now our single biggest concern. The flattened profile of the beach(due to winter storms) means water can travel quite far up the beach with even a moderately high tide and some onshore breezes. This is exacerbated by the fact that we're nearing spring tides. Today we had to contend with a boisterous sea sloshing over the high water mark. Unfortunately four tern pairs had scrapes below said high-water line, and so a decision was made to lift their eggs from the nests and incubate them artificially. When the tide receded the eggs were quickly replaced, and the parent birds settled back down on the eggs as if nothing had happened! By doing this we managed to save three nests from certain destruction, a fourth was lost to the sea.

In other news our first nest of Oystercatcher has finally hatched. As a result the parent oystercatchers can be seen viciously dive-bombing the wardens when we enter the colony to complete nest checks. Their ferocity is understandable when you see the three balls-of-fluff they are safe-guarding. The parents can be seen tenderly feeding the young small pieces of dead crab/worms. I'm expecting they'll soon bring the chicks across the beach and train tracks into the lagoon behind, where the feeding is better.

In bird news the Garganey has been re-sighted on and off from the colony. We've had a few Mediterranean Gull fly past the colony, and we were delighted to have a Roseate Tern for a day. This tern was probably a non-breeder, and by rights should be up at Rockabill around now.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to pop down to visit the colony. We're a short 20 minute walk south of Kilcoole train station. The next few weeks would be an excellent time to visit as chicks will be hatching and visible. Friendly wardens are always on site to show visitors the terns and other beach inhabitants!

Cathal and the Kilcoole Team

'Laurence' the ternlet- left at first hatching, right after drying out a bit

The last two ringed plover nests to hatch


Oystercatcher chick- 'I'm a rock and you can't see me'

Male Little Tern with a fish for his incubating partner

Roseate Tern- Ireland's second rarest breeding tern


One of two broods of cygnets locally

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Early June Update

In the last nearly two weeks since we found our first active nest we've gone all the way up to over 100 active nests, with no signs of slowing down. So far, it's been mostly plain sailing, we've had a small set-back with 7 nests lost to oystercatcher, but fortunately this has stopped...for now...
    I'm pleased to report also that the sparrowhawk I mentioned in my last blogpost has not proven to be as much of a menace as was feared. Since losing the adult tern at the start of the season we've had no more losses, despite the bird still being seen occasionally. 
    At present the main duties of the wardens consist of daily incubation checks which involve scoping out every nest to check that the adult is still present and that all is going well. We're also doing a hefty amount of nest-finding. First chicks are expected in about two-weeks time. Then the pandemonium begins!
  The local Ringed Plover nests are just starting to hatch now. Of a total of 9 nests 6 have hatched so far, with several chicks ringed already. These small fluffy 'heads with legs' are the polar opposite of the tern chicks, they're incredibly precocious and within a few hours of hatching can be seen sprinting up and down the beach, feeding and preening themselves and only occasionally returning to their parents for warmth. The terns on the other hand are altricial , meaning they need considerable care and attention during their formative months, constantly being fed by doting and diligent parents. 
    In addition to the terns and plovers we also have several Oystercatcher nesting on the beach, some of which can be seen from the public path near the railway bridge. As tern wardens we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the oystercatchers, while they've recently caused some trouble for us by depredating several nests they also provide an immense helping hand by acting as the colony 'guard-dogs'. Should a crow or raptor(or warden) come too close to the colony they will immediately start alarm calling and vociferously dive-bombing the intruder. This not only alerts the wardens to a potential unseen threat, but often proves sufficient to drive away that threat, be that crows or the dreaded sparrowhawk. 
    Oystercatcher generally nest on the beach amongst shingle and sand. Generally...
I was walking down to the hide one morning when I noticed an oystercatcher fly up, seemingly from the train tracks. On investigation I noticed that there was a nest smack bang in the middle of the tracks! There are now two eggs lying in the middle of the tracks on the main Dublin-Rosslare line. The adult bird will incubate the eggs until just before a train comes, at which stage it hops out of the way and returns as soon as the train has passed! We'll certainly be keeping an eye on the progress of this nest and will report back soon.

