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

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