Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Back in Business

After the recent combination of a Spring tide wash out and subsequent crow predation leading to the loss of all nests at the colony, our Little Terns became quite unsettled and by mid last week nearly all the birds seemed to have left the site for the most part. Some small groups would appear during the day, wheel around for a few minutes and then head back out to sea, roosting flocks arrived very late in the evening and birds were generally only present for a few hours the next morning with numbers just reaching about 50 terns. Several hours would go by without a single tern being seen and the silence was most certainly deafening, a development noted by several members of the public just as much as the wardens!

A relatively quiet past week allowed us to get some jobs done, such as building our research & monitoring hide © Niall Keogh
Little Terns will often 'jump ship' and move to another colony if a disaster strikes during their first breeding attempt of the season. This has happened in years gone by where birds breeding in Wexford abandoned their site due to some persistent Peregrine activity followed by a move to Kilcoole. Taking this into account, we were keen to find out if the other major east coast breeding colonies of Little Terns had been affected by the same misfortune we had and whether their numbers would increase or decrease there over the coming weeks as a result of birds redistributing.

The news we received was bad. The Little Tern project at Baltray in Co. Louth was also washed out by the Spring tides and a large colony in Wexford which is being monitored by NPWS staff suffered 100% loss at the same time. Much to the delight of both the wardens and the public, the situation at Kilcoole however has improved markedly in the past few days.

I awoke on Sunday morning to the raucous chatter of flocking and displaying terns over the colony, a sound which actually warmed my heart and I was overcome with a sense of relief. The birds were quite obviously settling back down with plenty of courtship feeding, nest site selection and some successful mating was noted throughout the day. Later that evening, the distinctive posture of incubating birds heralded the arrival of new eggs! Laying has continued since & as of this afternoon we have 16 active nests with 23 eggs. Clutch sizes have been limited to 1 or 2 eggs but this is expected with re-lays, which are always smaller than the first attempt. 

Some eggs are most certainly better than none however!

K86, the first of the re-lays © Niall Keogh
Since then we have been flat out trying to ensure these new nests receive the utmost protection we can provide with several volunteers coming down to help us out who have rallied to the cause after hearing about last weeks misfortune. Crows have been chased, Foxes have been shouted at & I even frightened off a Short-eared Owl which landed on the beach at 23:50 last night! 

The only loss to report on was a most unexpected one. Yesterday afternoon, whilst the terns were off on a social flocking 'dread', an Oystercatcher lifted a single, unguarded egg out of nest K92 and flew off with it! I was totally shocked at this latest development. Oystercatchers are regarded as infrequent predators at Little Tern colonies & a small number of losses have occurred at Kilcoole over the years (with the most recent confirmed Oystercatcher predation as far back as 1997). I'm convinced that this Oyc wasn't one of our breeding birds, merely an interloper which saw an opportunity for a quick meal. The two pairs nesting alongside the terns have done so for the past few weeks without any incident so why they would change their behaviour all of a sudden is beyond me. In any case, we'll keep a close eye on any Oycs in the colony over the coming days for further signs of divilment!

Stay out of trouble! © Niall Keogh

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