Sunday, 29 June 2014

Chicks, chicks and more chicks!

Wow, what a busy couple of weeks we have had in Kilcoole! Apologies for the lack of recent updates, the beach has really come alive since our last blog post. It is a minefield out there with new nests still being found and chicks running riot. We now have an army of 150 chicks on the beach with a further 90 eggs expected to hatch! It's a great and busy time to be a warden and we are thankful that the good weather is holding up. 

Kilcoole Little Tern flying off nest © Peter Cutler & Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)
On the 19th of June, after the Spring tides, disaster struck the colony. A mild easterly combined with a high tide was enough to flood the foreshore and it effected almost 30 nests. 10 nests were destroyed completely and it was horrible seeing random eggs washed up in amongst the seaweed. Some nests were completely submerged but stayed put, others were carried by the tide into different locations (and later regathered by the adults) and other nests lost some of their eggs. However, Little Tern eggs are resilient and it was with great joy that we watched the majority of the tide effected nests hatch in the past couple of days. Needless to say that chicks are much better than eggs at avoiding the tide!

Some of the chicks hatching are incredibly small, the smallest chick to date hatched today and weighed a mere 4.57 grams. The first chick to hatch (K1) which is the largest one by some distance (nicknamed Juggernaut) has walked about 400 metres north and out of the colony protection. It may be the biggest but not the brightest! Hopefully it will go undetected outside the colony and fledge successfully. Unfortunately we found 2 more nests far outside the main colony, 1 with chicks and 1 with eggs. Sadly there is not much we can do in this situation so we ask any people walking the beach to try and stay on the path or at least be mindful that not all the terns are in the safety of the fencing!

Little Tern chicks showing different colour legs © FĂ©aron Cassidy & Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)
Kilcoole Little Tern chick (Cedric) © Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)

We would not be able to stay on top of all the work here in Kicoole if was not for the help of our volunteers. We are very grateful for all the hours they have put in and it really makes a big difference to our efforts here! So, all in all, things are looking very good in Kilcoole. Regardless of what happens with the rest of the season we know that the Little Terns are doing well by the record numbers here and in Baltray. It is a great time to come down and see the colony so why not pop down for a visit?

Volunteer Cian Cardiff helping warden Andrew Power © Chris Dobson

Andrew Power and Darren O'Connell


Monday, 16 June 2014

The first chicks and a record year!

It happened. The record has been broken. There are an astonishing 108 active pairs of Little Terns in Kilcoole. The previous record was 106 pairs in 2006. Incredibly, we are still finding nests and are expecting some more to relay. We were agonisingly stuck on 99 nests on Saturday the 14th of June but we completed the century with a tentative single early Sunday morning. This was perfect timing for the hugely successful Carlow and Wicklow Branch of BirdWatch Ireland outing later in the morning. Darren and I were both involved with the Baltray Little Tern Project last year which was also a record year so our good luck continues. However, we are under no illusions and records do not matter in June. We will see how the Little Terns are doing in August! Nevertheless it is great to see so many of them nesting here and with the good weather we hope this excellent start continues. 

Kilcoole Little Terns © Peter Cutler

The good news does not stop there as our first Little Tern chicks of the year hatched today! K1, found on the 25th of May, had 2 chicks this morning. When we checked the nest the second chick had just hatched and it was unusual to see the egg shell still in the nest and yolk on the head of one of the chicks! K1 was laid earlier than the rest of the group so most off the hatching will take place later this month. There are a staggering 244 eggs on the beach. This makes the colony all the more attractive and vulnerable to predators. The colony is now a beacon to predators with so many birds and eggs and the density of nests is so high that any stray dogs (or members of the public!) have a much higher chance of crushing eggs if they enter the colony. 

The first Kilcoole Little Tern chicks 2014 © Anne-Lise Gerard & Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)
We started seeing some strange creatures drifting under the bridge into the lagoon a couple of days ago. We now have up to 40 Barrel Jellyfish washed up into the lagoon. Some of them are gigantic and can be up to 80 cm in diameter and weigh 35 kg! Check out this link to find out more - The good weather has also brought out the more colourful day flying moths such as the Hummingbird Hawk moth, the Six-Spot Burnet moth and the Cinnabar moth. The Oystercatcher chicks that hatched last week seem to be doing very well and starting to bulk up in size. We've also got another Oystercatcher pair nesting in the south end of the colony which gives us a total of 3 nests in close proximity. This gives the terns in the south end of the colony 6 hefty bodyguards. 

