Friday, 29 July 2011

Winding Down

Well, it's all getting very quiet down here folks. The number of terns at the colony has been decreasing dramatically over the past two weeks, with max. flock counts (adults + juveniles) dropping from 135 on 15th July to 105 on 20th and from 80 on Wednesday (27th) right down to c.60 birds this morning. The strange thing is that we don't really see any of the terns actually leave (i.e. a group heading off to the south) but it's certainly noticeable in the differences in flock counts from day to day.

Amazingly, there's still one active nest left, K119 which has 2 eggs...and it's due to hatch any day now! I would have thought that this pair would have given up by now & abandoned the nest but they've stuck with it. Fair play! But then again even if the eggs do hatch in the next day or so the chicks won't fledge until late August, so they'll definitely be the last birds on the beach.

White flecking appearing on the forehead, dark shadowing forming behind the black bill tip & around the nostril...all signs of winter plumage starting to show through. © Niall Keogh
Jason at the colony information stand, trying to keep up with the demand for BirdWatch Ireland pin badges which are selling like hot cakes!!! © Niall Keogh
The breeding figures for the season still stand at 99 pairs but now with 157 young, of which 117 are fully fledged juveniles & 40 are unfledged chicks (the majority of which will be on the wing in the next 10 days). It's great to be able to look down the foreshore & see groups of fledglings lined up, preening themselves whilst they wait (im)patiently for their parents to arrive with the next fishy meal. There's also quite a few young terns giving fishing for themselves a go too. Some seem to be just getting wet for the sake of it, as all they manage is a quick splash whilst others are more adept, picking up sticks, dropping them into the water & then retrieving them which must be an attempt at honing their accuracy. Although entertaining as it is to watch, the benefit of this kind of 'playing' will really become the difference between life & death later this autumn when juvenile terns have to begin fending for themselves. 

Little Tern fledgling - seeing them like this really makes all the effort worthwhile! © Niall Keogh
We've also been investigating some aspects of Little Tern feeding ecology this summer, with two of our volunteers, Ruby Stansfield & Rosie Newton, carrying out a short diet study of small (<1 week old) chicks. For the most part, sandeels prevail as the dominant food source but during the first few days, chicks are being fed heavily on gobies caught in the nearby lagoons & estuary. Older chicks & fledglings are certainly getting fed more specifically on clupeids, most likely sprat, which are often found discarded in the colony during nest checks.

Plenty of clupeids like this one can be found throughout the colony as they were probably too big for the chick to swallow! © Niall Keogh 
Goby sp. caught in Webb's field lagoon, perhaps Pomatoschistus microps© Niall Keogh
Still no trouble out of any of the local Foxes or Hedgehogs yet this season (touch wood) but the falcons are certainly making their presence felt. A male Kestrel swooped into the K-colony yesterday afternoon, grabbing an 8 day old chick which he promptly dropped as I ran straight for him across the beach! Save for a small puncture wound above the left leg, the chick was unharmed & ran off strongly down the foreshore after a thorough examination just to make sure it was ok...lucky divil! The last thing we need now in the final weeks of the project is for a Kestrel to start picking off our remaining chicks so Kestrel Watch 2011 has been initiated!

A pair of Peregrines that bred in east Wicklow this season have produced two young, both of which can be seen flying up & down the coast most mornings, chasing everything in sight from Little Terns to Shags! In fairness, they seem to be just practising their hunting skills and more than likely wouldn't be capable of taking a tern but saying that I'll still be giving them the evil eye anytime they make an appearance!!!

Juvenile Peregrines. Not the easiest of birds to photograph but you can just make out the blue colour rings on their legs, fitted by NPWS rangers as part of their Peregrine monitoring program © Niall Keogh

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wildlife Sightings 15th-28th July

Quite a bit of movement offshore lately with skuas dominating the seabirding highlights.  A pale phase Pomarine Skua that flew north 19th was an excellent late-summer record for the area. Amazingly, another pale phase 'Pom' was seen heading north on 21st, followed by two separate sightings of a pale phase bird resting on the beach at Newcastle that evening, so I suspect the same bird may have been involved here. Arctic Skuas have been present for the past four days with up to 3 dark phase birds present offshore at times, chasing Black-headed Gulls & Kittiwakes and even flying right through the tern colony every now & then for good measure just to keep them on their toes! 

Other seabird migrants recently have included a Red-breasted Merganser, several Red-throated  Divers, a couple of Storm Petrels & 19 Common Scoter (heading south this morning). Terns & gulls are continuing to travel north past the colony, with plenty of Arctic Terns in particular, 1 adult & 5 juvenile Mediterranean Gulls & some more adult + juvenile Roseate Tern pairs making their way for Sandymount Strand no doubt. 

Juvenile Black Guillemot © Niall Keogh
The duck flock has been growing since the last wildlife sightings post, with up to 250 Mallard now present along with 15 eclipse plumage Wigeon, 6 Teal, the 'local' Shovelers, 5 Pochard & 6 Tufted Duck. Counts of 19 Little Grebes & 9 Coot in the channels in the past few days have been the highest for those two species so far this season. Again, still plenty of waders on the move with c.75 Curlew & 14 Lapwing feeding in a recently cut section of the coastal grazing marsh & up to 44 Dunlin (including the first of the returning juveniles), 24 Turnstones, 20 Ringed Plovers, 24 Black-tailed Godwits, 10 Redshank, 13 Sanderling a few Greenshank and singles of Knot & Whimbrel noted feeding on the mudflats in The Breaches or roosting on the beach during high tide.

Sanderling © Niall Keogh
Ringed Plover © Niall Keogh
With regards passerines, the first of this seasons juvenile Wheatears are already on the move through & can be seen hopping about on the rocks by The Breaches bridge whilst a juvenile Rock Pipit on the beach, feeding amongst the seaweed with masses of juvenile Pied Wagtails this morning wasn't a bad bird for the area. A Spotted Flycatcher at Kilcoole train station car park on 24th was certainly noteworthy as it was a new species for the local Bird Atlas square!

Non-bird wise, the past few calm days have been excellent for cetacean watching, with the mother & calf Harbour Porpoise still about, showing very well feeding close offshore from The Breaches. They were even seen breaching 3 times in quick succession during a bout of active feeding which isn't often observed. The glorious sunshine yesterday afternoon produced large numbers of butterflies such as Red Admiral, Meadow Brown, Large & Small White, Green-veined White & some second brood Common Blues. The sun & heat also motivated several Viviparous Lizards into action, making themselves a bit more visible than they have been so far this summer, which is nice!

Harbour Porpoise © Niall Keogh
Viviparous Lizard © Niall Keogh
Poplar Hawk-moth © Niall Keogh

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Little Terns in The Irish Times

One of our regular visitors to the Kilcoole Little Tern colony, √Čamon de Buitl√©ar, sent a picture of our information blackboard, "Colony News" to Irish Times journalist Michael Viney which inspired him to write a very nice piece that appeared in last Saturday's Weekend Review section of the Irish Times.

The article can be read on the following link:

Many thanks to Michael for his excellent write-up (the best I've ever read on the project) & the wonderful illustration.

I still stand by my ability to find rarities however... ;)

See ya,

Little Tern adult & chick © Michael Viney

Friday, 22 July 2011

Little Terns on The Morning Show

A segment on the Kilcoole Little Tern colony was featured yesterday on TV3's "The Morning Show" & can be watched online at (skip to 15 minutes & 55 seconds in)

Thanks to TV3 for the much appreciated coverage & also to Brian Daly (TV3) & Niall Hatch (BirdWatch Ireland's Development Officer) for conducting the interview.

A recently hatched tern chick © Niall Keogh

Friday, 15 July 2011

All the terns...99!

Well it's getting to that time of the year again. The first batch of early nesting pairs & their young have already left the colony, taking the first step on their journey back to Africa for the winter!

This has become evident over the past couple of weeks as fledgling counts (which we conduct along the foreshore in early morning or late evening) have been going up & down, corresponding with similar fluctuations in the numbers of adult birds on site. This morning for instance, it was notable that the majority of fledglings along the foreshore are those at the young end of the scale (20+ days old) & can be identified by having blunt wings, sandy coloured upperparts & remnants of downy chick fluff on their head. The proportion of 'fully' juvenile Little Terns (30+ days old) with long wings, dark caps, dark bills and scaly black & grey upperparts, has decreased quite a bit. So I reckon somewhere in the region of c.45 juveniles & c.80 adults have now left the colony!

Juvenile Little Tern getting fed © Jamie Durrant
At the complete opposite end of the scale however, we're still finding new nests & yesterday I marked out our latest one (K120) which contained a single egg! As I suggested before, these are more than likely arrivals from another colony altogether which abandoned for whatever reason & moved to Kilcoole to try again. It's getting a bit silly now though as any nests that hatch out after the weekend won't be fledged by the time we finish up here for the season! 