In other bird news we've seen marsh harrier and red kite near the colony in recent days. There was another garganey seen near the colony on the first of June, but unfortunately none of the wardens got to see that. A small pod of Bottlenose Dolphin passed the colony during the week too, just another addition to the impressive list of mammals seen here at the colony.

I'll be back soon with more news!


One of the more bizzare nest locations here at Kilcoole...

Right in the middle of the tracks!

Ringed Plover chicks awaiting ringing

Some excellent artwork by colony volunteer Daire

The sunsets are to die for!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Egg-celent News!

It's been a busy week at the colony! Since I last wrote we've completed the colony fencing and we've had several great and enthusiastic 3rd/4th classes down from St Laurence's NS Greystones. It was very heartening to see such engagement and enthusiasm from the students, the future guardians of Irish nature!
Bird-wise we've had some interesting visitors around lately. Mediterranean and Iceland Gulls were welcome scarcities, as was a very rare spring record of a fantastic Little Stint. Non-avian highlights included Harbour Porpoise and several Viviparous Lizards.

When I last posted I mentioned that we were expecting our first eggs by the 20th of May. We weren't far off! Today, the 21st of May, we struck gold!

Our morning and afternoon were occupied with a visiting film crew, who are working on a documentary exploring the Kilcoole Little tern Project, more on that at a later stage. In the late afternoon all three day wardens focused on trying to locate the first tern nest. The shingle was scanned up and down until a suspicious looking bird caught the eye. Sitting hunched down, fluffed out, tail-tips slightly raised. All typical of an incubating bird...could it be? We quickly nipped over to where it was sitting and confirmed our suspicions...AN EGG! The relevant details were recorded, marker stones were placed to allow easier location from the hide/path, and we bade a hasty retreat to allow the bird to get back to incubating. Over the next week we can expect more eggs to be added to this nest until it reaches 3 eggs. After that the clutch is incubated for three weeks before, all going well, a fresh batch of chicks spill out onto the shingle!
Later on in the day another nest was found, this also containing a single egg. The egg flood-gates are opening, so to speak, and in the coming days we expect to find many more nests. Tern numbers are variable but staying strong at around 120-200

As a result of these developments the wardens have commenced full monitoring, and there will now be a warden present on the beach at all hours of the day and night. This is mainly to prevent disturbance from predators/rambunctious dogs. Wardens will be on hand to answer any questions and show you the incubating terns, as well as providing a visual deterrent to would-be predators.
Unfortunately, despite best efforts, there will always be predation. This evening while trying to get a roost count from the hide I observed a sparrowhawk ambush and kill an unsuspecting little tern, taking it away over the buckthorn. It was equal-parts frustrating and awe-inspiring. With birds as fast as sparrowhawks or peregrines not much can be done to thwart an attack in progress. Fortunately we've got a few tricks up our sleeves, and in the attempt to deter the sparrowhawk from making such a bold attack again an old friend will be may-ken his return to the dunes. More on that soon....


The unfurling of the red flag- symbolising the completion of colony set-up 

Come check out our blackboards!

K1! Can you spot it?

A tiny visitor to the lagoon- A little stint

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Start of Another Season!

It's now mid May, and the Little Terns are just arriving back at Kilcoole after spending the winter around the warm seas of west Africa. Over the past two weeks the numbers of Little Tern have been steadily increasing, with a peak of 150 birds on Saturday. We expect this number to continue rising over the coming weeks. The birds are busying themselves with displaying and courtship. The males can be seen flying over the colony calling while carrying freshly-caught sand-eels in the attempt to woo a mate. The first copulation was observed on Sunday the 13th, so we expect our first eggs within the next week!