Barrel Jellyfish © Anne-Lise Gerard 
Kilcoole Oystercatcher chick © Anne-Lise Gerard & Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)

Andrew Power and Darren O'Connell

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of a Little Tern Warden

* Before we update you on all the exciting news from the Little Tern Project I would like to remind everyone that there will be a joint Carlow and Wicklow Branch of BirdWatch Ireland outing to Kilcoole on Sunday the 15th of June. We will be meeting at the Kilcoole Railway Station carpark at 10:00am. This is always a great opportunity to meet some of the conservation team and get a guided tour of the Little Tern Colony!

Kilcoole Little Tern © James Murphy

It has been a strange week here in Kilcoole full of highs and lows. The nest explosion has continued and we're still finding more by the day. We have more than double the amount of the nests than the previous year! However, we were brought back to reality on Monday morning the 9th of June (the day the Earth stood still) after we discovered that 10 nests were depredated in the space of a couple of hours! 4 nests were completely destroyed and 6 were partially depredated, 4 of which were later abandoned. We did not see the culprit but based on the evidence it was almost certainly a corvid. It was most likely one of the usual suspects, Hooded Crows or Rooks, but we're not ruling out the Jackdaws, who have become ever bolder in entering the colony in search of food. It was hard to take at the time, especially as we were steamrolling our way to 100 nests! Luckily this attack has come early in the season, meaning that affected Little Tern pairs have a chance to relay, so all is not lost. For the moment the attack remains an isolated one but we will remain vigilant. The topography of the beach is more erratic than in previous years which leaves plenty of blindspots for predators to exploit and there is no predator out there as canny as a corvid.

Usually corvids leave no trace after taking eggs but on this occasion they left a messy scrape behind © Anne-Lise Gerard

Disturbance in general has been quite high this week with a number of unleashed dogs wreaking havoc on the foreshore and we recently discovered a nest, with the egg intact, covered in blood. A grim sight and proving to be a bit of a mystery. Before Monday morning we lost one nest to an unknown predator but we suspect it to be an Oystercatcher. Oystercatchers do not really look for Little Tern nests but, like most animals, they are opportunistic and will not tern down a free meal! We also lost one nest to the tides. We have a number of nests that are precariously placed on the foreshore that we are keeping a close eye on. The Spring tides are fast approaching but the forecast is looking good so fingers they can get through the next week.

Kilcoole foreshore vulnerable to high tides © Kristina Abariute

The road to recovery has already begun. We have subsequently found  7 nests and we know there are more out there. We now have a staggering 91 active nests with a combined total of 216 eggs! In the knowledge that there are more nests to find and that there are 10 pairs that need to relay, we know that we have over a 100 breeding pairs in Kilcoole which is great news. We are also expecting the first Little Tern nest (K1) to hatch in the next couple of days. Our first Oystercatcher nest hatched yesterday and we now have 3 prehistoric looking chicks running around on the beach to join the Ringed Plover chicks!

Kilcoole Oystercatcher chicks © Kristina Abariute & Andrew Power  (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)

 Kilcoole Ringed Plover chick © Kristina Abariute & Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)

There is always exciting wildlife to be found  in Kilcoole. The good weather has brought out the butterflies, damselflies and lizards but the highlight of the last couple of weeks has to be this stunning Osprey which briefly flew south past the colony!

Kilcoole Osprey © Niall Keogh

Andrew Power and Darren O'Connell

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Egg explosion! (not literally)

On the 28th of May we had but one nest. In the space of 5 days there has been an explosion of egg laying on the beach and we now have 40 nests, with a combined total of 61 eggs! The terns have evidently taken advantage of the good weather and we're expecting this trend to continue.

Little Tern nest © Andrew Power (Picture taken under NPWS  licence)

Many terns have been nesting beside the colony's Oystercatcher pair, perhaps taking advantage of the their guard dog capabilities! The Oystercatchers will call loudly and aggressively chase away any potential predators from their nest site. However the Oystercatchers receive little gratitude for their services as the terns continuously mob them while they are in the colony!

Noisy neighbours! Little Tern and Oystercatcher side by side © Peter Cutler

As always there is plenty of wildlife here in Kilcoole. A family of Otters have been making regular appearances around the camp and a very lonely Whooper Swan can be heard and seen most days calling to itself. It should have migrated by now but may have been injured. For the last few days there has been a Curlew Sandpiper hanging around with a flock of Dunlin which was a nice surprise.

Kilcoole Curlew Sandpiper © Peter Cutler 

Darren O'Connell and Andrew Power