One of the latest nests, with an interesting egg pattern © Niall Keogh
It would seem a bit harsh but I suspect & hope that many of these later nests will abandon over the coming weeks. This would actually be better off for the birds as they will be putting a lot of strain on themselves by raising chicks right up until the point when they will have to begin their return migration which could lead to the parents not being in as good condition to do so as they should be. Any late fledglings will also be at a disadvantage as they will not have had as much time to strengthen & learn to fend for themselves as the first lot have, again putting them at a disadvantage when migrating. Anyway, we'll see how the nest situation pans out over the next 3 weeks but my prediction is a run of abandonment to come.

A well grown chick on the foreshore doing it's best to hide from me! © Niall Keogh
The local predators & tides have been behaving themselves lately and we've had no recent chick losses to report. Three long dead chicks have been found however in the tideline & were most likely killed during the storm on 17th June. I have yet to find anymore on subsequent searches so it seems that we got away lightly (relatively speaking)! Since corvid attacks have stopped, egg loss has centred mostly around infertility & abandonment. A total of 7 nests have been abandoned this season (due to various reasons such as bad weather & Peregrine predation of adults). Furthermore, the entire clutch from 5 nests have failed to hatch along with single eggs from a couple of nests containing 2 or 3 eggs. This is just par for the course with some pairs, perhaps involving very young or very old pairs.

So the figures at present are: 130 nesting attempts have been made by 99 pairs with 132 young (c.88 fledglings & c.44 chicks) so far & a further 36 eggs left to hatch from a total of 21 nests.

Eggs which fail to hatch often contain dead chicks like this one © Niall Keogh
Hedgehog looking rather guilty after being caught by Cole trying to sneak in! © Niall Keogh

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Wildlife sightings 28th June-14th July

Sorry about the lack of updates lately folks, I've been slipping behind a bit! Just thought I'd post some recent notes on wildlife sightings from the area over the past 2 weeks with some pics to keep you tied over until I do a colony update (which will be up tomorrow), so anyways, here you go:

Birding in the general area hasn't been too bad of late to be honest (July can sometimes be dead quiet). A flock of 175+ moulting Mallard on the marsh have drawn in 5 Teal, 4 Tufted Duck, 4 fledged juvenile Shoveler (from this years successful breeding pair) & a male Wigeon. Other species of note include up to 25 Little Egrets (incl. several juveniles), a Kingfisher and a escapee/feral Bar-headed Goose along with a Barnacle Goose in The Breaches on 4th July. Cole & Jason flushed a Quail from the Marram Grass along the railway embankment near our caravans on 7th July but the less said about that the better because I've never seen one!!! :(

The northward passage from the Lady's Island Lake gull & tern colony in Co. Wexford continues with family parties of Sandwich Terns, quite a few juvenile Black-headed Gulls, small numbers of adult Common & Arctic Terns, 3 more adult Roseate Terns & a total of 15 Mediterranean Gulls (incl. 9 juveniles) all moving north since my last post. A juvenile Common Gull has even made an appearance but I'm not so sure where it may have originated from. A couple of 1st-summer Little Gulls have dropped into The Breaches during periods of inclement weather, with a fine adult summer bird making an appearance there too on 5th July. A Peregrine which passed over the colony this morning was not only being mobbed by a large group of terns but also by an adult dark phase Arctic Skua which was an awesome sight to say the least! After the 'Pere' had gone  the terns then switched their attention to the skua who was promptly seen off. The thanks you get eh?

Wader passage is tipping along nicely with max. counts in brackets for the following species; Curlew (75+), Turnstone (20+), stunning adult summer Black-tailed Godwits (55), Redshank (21), Dunlin (20), Common Sandpiper (6), Golden Plover (2), Knot (2), Whimbrel (2) and singles of Greenshank & Sanderling. A Green Sandpiper that dropped into The Breaches this morning was most welcome & hopefully is a sign of good things to come!

Green Sandpiper © Niall Keogh
Some recent spells of calm & sunny weather have brought local Lepidoptera out in force. Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Small White & Speckled Wood have all been noted along with a nice Hummingbird Hawk-moth on 3rd July. Cetacean sightings have also picked up with several sightings of a mother & calf Harbour Porpoise (feeding 20m off the beach yesterday evening!) plus another single adult over the past few days. The now infamous trio of Bottlenose Dolphins were also seen on Monday & Wednesday, breaching 50m offshore at times! At least 2 Otters are still knocking about in The Breaches & Webb's field most nights too.

Harbour Porpoise © Niall Keogh 
Small Tortoiseshell © Niall Keogh 

Meadow Brown © Niall Keogh

Common Blue Damselfly © Niall Keogh
Pyramidal Orchid © Niall Keogh