The wardens have been onsite since the 30th of April, setting up the caravans and preparing the beach for the first Little tern nests. The winter storms have had profound effects on the beach at Kilcoole, and there's a notable abundance of sand in the preferred Tern nesting areas, so we will watch with interest to see how the terns deal with this potential challenge over the coming season. So far the wardens have spent most of their time erecting temporary flexi-net fencing, demarcating the safe areas in which to walk (to avoid inadvertently trampling chicks or eggs). We've erected the colony and public fencing, as well as the Wardens' hide. Some attention has also been directed at locating the nests of other beach-dwellers, and to date 7 Ringed Plover and 2 Oystercatcher nests have been found! The wardens are present with telescopes, and would be happy to show you the incubating Ringed Plovers, 'Oycs' and the Little Terns, so make sure to pop down for a visit!
We've only been on-site just over two weeks, but already the great biodiversity of Kilcoole is apparent; we've seen Harbour Porpoise, Otter, Grey Seal and even Harbour Seal in and around the colony. This year one of the wardens(yours truly) is a keen birder, and I've already had some excellent scarcities such as Yellow Wagtail, Garganey and Little Ringed Plover around the colony. Good numbers of migrating Whimbrel are also a feature, while every day there's a new flock of waders in the lagoons. If you have any bird sightings, or indeed any wildlife sightings in general from the area, feel free to tell a warden, and we'll include them on our blackboard which will soon be back in its rightful place welcoming walkers from the north with the latest colony news. 

Will update soon on the latest developments.


The caravans are back in place by the colony

Chris working on some flexi-net fencing

RP1- The first nest found on the beach this year

Erecting the hide

'The weather has taken a tern for the worse!'

A rare visitor to the lagoons behind the colony- A little ringed plover

Every inch of shingle is precious!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Not a Shingle Warden Left

The Little Tern breeding season has come to a close. 24/hr monitoring of the colony ended on the 22nd of July, and the wardens embarked on their own migration home on the 1st of August. Though we have yet to determine official numbers, it was a very successful season for the Little Terns at Kilcoole. The bare beach is a strange sight, with all fencing and posts removed- the season really flies. Over the next few weeks, the wardens' energies will be put into report writing- I quickly figured out the sparrowhawk was more cunning than me, and chasing him wasted both my time and his. However, considering most chicks were fledged by the time he discovered the colony, we are hopeful not much damage was done.

It's a goodbye from the fledglings, and it's farewell from us. (Sketch by I. Sullivan).

This year, both day wardens were new to the project, and we have loved every minute of the season. We would like to extend our gratitude to all the wonderful locals and visitors to the colony who educated us, entertained us, and inspired us. It's clear that the Little Tern Conservation Project has a special place in the hearts of Kilcoole people, birders, and wildlife enthusiasts alike, and it's heartening that conservation projects such as this one are met with such enthusiasm and positivity. It was a privilege to warden the Little Terns.

-Irene S. and all the Little Tern Conservation Project team.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Living Life On The Fledge Vol. II

Apologies to our followers for the lack of updates recently; the past couple of weeks have been hectic to say the least! The season is coming to a close, with 24/hr monitoring of the colony no longer in practice as the wardens are packing up. Most of the fencing has been taken down and put into storage, and numbers of Little Terns have been gradually depleting as they embark on their journey home. The last active nest of the season, K195, has hatched one chick successfully, so we're hoping this little dude will catch up with its peers.

The last little floof of the season beside the final egg of the season (which sadly, did not hatch). Photo taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
Though this chick is at a disadvantage having hatched this late into July, Little Tern chicks grow incredibly fast, packing on the grammes and milimetres to fledge in just under a month (25-28 days). Following some serious gainz, the chicks begin to grow their pins, developing wings capable of the great flight home. Parent Little Terns definitely deserve a pat on the wing for providing all the sprats, sandeels, gobies and more necessary to satiate the appetite of their chicks.

