Saturday, 28 May 2016

100th egg

 We've reached our next milestone down here on the beach, our hundredth egg was laid yesterday! So far the colony has 52 active nests, and they're still going strong. Last year was a record, with 155 nests, but there's still plenty of time to catch up.

Incubating Little Tern Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Little Terns are good parents, and our colony are looking after the eggs well, although we are having some trouble with Hooded Crows. When the eggs are first laid, the female will stay with them for the first few days while her mate brings in food, then the male will take his share of incubation. They are very attentive and will sit on the nest for hours at a time, so when it's time to swap places they usually stand around for a while and have a good stretch before heading off to feed.

Having a stretch Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Feel free to pop down for a visit. The wardens are always around and are always happy to chat about the Little Terns and the other wildlife at the beach.

-Paddy & Em

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Beach Babies!

So sweet... Ringed Plover chicks Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
We have our first chicks!! Not Little Terns, it’s a little too early for that… but Ringed Plover. We were carrying out our daily nest checks of the Little Tern colony and spotted three tiny balls of fluff. 

Ringed Plover nests are amazingly camouflaged Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
And their chicks are very good at hiding too! Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)

Ringed Plovers leave their nest very soon after hatching so these guys were probably less than a day old, and already running around the beach on their long spindly legs. We have plenty more nests around so hopefully lots more chicks will be popping up in the next few days.

These birds are excellent parents. If the adults think something might be threatening the young, they perform a ‘broken-wing dance’. They stumble away from the nest, holding their wings at an awkward angle. The idea is that any predator will think the adult is injured so will be an easy meal, and will attack it rather than finding the nest. Parents literally sacrifice themselves so that their chicks stand a chance of surviving!

A proud parent with a youngster Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
Elsewhere, our Little Terns are well on their way to becoming parents too. We’re up to 40 nests now, with plenty more expected over the coming days. Feel free to come down to the beach for a visit, there will always be a warden around to give you a view of the birds and answer any questions you have.

Paddy and Em

Saturday, 21 May 2016

We have eggs!!

The season is now in full swing... we found our first Little Tern nest on Thursday! The pair had 2 eggs and were sat tight protecting their clutch against the wind and rain. Since then there has been plenty more activity despite the poor weather. We're up to 15 nests already, with plenty more expected over the next few days. The adults will sit on their eggs for around 20 days to keep them warm and dry before they hatch.
Well camouflaged! A Little Tern nest with 2 eggs (Taken under NPWS licence) P. Manley

The Little Terns will be getting more and more settled in the coming days. so now is a great time to come for a visit. The wardens will be happy to show you a Little Tern and answer any questions you may have.
 Little Tern (Taken under NPWS licence) P. Manley

-Em and Paddy

Monday, 16 May 2016

Dunlin Rescue

Yesterday, the wardens were enjoying watching all the waders in the lagoon over dinner. A Hooded Crow appeared from the farm and flushed all the waders off their feeding patches, he then swooped into the middle of a tight flock of Dunlin and managed to knock one out of the sky into the lagoon. As waders are not suited to swimming, he began to struggle in the water and attempting to make his way slowly to the shore, the Hooded Crow  began to fly up to him and push him under the water in an attempt to drown him.
Luckily for this Dunlin, the wardens were around to intervene and scare the Hooded Crow away. Once the Dunlin had made in into the shallower section of the lagoon the wardens waded into the water to rescue it from the cold water.
Dunlin trying to learn how to swim (P. Manley)

By the time he was rescued out of the water he was very wet and cold, so the wardens put him in a box of tissue in the caravan in an attempt to dry him off and heat him up. After an hour or so in the box, he became much more lively and was jumping around the box. Now, the wardens knew he was ready to be released again!
The Dunlin was feeling very sorry for himself. (P. Manley)

Once he was released back at the shore of the lagoon, he ran down along the mud and started feeding again.
Dunlin ready to be released (P. Manley)

-Paddy and Em

Friday, 13 May 2016

Build it, and they will come...

Not a bad view to wake up to....
We’re all settled in now: camp is running smoothly; the anti-predator fences are up and our information boards are out. We just need the wind to drop so that we can get our observation hide up, then our research can properly get underway!

The beach all ready for visitors, both bird and human. 
The Little Terns are also getting used to life on the beach. After a drop in numbers earlier in the week, they have been building again steadily today with 110 around this evening and more coming in all the time. They were probably off visiting other potential nest sites before deciding that Kilcoole was the best after all (obviously!). Although they haven’t yet laid their eggs, their breeding season is well underway. There has been lots of courtship going on; spectacular flight displays and plenty of fish being presented as a gift to females by hopeful males. Yesterday we saw our first pair copulating, and there has been plenty more today. We’re expecting our first eggs next week, and chicks should start to hatch around 20 days after that.

And it's not just Little Terns we have nesting, the beach is home to a number of Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher nests, and the farmland behind has breeding Skylarks, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting to name just a few. 

