Saturday, 22 June 2013

New Recruit!

Just a quick post to say our first chick of the year hatched today! 

K2 was the first nest which we expected to hatch and it didn't disappoint. The second egg in the nest had a well defined hole in the shell, poked from the inside out so hopefully today's chick will have a sibling by tomorrow. A couple of other nests are showing early signs of hatching too. Then a large batch of nests are due to hatch from mid-week onwards so it will be all go for the wardens.

We're currently in the midst of a run of high Spring Tides but thankfully the winds are from the West for the next few days so fingers crossed we will get through them with no trouble.

K2 chick & hatching egg © Niall Keogh

Friday, 21 June 2013

Plumbers, Snatchers & Grass Raptors

The section of beach & sand dune at the tern colony site which is fenced off & wardened during the breeding season is also home to a number of other species which we monitor & protect, namely Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher & Skylark.

Ringed Plovers tend to nest a couple of weeks earlier than the terns and there are often pairs already on eggs when we arrive in early May. This year however it was well into mid-May by the time we found the first clutch, seemingly in accordance with the late Spring all round. Since then all has been going well for them and we have a total of 7 breeding pairs which is about average. Two pairs are still incubating eggs whilst the remaining five pairs have hatched their chicks, which can be seen running along the short vegetation line between the shingle beach & sand dunes where they feed on tiny invertebrates.

Ringed Plover incubating, hatching & chicks © Niall Keogh
Our usual two pairs of Oystercatchers laid three eggs each. One clutch hatched on Monday with the young being diligently cared for by their raucous parents ever since then (I get mobbed by the adults constantly, even whilst on the path away from the beach!). The second pair have just hatched their eggs between yesterday evening & this morning! Unlike the Ringed Plover chicks which feed themselves on insects, the parent Oystercatchers must collect food for their young in The Breaches estuary & fly it across to the beach where the chicks are located. A lot of effort when carrying one ragworm at a time!

Oystercatcher pair, clutch of 3 eggs & newly hatched (and hatching!) chick © Niall Keogh

Finally, we have one pair of Skylarks nesting amongst the Marram grass inside the colony fence. They successfully raised one brood of 2-3 young already and appear to be making a start on a second (the pair was seen mating & carrying nesting material). The male continues to sing his heart out, way up overhead during song flight, but also from the ground & on the flexi-net fence around the tern colony.

Singing Skylark © Paul Smith

And if you we're wondering what the title of this blog post is about... We've been making up nick-names for most of the bird species around Kilcoole! So guess which is which!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Mid-June Update

The previous tern blog post mentioned that after a late start, the first egg was found on 27th May. It took a few more days for momentum to pick up but from the 5th June onwards the colony seemed to get into the swing of things and multiple new nests were found each day for the next week or so with 60-80 birds present on most days.

Little Tern egg with an unusual pattern  © Niall Keogh

Amongst this flurry of new nesting we also encountered a small number of losses. Four nests (K1, K3, K8 & K20) abandoned within a few days of laying their first eggs. Reasons for this remain unclear but in previous years we have attributed predation of adult terns by Peregrines & long spells of rough/wet weather as potential causes of nest abandonment. Another theory is that some pairs may involve first time breeders, which might not have the hang of what they are meant to be doing! Nest K23 decided to lay its eggs way out beyond the fencing, far too close to the shoreline and before long it was washed away by a high tide with a backing wind. Again, most likely an inexperienced pair which will hopefully lay a replacement clutch this week further up the beach. Another nest which was lost (K7), had 1 egg predated by an as of yet unknown small mammal. Small shards of egg shell & spilled yolk were all that was left in the nest scrape, which on previous years experience would tie in with those signs known to be left after Hedgehogs had made it into the colony. We performed a thorough check of the sand dunes in the immediate area but found no signs of tracks or droppings. All the tern, Ringed Plover & Oystercatcher nests surrounding K7 have remained active since with no egg loss so we are hopeful that this was an isolated event.
An incubating Little & sound! © Niall Keogh

So after losses have been taken into account, the total number of active pairs as of this evening stands at 28 nests with 57 eggs. This is certainly much lower than what has come to be expected for this stage of the season over the past decade when 50+ pairs could be established. We think this is due to a combination of the late Spring/breeding season being experienced by many species this year and also as a result of the high tides & storms which led to no successful breeding in 2012. Perhaps many of the regular Kilcoole breeders have opted to try somewhere else this year?

Switching colony sites in response to factors such as vulnerability to tides, increased disturbance by people or the presence of certain predators is normal behaviour for terns. Little Terns in particular are known to move location within the same season if the initial area they chose doesn't suit. At the same time they are also known to return the next year if all seems ok. As such we aren't too worried by the fact that there are (relatively) low numbers of breeding birds present this year. In fact, we're delighted there's some back at all!

With that in mind, we'll be doing our utmost to ensure that those birds which have graced us with their presence this year will be pampered, guarded 24/7 & treated to the full VIP wardening package!

A joint BirdWatch Ireland Wicklow & Carlow Branch outing to the colony site today was well attended! © Andrew Power

A 'blue' variety of Little Tern eggs © Niall Keogh

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Guided Walk this Sunday

The annual outing to Kilcoole led jointly by the BirdWatch Ireland Wicklow & Carlow Branches will be held this Sunday, 16th June meeting at Kilcoole train station car park at 10:00am.

The walk will take in the birds & wildlife of the coastal marshes & seashore, culminating with a visit to the Little Tern colony where wardens will be on hand to show participants nesting terns, Ringed Povers & Oystercatchers through telescopes.

This is a free event & all are welcome!

Little Tern © Niall Keogh

Monday, 10 June 2013

Screening of Tern Documentaries

The BirdWatch Ireland Wicklow Branch will be showing the recent Kilcoole Little Tern & Rockabill Roseate Tern documentaries tomorrow evening (Tues 11th June) at 8pm in The Glenview Hotel near The Glen of the Downs, Co. Wicklow.

This is a free event & all are welcome to attend.

See below for a screen shot of what to expect!

Nest camera footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler