Friday, 25 May 2012

Egg-cellent News

It almost felt like it wasn't going to happen. Wardens on site for over 2 weeks, fencing around the main colony completed well in advance, Little Terns arriving in their droves and even the Ringed Plovers & Oystercatchers were getting on with the business of nesting but where were the tern eggs?

The typical window for finding the first nests at Kilcoole would be between 18th-21st May but those dates came & went without a hint of any laying. There was some decent weather over the weekend, large numbers of birds were present, mating had been confirmed & nest site selection had increased dramatically but we just couldn't find an active nest. Then, as blasé as anything, on Tuesday 22nd May, a Little Tern was seen sitting low against the shingle in a rather suspicious manner. After all the terns in the area took flight in a dread (a form of social flocking), the bird in question returned to the same spot & shuffled down...This was it! I creeped slowly out across the shingle, staring no more than a few inches ahead of each footstep for fear of crushing something precious but then there it was, as plain as day, a lovely egg! WE'RE IN BUSINESS!!!

K1 on Tuesday © Niall Keogh
The nest was marked as K1 and some relevant details such as position, width of scrape, substrate type (sand/shingle) & presence of any decoration (mussel shell shards, plant debris etc.) were noted. Laura had no bother finding K2 the next day, also incubating 1 egg...her first Little Tern nest! Observations on Thursday revealed another 6 new nests with an additional 3 found & marked this morning. What's more, K1 now has a full clutch of 3 eggs & several more have laid their second. So, as of this evening we have 11 pairs of Little Terns with 16 eggs.

K1 on Friday © Niall Keogh
K1 female, incubating away like there's no tomorrow! © Niall Keogh
A peak count of 187 Little Terns was made last Saturday afternoon when most birds were day roosting along the foreshore. Since then, mid-week flock counts have been fluctuating between 110-155 birds but courtship display, mating & nest site selection are still ongoing at a tremendous rate. It was no surprise that the first nest was found early this week as soon as the weather improved & the shingle started to warm. This was certainly the trigger the birds were waiting for. With a favourable forecast for the next week we are hopeful that it will only get busier.

A fish 'gift' from the male is usually an essential precursor to a successful mating © Niall Keogh  
Little Terns mating © Niall Keogh
In anticipation of several pairs of terns settling at the sub-colony site south of The Breaches (N-colony), myself & some volunteers fenced off a section of the beach there on Wednesday. A pair of Oystercatchers & a pair of Ringed Plovers both of which are incubating full clutches of eggs are also present at the N-colony & are now availing from the extra protection. Furthermore we have discovered a third pair of Oystercatchers, nesting inside the K-colony just 20m from the original nest there, something which I have not witnessed during my time as a warden at Kilcoole. Oystercatchers are extremely territorial so how these 2 pairs are tolerating each other is beyond me. In any case, the new 'tenants' are most welcome as they have been ferociously fending off any Great Black-backed Gulls or Hooded Crows that have strayed too close over the past couple of days. Not to be messed with! 

Fencing system around the K-colony © Niall Keogh
Volunteers Joe Byrne & Finnian Kelly © Niall Keogh

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