Oystercatcher nests are amazingly well camouflaged! Photo taken under NPWS license
We've also had some exciting visitors this week. There are over 100 Dunlin hanging out with the Little Terns and plenty of other waders such as Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit stopping by. Yesterday evening we had fly-overs from a Glossy Ibis and a female Hen Harrier, and this stunning Bar-headed Goose roosting near the camp. 
A Bar-headed Goose spent the night here yesterday. 
Feel free to visit the colony and see these magnificent birds for yourself! The Wardens will be happy to answer any questions you may have. We are on the beach between Kilcoole and Newcastle. We do however ask that all visitors to the beach keep to the marked path. Little Terns are very sensitive to disturbance so we need to keep the colony fenced off until early August. Please follow the signs and keep your dogs under control to give this rare ad important colony its best chance of another successful breeding season.

Thanks for all your support! See you on the beach!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Welcome back!

It’s the start of a new season here at Kilcoole! The Wardens are back, the fences are going up and most importantly, the Little Terns are here in full force! They arrived early this year, with over 100 birds fishing just offshore and roosting overnight for the past few days. This may be because they’ve had favourable winds helping them on their way back from West Africa, where they’ve been spending the winter in the sunshine.

As always, the section of the beach used by the Terns to nest will be fenced off until the end of July, and the Wardens will be spending their summer protecting the colony. It is important to do this because these birds nest on the ground with no shelter so are very susceptible from disturbance by people and their dogs, as well as predation and bad weather. They are our rarest Tern and their numbers have been declining steadily for decades.

But with a little help, we can make sure that Ireland continues to be visited by these lovely little birds. Little Terns have been nesting at Kilcoole since 1879, and it is one of our most important colonies. Last year was a record high, with 155 pairs nesting here! Hopefully they can do the same again this year…

Feel free to come and visit us down here. The Wardens will be happy to show you what the Little Terns are up to and answer any questions you may have. We are on the beach between Kilcoole and Newcastle. Just follow the signs along the path, and please do keep out of the fenced area. Little Tern eggs and chicks are very well camouflaged and it is very easy to stand on them by mistake.

If anyone is interested in volunteering this year, come by and speak to one of the Wardens or email us at Any help you can give will be much appreciated.

See you on the beach!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Record success for 2015

With August coming to a close, how did the Little Terns do this year?

The answer is a record smashing success! This year an estimated 155 breeding pairs produced 301 chicks, 289 of which are presumed to have fledged and dispersed from the colony. This has been the most successful season for numbers of pairs and fledglings at Kilcoole since the conservation project began in 1985. Last year's breeding season (2014) was a record year, with at least double the number of successfully fledged chicks than in previous years. The 2015 breeding season surpassed this, breaking the record at Kilcoole again!

Although we had great success, it was not all plain sailing: Met Eireann reported parts of Ireland experiencing the wettest May in over 120 years, the coldest May in 19 years and the dullest since 1995. Such adverse weather significantly impacted the colony. The single greatest loss of eggs in 2015 was when 32 eggs were washed out from 17 nests during the spring tide and storm on July 4th, 5th and 6th. Earlier in the season, a tidal surge on June 10th overwashed 11 nests, destroying 29 eggs. The lowered profile of the beach, after the damage done by storms in 2012, has made the colony very vulnerable to the effect of high tides and the weather this season proved to be harsher than the previous 2 years. Despite the heavy egg losses, chick mortality was low. Just 3.9% of successfully hatched chicks are known to have died in 2015. This was generally due to natural mortality, but 3 chicks perished in the awful weather at the beginning of July.

A total of 267 Little Tern chicks were metal ringed this year. Trapping and measuring the chicks  gave an interesting insight into the growth rates of chicks. This year, chicks as young as Day 10 and 11 were approaching adult weight, indicating good food availability. As well as metal rings, the coordinated colour ringing programme at Kilcoole continued for its second year. Of the chicks presumed fledged at Kilcoole in 2015, 134 (46%) are colour ringed. These chicks have a green ring on the left leg with a white 3-letter or 3-letter-and-number inscription which are easily visible with telescopes. As they spend their first 2 years of life in West Africa before returning to Europe for their first breeding season, these chicks will not be back until 2017. However, the 2014 batch of colour ringed chicks will be returning to Ireland for the first time next spring. This will be the first time chicks colour ringed as part of this scheme will return to Ireland, so we are very excited to see what rings show up! Be sure to watch out for colour rings in tern flocks returning next April! 
The trend over the last 30 years (since the protection scheme has been in place) is clearly an increase in breeding numbers at Kilcoole.  The success of this breeding season is likely built on the good breeding seasons between 2003-2005 and 2008-2011, as many of the chicks fledged in those seasons have likely returned to Kilcoole to breed. Likewise, the success of 2014 and 2015 will hopefully provide a good base for breeding seasons in the future.