Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Kilcoole hits double figures!

After the joyous occasion of finally finding the second nest, they just kept on coming! In the past three days, we have shot up from 1 to 18 nests -the season has truly taken off! Many of the nests have one egg, but are likely to add more to their clutch. Two ambitious Terns even have nests of three eggs.

Nest No.9 - a two egg clutch

With the cold wind and rain today, I made the executive decision not to enter the colony so the Terns could stay warming their eggs as much as possible. Much of the afternoon was spent in amusement watching Tern antics from the shelter of the bird-hide. For a bird so elegant in flight that they are nicknamed “swallows of the sea”, the Little Terns really lose their grace down on the shingle. They trip and fall trying to cross the stones on their short little legs, shakily holding out their wings for balance. Of course, when your bill is as long as your face it, is very difficult to look down and see how high you need to lift your little feet, so more than one Tern has ended up sprawled over the stones. Surprised, they scramble up, fold up their wings like nothing just happened, and preserver. Each time they slip and wobble, I wonder why they don’t just take to the air in graceful flight. Perhaps we can take a little something from their determination.

The hide doubles as watchtower and rain shelter

The courting behaviour observed the past week continues. Plenty of male Terns are landing with impressive and tasty fish to present as gifts to their prospective mates. This allows the female to judge whether her chicks will be well provided for: the more fish he can bring her, the more certain she can be of his hunting prowess and capabilities. Single-motherhood for a Tern would prove nearly impossible when she has to be incubating eggs on the shore and hunting sandeels at sea all at the same time. Extensive days of courtship cumulate in a little dancing ritual where the Terns turn their heads from side to side, the male still brandishing a fish, while the female crouches in her freshly dug scrape. After mating, the male waddles around his new mate in a few excited victory laps (until tripping over a pebble, as outlined above).

Young life has come to Kilcoole already…but not on the beach. A Mute Swan with one fluffy cygnet was swimming in the lagoon behind the colony yesterday afternoon, and a Mallard with ducklings last week. We are still waiting for the Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher breeding within the colony to hatch out something cute and fluffy. Some day soon.

Susan and Paddy

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