Thursday, 2 June 2011

Rupert the Rook

In my last post I mentioned that a Rook was the likely cause of the loss of one nest (K43) on Monday 23rd May. Well, I'm afraid to say my suspicions were correct & unfortunately the Rook was back in again on Wednesday...and Thursday...AND Friday!!! It appears that Rupert (the Rook) is a rogue non-breeder who sussed out that mid-week periods of poor weather result in very few people out & about walking along the dunes leaving plenty of opportunity for it to pop in for a few nests then pop out again before anyone would notice! It also had a nasty habit of doing this while the on duty warden was at the opposite end of the colony so a rather cruel game of cat & mouse (or warden & Rook) ensued for a few days. On one occasion the Rook attacked the north end of the K-colony whilst I was monitoring nests at the southern end. In the short space of time it took me to run the 200m to where the Rook had landed in it had already munched 3 nests! That was the kind of determination we were up against! The majority of nests lost were taken on Wednesday/Thursday with the number of attacks decreasing pretty quickly once the weather started getting better around the weekend & more people were out & about walking along the beach/path. Continuous human presence it seems was the best deterrent. All in all a total of 16 nests with 35 eggs were predated by the Rook, which was a serious blow to the colony. Thankfully there has been no sign of Rupert for the past few days now so lets hope he's in a bad way somewhere suffering from the ill effects of high cholesterol due to all those eggs he ate!

K40 - safe & unpredated! © Niall Keogh
Little Tern bringing in a sandeel for it's mate © Niall Keogh
Another two nests (K32 & K55) have abandoned, for reasons unknown. I've heard a theory that prolonged spells of bad weather often result in abandonment so perhaps the high winds had something to do with it? The Peregrine made another pass over the K-colony early on Monday morning taking an adult Little Tern (that's 2 now so far) which to be honest wasn't unexpected. What was unexpected though was the predation of an adult Little Tern by an adult Great Black-backed Gull on Sunday afternoon! The gull was migrating north along the coast when it passed through a flock of terns. It must have seen an opportunity for an easy meal as it whacked an adult Little Tern which then fell to the water & was promptly pounced upon and SWALLOWED WHOLE by the gull! This is the first time that predation by a Great Black-backed Gull has been confirmed at the colony since wardening began in the mid 1980's. The gull continued on travelling north as soon as it had finished with the tern so I wouldn't be too worried about it as it appears to have been an opportunistic one-off event (although I have since been giving all the gulls migrating past the colony the old evil eye!).

DON'T PANIC!!! I think it's time for a bit of positive news for a change! With regards those nest lost to the Rook, well it's still early enough in the season for them to re-lay and it appears that some of them are already beginning to do so (it generally takes 7-10 days after predation for a re-lay to appear). Furthermore there was an arrival of about 20 new birds at the colony early last week & they too have settled down to breed with quite a few new nests found over the past couple of days. As such we currently have 50 active nests with 101 eggs so we're making up for lost nests in no time! With any luck there'll be a run of new nests (hopefully involving those re-lays) over the next week. We're also expecting our first chick to hatch any day now too! There's a couple of nests which have eggs with cracks on the shell so there's obviously a beak poking at it from the inside! My money is on the first chick hatched tomorrow in nest K6.

K6 eggs on the brink of hatching. Cracks in the shell visible & all! © Niall Keogh
Volunteers Siobhan & Riona with warden Jason fixing up some chick shelters which are due to go out today! © Niall Keogh 

Little Terns in evening light © Niall Keogh

Things had quietened down for a while on the bird front with the best of the action last week again at sea during the high winds when decent numbers of Manx Shearwaters were noted (e.g. 1,500 heading south in an hour & a half on 25th) with some Storm Petrels knocking about too, 4 Common Scoter heading north on 27th and up to 4 Great Northern Divers & 2 Red-throated Divers also loafing offshore. A Balearic Shearwater heading south with the Manxies on 25th was quite early & a great local record of this Critically Endangered seabird (more on this species in the coming weeks - watch this space!). 

The feral Barnacle Goose made a reappearance in Webb's field on 25th, a pair of Shoveler were seen in the area with 6 young recently which is an excellent breeding record for this species & a pair of Teal are also present but don't seem to have bred. The Breaches estuary outflow was blocked for a few days after a southerly wind but as soon as it was opened the waders began to arrive. Yesterday saw some particularly nice movements of species like Sanderling (22), Knot (2), Bar-tailed Godwit (2), Black-tailed Godwit (5), Dunlin (13), Turnstone (8), Curlew (1) & Whimbrel (13). Other migrant species recorded in recent days include an adult Arctic Tern passing through on 28th, a 1st-summer Little Gull & 3 Mediterranean Gulls moving north yesterday afternoon & best of all a super close, low-flying Osprey with a whole gang of raucous Oystercatchers & gulls in attendance, heading slowly north over The Breaches yesterday evening at 19:30!!! An great bird which myself, Jason & Cole all got to see as well as two other birders who raced up to Killiney Hill in south Dublin and caught it moving inland over Bray & Shankill half an hour later! 

There's also a pair of Cuckoos hanging around the Sea Buckthorn bushes in recent days which have attracted a lot of attention from members of the public who are enjoying great views of these rather tame birds. The flip side of this however is that the Cuckoos are spending quite a bit of time feeding on caterpillars along the path by the K-colony & inadvertently spooking the terns as a result (the terns think the Cuckoo is a bird of prey it would seem which is fair enough as they look a bit like a mix of Sparrowhawk & Kestrel in flight!). Saying that, this has meant we've been getting good flock counts on the Little Terns with 114 adult birds seen yesterday!

Cuckoo on the K-colony fence © Niall Keogh
The 3 Bottlenose Dolphins & the Otter continue to be seen regularly & showing well too. The dolphins were jumping around all over the place yesterday evening really close offshore from the K-colony which was great to see!

Anyways, there should be a flurry of new nests & chicks hatching over the next 2 weeks so why not pop down for a visit?

Until next time!


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