Saturday, 21 July 2018

The Second Batch

The last week or two have been a bit quieter than the start of July The first batch of chicks has come and gone. The vast majority of them have successfully fledged, and it's immensely gratifying to see row upon row of fresh-faced juvenile little terns sitting along the foreshore amongst their adult counterparts. They are feeding up and preparing to leave for Africa, Some have already left and as a result we're seeing the number of terns present in the colony start to dwindle. But we're not done yet!
    The 50 or so nests we lost to a tidal surge on the 12th of June were re-layed, and have been hatching for just over a week now. As it stands we're down to about 4 remaining nests with eggs, the rest have hatched and the chicks can be seen bumbling about on the foreshore. Two to three weeks time and these birds too will be headed off for West African coasts with their parents.
    After what has been a fantastic heatwave we've started to see our first showers of rain during the last week. Yesterday I sat in the hide and watched as the terns weathered the worst of the rain on the shore. Parent birds will incubate their still-downy chicks as these feathers are not yet waterproof and a soaking could result in a chick dying of exposure. The adult terns did a wonderful job of sheltering their chicks from the rain but the sight was hilarious...
Three small chicks can just about fit underneath an adult Little Tern. Three week-old chicks? Not so much. I watched in amusement as three chicks attempted to muscle their way under their mother. At one stage they all squeezed under, but lifted her off her feet, at which point she let out a disgruntled squawk and moved off to dig a scrape for them to shelter in.
    One particularly special chick was discovered on a nest check last week, the chick was highly leucistic, or partially albino in plain terms. Compared to its sibling it was chalk and cheese. Surprisingly it was even more camouflaged than the regularly coloured chicks in its company, this of course due to the presence of white stones nearby. We'll be keeping a keen eye out for this guy in the future.
    The main blanket on our enthusiasm at the minute is the kestrel, who still occasionally visits the colony. The odd time it's successful and makes off with a tern chick. We've ramped up our kestrel chasing/scaring tactics though, and it's not taken a chick in over a week now. Long may it last!
    In general bird news; wader passage is increasing, highlights being 2 Ruff and large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit. Mediterranean Gulls are still regularly streaming by the colony. One Pochard was seen south of the colony, but the undoubted highlight was a flyover Short-Eared Owl one evening, which was vociferously mobbed by the terns and oystercatchers.
Make sure to check in over the next few weeks as the project begins to wind down, there should be a few more blog posts on the way too. 

One of the new recruits! Little Tern Chick
Not just terns! I found a skylark nest in the colony too. Here is the sole chick being
moved to safety after straying onto the public path. It successfully fledged a few days later

Steve applying a colour ring to a tern chick

Chris and Steve Colour-Ringing

Tern-ling showing off some new bling
The very-rare and beautiful white chick


Monday, 2 July 2018

Tern Chicks Galore and Flooded Shore

Since the last post it's been all go at Kilcoole. Not long after the last update we lost nearly 50 nests to a high spring tide. This was a major set back, wiping out many three-egg clutches. What could have been a disaster has proven not to be so, as good weather has allowed the terns to re-lay en masse.
    The wardens have been extremely busy lately conducting nest checks and monitoring/ringing chicks. Last week 59 chicks were given unique alpha-numeric plastic rings. These green 'colour-rings' were first placed on chicks here back in 2014. They are unique in allowing wardens to identify individual birds by reading the combination on the ring through a telescope.
    The heat-wave that has swept the country over the past few weeks has hit Kilcoole too, and while never getting too hot due to the cooling sea-breeze it has been hot enough to become a risk for the chicks; the air temperature could be 17 degrees but the temperature at chick height on the shingle would be far hotter. In an attempt to aid chicks struggling with heat exposure we have once again started placing chick-shelters on the beach. These consist of roof tiles, and chicks can use these to shelter from wind, rain, sun and predators.
    Speaking of predators we've been having serious problems with a local pair of kestrels lately. These brazen birds of prey have taken ten chicks already and show no signs of slowing down. It's a difficult situation for us, knowing that this is a part of nature and that the kestrels are feeding young of their own. Our current and only method of defence is trying to deter the birds, via shouting and banging pans together. This is having limited success. Will update on proceedings here soon. 
    There is some good news though. We had our first little tern chick fledge yesterday, and there's now another three or four fledged with it. In addition to this i'm pleased to report that the Oystercatcher nest between the train tracks has successfully hatched, and these two fluffy chicks can be seen hanging around the lagoon with their diligent father.
    The last week also had us saying farewell to Sally, our relief warden. Sally spent two months here and was a huge asset to the team. She's now off pursuing seabirds on the R.V Celtic Explorer, and we wish her well(and lots of whales and rare seabirds).

Thanks for reading, keep an eye on the blog for updates soon.

One last note: Walkers on the beach familiar with this blog will already be aware that we ask that dogs be kept on leads at all times, and many people do just that. However there are those who disregard this plea, and as a result of this a three week old chick is now dead. We ask you to spread the word that dogs really do need to be kept on leads in this area. Thanks

Adult tern with young chick
Chunky Chick

Tiny Chick

Chicks are experts at hiding. Can you see it?

Chick shelter in use


Ringed Plover- What a difference three weeks makes!

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.