Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Kilcoole Oystercatcher chick resighted in Waterford!

One or two pairs of Oystercatcher nest on the beach among the Little Terns every year. As with the terns, we do our best to keep these guys safe and monitor their progress throughout the breeding season. Last July, staff from BirdWatch Ireland put coloured & coded leg rings on a brood of three Oystercatcher chicks that hatched from a nest at the main tern colony. This was done as part of a monitoring program of waterbirds (including Oystercatchers) in Dublin Bay, the idea being to gain an insight into the movements of locally bred birds from surrounding areas.

Kilcoole Oystercatcher chick & hatching egg © Niall T. Keogh
Kilcoole Oystercatcher chick with coded ring 'LV' & one of its parents © Niall T. Keogh

And sure enough one of them has been resighted! Clare Scott, an artist living on the coast of Waterford, reported a colour ringed Oystercatcher fitting the description of one of the Kilcoole birds at Garrarus beach near Tramore in December 2013. You can read all about Clare's Oyc sighting on her blog here. It was photographed there again in January 2014 by Liam Walsh. 

One of the Kilcoole Oystercatchers at Garrarus beach, Co. Waterford © Clare Scott 
Kilcoole Oystercatcher (third from the right) at Garrarus beach, Co. Waterford © Liam Walsh

So all in all, that's a distance of approx. 130km it has moved from its natal area at Kilcoole to the South West!

This is fantastic news for those involved in both the Dublin Bay Birds Project & Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Project. Great to know one of 'our' charges during the breeding season here at Kilcoole has been surviving through the winter and also that the colour ringing scheme is delivering some really interesting & important results such as this.

The Dublin Bay Birds Project has a great blog on the go with lots of news & updates on the tracking & monitoring of wintering waders in the bay. And if you do come across a colour ringed Oystercatcher (or Redshank or Bar-tailed Godwit) then please get in touch with the project here.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Project Documentary Now Online

The Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Project documentary was filmed during the summers of 2010 & 2011 by Andrew Power & Peter Cutler (Crow Crag Productions/BirdWatch Ireland Carlow Branch).

It features an introduction by Eric Dempsey, interviews with the wardens and some amazing nest camera footage of Little Terns & Ringed Plovers as well as other wildlife from the local area such as Otters.

Whats more, it is now available online for your viewing pleasure! Be sure to check it out & see an example of BirdWatch Ireland's conservation work in action.

Direct link to the tern documentary on Vimeo: www.vimeo.com/77581000

Little Tern chick & egg © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Omega Chick!

As mentioned in a previous blog post, we were eagerly waiting for the last viable egg left on the beach from nest K50 to hatch...well it did!

And so our youngest member of the colony came into the world on Friday morning & should hopefully fledge around 20th August. This very late hatching date means that it will have to sharpen up fairly quickly as it will be thrown straight into the arduous journey South for the Winter. 

This is where those chicks born earlier in the season will have a major advantage as they will have had these past few weeks to build their strength & learn some important lessons in foraging for themselves which may make all the difference when it comes to surviving their first winter.

But the Kilcoole Little Terns are as hard as nails so no doubt this latest recruit will be back in two years time to have a go at breeding itself!

Our final charge for the season © Andrew Power

Friday, 2 August 2013

And they're off!...

The past week has brought about a change in the mood of the terns as well as a decrease in the numbers present at the colony, signalling the beginning of the end of the breeding season.

We've noticed that the terns seem to be a lot more agitated, with frequent flocking flights ('dreads') out over the foreshore, some of which end up far out to sea, flashing like a shoal of fish as they twist & turn
in a tight-nit ball.

On their return to shore, it would often appear that the flock is somewhat smaller than before. I reckon a few birds use these 'dreads' as an opportunity to peel away & start making their first move South of the Autumn. I guess this 'agitated' behaviour shown by the terns may well be an eagerness to get moving with the frequent 'dreads' kicking off the process.

Adult Little Tern in flight © Ronnie Martin

Another more obvious factor at play lending to the nervous disposition of the terns is the presence of a juvenile Peregrine racing through the colony each morning! The young falcon is most likely still being fed by its parents (an adult female has been seen about too) and it never really seems to make an honest effort at catching the terns despite getting quite close on a number of occasions. Most likely what is happening is that the bird is simply honing its hunting technique which will be vital if it is to survive its first winter. It has also been seen chasing after Manx Shearwaters out at sea! Thrilling to watch this soon to be apex predator in action & heartening to know they've bred successfully in Wicklow after recent news of persecution of Peregrines has just come to light.