This older chick is really concentrating on wing development.. look at that unbroken gaze. Photo taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
A sketch of the right wing of the chick featured in the photo above. (I. Sullivan).
The wing of a fledgling. Notice the loss of yellow down, replaced by sturdy grey wings which have yellow and blue-green tones in the covert plumage. (I. Sullivan).

Recently, we were delighted to welcome a really wonderful enthusiastic group of after-schoolers from Little Harvard Creche & Montessori. A fantastic time was enjoyed by all, and we wardens are so chuffed to receive your artworks (Thank you!). I think this collage perfectly captures the essence of the Little Tern:

~Little Harvard-Little Tern Collaboration, 2017.~

We would also like to extend our gratitude to David and Barbara at "Wicklow People." Last week's edition of the newspaper featured an outstanding piece on the work carried out by the Little Tern Conservation Project. It's really great when the efforts carried out to protect the Little Terns are publicised in local media.

You can read their article about the Kilcoole Little Tern Project here.

There appears to be no rest for the wardens despite the season coming to an end, as a local Sparrowhawk has taken to agitating the colony over the past couple of weeks. Though continually chased and mobbed by the terns and wardens alike, this bird of prey could pose a major threat to remaining fledglings and the few young chicks left on the foreshore. Though we're packing up here at Kilcoole, there is still a significant number of terns around - I counted between 20 and 30 today. Therefore, it is vital we continue to respect their presence on the beach as the fencing is removed. 

We would like to extend a massive thanks to all beach users for continuing to ensure the Little Terns aren't disturbed.

Until next time,
Irene and the Kilcoole Team

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Basking Sharks and Basking Lizards

We have found (drum roll) 200 nesting attempts by the Little Terns at Kilcoole this year, with 220 chicks ringed, and numerous fledglings scattered along the foreshore. The chicks are doing very well, and are becoming more independent (and therefore, elusive) by the day. Regular fledgling counts have begun, during which a warden estimates numbers of chicks from a distance using a telescope. Last Wednesday, Chris and Andrew were delighted to welcome visitors from the Garden Team at Sunbeam House. A fantastic day was enjoyed by all, and the group showed great interest and enthusiasm- so thank you so much for coming down guys!! We hope to see you again in seasons to come.

Some chicks and fledglings waiting to be ringed. Photo taken under NPWS licence by Andrew McManus.

The variations in habitat at the Kilcoole site support a wealth of biodiversity. Every day it's possible to come across a species you haven't seen yet in the season. This week, a Basking Shark was seen by Andrew. This is a fantastic spot, as Basking Sharks aren't often present on the east coast. Catching a glimpse of a Viviparous Lizard while strolling along the path is always great, as is watching Grey Seals snooze in the shallows.

A viviparous lizard sunbathing. Photo by I. Sullivan.

The basking shark video is available on the Birdwatch Ireland Wicklow Branch Facebook page:

Over the weekend, we were delighted to welcome a group of visitors made up of highly experienced ringers, birders, and wardens from previous years - a big thank you to Declan, Paddy, Susan and Brian for the fantastic ringing session, and the BBQ!

The colony is beginning to quieten down, as numbers of Little Terns are starting to dwindle and more chicks are taking to the foreshore. However, we do have a few recent hatchings, and around 22 nests are still active. Though these eggs and chicks will not be afforded the protection of mobs of adult terns over the coming weeks, we are hopeful for their success. Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will feature drawings and descriptions of the Little Terns progression from baby hatchling to monster fledgling!

"Are you talkin' to me? Are.. you TALKIN'.. to ME?," - a suspicious fledgling photographed before it was ringed. Photo taken under NPWS licence. (Andrew McManus).

Cobber, the resident Mute Swan by the caravans, with his family behind him. Photo taken by I. Sullivan.
With thanks as always for all the encouragement and support we receive from the public down at Kilcoole.

- Irene and the Kilcoole Team