Monday, 27 June 2011

A grand day for flying

On Friday I saw a chunky chick (c.18 days old) make a short, low flight for a few meters along the foreshore which is to be expected from birds of that age, but yesterday there was a good dozen or so proper fledged juvenile Little Terns flying around the colony & one was even seen indulging in some practise fishing! We were absolutely thrilled to bits with this as the oldest chicks are just 23 days old, meaning they've fledged at a similar age as last year but a week earlier by date. I thought it might have taken a few more days for them to do it but no doubt the warm & windy weather over the weekend beckoned them into the air.

One such 'chunky chick' wing stretching © Jamie Durrant
Another chunker © Niall Keogh
A 'proper' Little Tern fledgling! © Niall Keogh
A good scan of the foreshore this morning revealed at least 23 fledglings resting up & preening whilst still being tended to by their parents (it'll take a while before they can start fishing for themselves). The other exciting news this week relates to the continued finding of new nests, with another 10 being located & marked since my last post! There has also been another run of hatching lately, so our total stands at 80 pairs with 104 young (incl. fledglings) & 52 eggs left to hatch!!!

A new arrival © Niall Keogh
Whilst it's great to get this many pairs on site, the large arrival of late breeders is somewhat worrying for two reasons, (1). they have more than likely come from another colony which suffered some form of heavy predation/disturbance/flooding & (2). they're running out of time to get the eggs hatched & chicks fledged successfully! The likelihood is that some of these nests may abandon whilst others will stick it out to the end but won't fledge their young until mid-late August.

With all these breeding birds about there has been great activity at the colony with up to 100 birds in the air at any given stage today. The terns are getting really aggressive too while they're at it, chasing every gull (from Little to Great Black-backed!) that passes along the foreshore whilst faecal spraying of wardens has reached a whole new level!

Our other colonial inhabitants, the Oystercatchers & Ringed Plovers, are also doing very well. The 'Oyc' chicks are coming along nicely & are starting to get some white feathering on the coverts & orange colouration at the base of their beaks. Four broods of Ringed Plover chicks have fledged & there are currently 3 pairs incubating their second clutch of eggs & 1 pair with a second brood of chicks already hatched & on the go! A real contrast to the disastrous year they had last year.

Oyc chick & adult © Niall Keogh
Predator-wise, thankfully it's been pretty quiet. The only recent loss was of an adult tern which was taken by the 'resident' Peregrine over the K-colony on the 22nd, making 3 that she has predated so far this season. The Kestrels have been well behaved this year (for now!) with only one unsuccessful attempt at taking a chick observed. A big female Sparrowhawk has been seen around The Breaches hunting waders & several Foxes are ever present in the fields inland from there but there has been no mischief out of them yet either. Cole caught a Hedgehog trying to nuzzle in under the K-colony fencing last week which was only the second one he has found this season (compared to 9 last year).

Just as the Solstice passed & Autumn began again (yes I'm a pessimist!), so too did the birding begin to pick up. There was some nice passage this morning involving what I assume are failed breeding gulls & terns from the colony at Lady's Island Lake in Co. Wexford heading for the post-breeding roost sites in south Dublin Bay. Small groups of Sandwich Terns & Black-headed Gulls were moving north with a few Common Terns, Arctic Terns, 3 adult Mediterranean Gulls & even 4 cracking adult Roseate Terns thrown in for good measure which flew right through the K-colony calling loudly. Plenty of waders over the past week also with up to 150 Curlew migrating south in a day & a few other nice bits n' bobs like Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Common Sandpiper & summer plumaged Redshank. A Dunlin of the race 'arctica' (from Greenland) on 16th June was perhaps the most interesting bird of the lot.

A couple of juvenile Stonechats were seen down near the BirdWatch Ireland reserve at Kilcoole train station, with one eventually making it's way down to the wardens caravan site. Good to see some successful local breeding of this species whose population has crashed due to recent cold winters. The infamous Cuckoo has finally moved on, which is a blessing to both the terns & the wardens (I was getting tired of chasing it off!).

The flock of eclipse plumaged Mallard is starting to build up in Webb's field & there was even 5 Gadwall with them there today. Up to 8 Little Egrets (incl. 3 juveniles) & a Kingfisher have been seen there too. A drake Tufted Duck & a drake Teal in Stringer's channels were also noteworthy for the time of year. The 21st June brought some interesting seawatching with c.5,000 Manx Shearwaters moving north in the morning along with 4 Arctic Skuas, a Little Gull, 7-8 Storm Petrels & 6 Common Scoter later that afternoon. A stunning summer plumaged Red-throated Diver has been present close offshore in recent days & a 'winter' plumaged Great Northern Diver was even seen out there too.

The Otters are again, ever present, whilst a mother & calf Harbour Porpoise offshore & a Stoat at Webb's farmyard were the only other recent Mammalian highlights.

Juvenile Stonechat © John Fox 
Cuckoo © Jamie Durrant
Summer plumaged Red-throated Diver, a real cracker! © Jamie Durrant

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