So with the hint of Autumn in the air & the added push of a predator in the vicinity, daily counts of the terns have dropped from 150+ adults & 50+ juveniles last week to 70+ adults & 20+ juveniles at the moment. We've also received reports of adult & juvenile Little Terns seen recently at Dalkey, Co. Dublin & Tacumshin Lake, Co. Wexford, sites where the terns do not breed but can visit during migration.

Juvenile Little Tern © Niall Keogh
Furthermore, during a count at the Kilcoole colony on Tuesday evening, I noticed a very advanced looking juvenile present which was unringed! Not one of 'our' birds therefore, perhaps one which has travelled south from the colony at Baltray? We have also been seeing the other species of terns making their way past Kilcoole in recent days, with adult & juvenile family groups of Sandwich, Roseate, Arctic & Common Terns heading North for the staging area at Dublin Bay where they will feed & rest for the next month before making the big push South for the Winter.

So all in all, the terns are on the move and whilst the beach is starting to quieten down, this is ultimately what we want to see at this stage of the season. Good to know that the fledglings are strong enough to be making this first leg of migration & the rest of their lives!

We're now watching over the final 15 chicks left which have still yet to fly. We expect them to do so by the middle of the month & we will remain on duty until then to ensure they make it!

Juvenile Little Terns in flight © Peter Cutler
The young terns can be seen practice fishing along the foreshore of the colony at the moment. Yet to see them catch anything though!

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Omega Egg

Most years we find that the breeding progress of the colony is staggered & generally forms two distinct groups, one lot which breed in the traditional first week from mid-late May & another which begin sometime in the first week of June. This was true again this year but we also had a run of late nests into the first week of July, most likely re-lays from the small number of losses incurred at the egg stage (due to abandonment, Oystercatcher predation etc.).

The 6 pairs or so of terns which nested latest finally made it around to hatching over the past couple of days. Amazing to think that these day old chicks had no problem weathering the heavy rain, thunder & lighting on Wednesday night!

As such we are down to our last nest with one egg waiting to hatch. On checking it this morning, the egg showed some early signs of life poking out from within (faint lines starting to appear on the shell) so with a bit of luck we'll have our last chick out & about by early next week at the latest. With that we should expect our latest chicks to fledge sometime around the end of the third week in August.

So as of this afternoon we have 42 active pairs with 47 fledglings, 27 chicks & 1 egg left to hatch.

Nest K50...Paddy Last! © Niall Keogh

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Terns Feel The Heat

Trust the Irish to spend all year wishing for sunshine & warmth but when it does finally come it suddenly gets "too hot"!

At least for the terns they have a genuine excuse. The heat generated off a shingle beach on a sunny day is quite a few degrees higher at ground level than what we experience several feet up. This is partially the reason why terns, as well as plovers & Oystercatchers, choose to nest on shingle & sandy beaches. Not only are their eggs & chicks well camouflaged against it, but those extra few degrees can make all the difference when it comes to keeping them alive.

But saying that!... Over the past two weeks it was often quite apparent that even the terns & plovers were starting to reach their limits. A scan along the beach on a hazy afternoon often revealed chicks & adults lounging around on the shingle with their eyes squint & beaks open, trying to keep cool (thermo-regulating). Some chicks could also be found trying to make the most of whatever shade was available, huddled against lumps of seaweed or driftwood washed up on the shoreline.

A warm chick poking it's head out from underneath it's equally warm parent! © Andrew Power
A rather uncomfortable looking fledgling © Niall Keogh
Prior to the chicks hatching, we provided the terns with a simple, yet effective source of relief from the elements. A total of 30 'chick shelters' were deployed along the beach in areas where we felt would be of most use, often a few meters on the seaward side of each nest. The shelters themselves are concrete roof ridge tiles, about 2 foot long. The grey colour of the shelters blends in perfectly with the shingle & they are sufficiently long enough to stop a chick being dragged out by a Sparrowhawk or Kestrel. In previous years they have been occupied by chicks during spells of heavy rain but this year we are recording good uptake but for completely the opposite reason! Both large fledglings & smaller 'fluffy' chicks can regularly be seen whiling away the hottest parts of the day under the shelters, waiting patiently for the parents to arrive back with a juicy, fluid filled fish.

A small tern chick taking refuge from the baking midday sun © Andrew Power
A nearly fledged tern, cooling down © Niall Keogh
Even some of the young Ringed Plovers have been seen hanging around the shelters © Niall Keogh

In years gone by, hot summers have led to some chicks dying due to over-exposure but thankfully this year we haven't recorded any losses as such. Chick shelters doing their job so! 

Anyways, back to rain...

Monday, 22 July 2013

Fledgling Success

Friday 12th July saw a major 'terning' point in this years project (no excuses for the terribly awesome pun).

Having had the previous day off, re-acquainting myself with the delights of the 'real world' (namely laundry duties, an overcrowded Dublin City, public transport full of screaming children etc.) I was more than eager to head back to the colony on Friday afternoon & start my weekend shift.

Once back on site, myself & Andrew were stood staring at the colony, discussing the comings & goings of the previous day during our cross-over between shifts, when all of a sudden, a strangely familiar high pitched, squeaky 'peep' call could be heard around the area of The Breaches estuary outlet. Just as expected it was being emitted from a fledgling Little Tern, flying strongly over the beach!

We spent the next few minutes savouring the moment. After watching & protecting these terns every waking minute of the day & night for the past two & a half months it was hard not to get excited by the sight of a fully fledged juvenile having the time of its life flying about the place!

And what's more... it wasn't alone! By the end of the evening we had seen three different juveniles which were fully capable of flight. Fantastic! We reckoned they were from nests K2 (2 young) & K5 (1 young) which would mean they were between 19 & 22 days old between the youngest & oldest of the lot of them.

One of our first fledgling terns © Niall Keogh
These past few weeks of unbroken sunshine & calm conditions have provided optimum feeding conditions for the terns, with chicks being fed from 5am straight through to 10pm with only a short lull during the hottest parts of the afternoon. Sprat seems to be the order of the day for the 10+ day old group of chicks, which are being delivered at a rate of 2-4 per hour per hungry mouth! 

This excellent feeding has led to the chicks developing ahead of schedule & most seemingly taking flight at the younger end of the expected fledging time scale (between 19 & 23 days). As such, dawn & dusk counts along the foreshore are providing us with up to 100% of our expected fledglings each day. Now in the order of c.40 juvenile Little Terns!!! Furthermore, the oldest group of fledglings are now really getting the hang of proper flight & can often be seen up to 100m offshore in loose flocks, practice diving for fish, picking up bits of floating debris & joining in with the occasional 'dread' of flocking adults.

Little Tern fledgling on the younger end of the scale, still with bits of downy chick fluff on its head © Niall Keogh
18 day old Little Tern...ready to take it's first proper flight in a day or two © Niall Keogh

The Breaches estuary outlet into the sea which splits the beach in two near the tern colony had taken a somewhat undesired route for most of the summer, edging slowly Northwards, creating a steep bank which was getting perilously close to the main fence as it eroded away after each high tide (we had to move the corner of the fence inwards on a number of occasions to stop it ending up in the sea!). But thankfully the outlet has been re-profiled by digger since then, changing the course to flowing straight out from underneath the railway bridge. This has left a long shingle spit leading south from the colony where the old outlet used to be and at high tide it is surrounded by water on three sides, creating a perfect 'hang out' for fledglings & waders such as Dunlin. As this area is proving so important for the older tern chicks, we have cordoned it off with rope & signs to ensure none get trampled there. Still a great spot to have a look at from the safety of the opposite bank with a telescope.


Newly formed shingle spit at high tide

A few late nesting attempts (it's getting on a bit now lads!) have also been discovered bringing us up to a total of 45 pairs breeding on the beach this season. Three of the these nests have 'failed' in such that the eggs didn't hatch, even up to a week beyond the latest date for expected hatching. A few nests every year go this way unfortunately but it may simply be a case of the breeding birds in question being quite old, producing infertile eggs.

So as of this evening we have 42 active pairs with 65 chicks (c.40 of which have fledged) & 10 eggs left to hatch over the coming week!