Sunday, 12 July 2015

Kilcoole Birdlife

The beach at Kilcoole is not only home to the Little Terns: we have many species on the shore, in the lagoon, in the surrounding farmland and offshore. Several of these species are breeding, while others are only passing through, and others are returning after their own breeding season.

Of course, the main focus of this project is on the Little Terns. Little Terns are one of Ireland's rarest breeding birds, following a massive decline in successful breeders in the latter half of the 20th century. The conservation project in Kilcoole began in 1985 with the aim of halting this decline by protecting the breeding birds. It has been extremely successful, and in 2014 enjoyed the highest number if fledged chicks on record. This year may yet reach another record high. 

Captain Splash, the Little Tern (Photo: Brian Power)

The structure of the colony allows other species to breed within the protected area. Each year, several Ringed Plover and a number of Oystercatcher and Skylark, nest and hatch their chicks alongside the Terns. This year, an Oystercatcher with a colour-ring "PJ" was among those nesting at Kilcoole. This Oystercatcher was ringed as part of the Dublin Bay Birds Project, which monitors the activities of wader populations in Dublin Bay. Having spent the earlier part of this year working on the DBBP team, I was delighted to see an old friend come with me to Kilcoole. PJ went on to hatch a brood of three chicks, and we hope to get a second generation ring on there!

PJ - or Patricia Jane- the Oystercatcher (photo: Niall Keogh)
Ringed Plover brooding her chicks among the Tern nests (photo: Chris Dobson)

Skylark nest in marram grass tufts inside the Tern colony (photo: Chris Dobson)

Outside of the colony and into the lagoon, we have many regular avian visitors. The brackish water and exposed mud in the lagoon support breeding Shelduck, Mallard (how could I forget my duckling fiasco?) and Mute Swan. There are plenty of waders, including Turnstone, Curlew arriving back from breeding, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Greenshank. We have already gotten up close and personal with the Dunlin in the lagoon back in an early ringing session at the beginning of the project.

Mute Swan with cygnet (photo: Chris Dobson)
This week also saw the arrival of an interesting visitor -  a White-cheeked Pintail was swimming in the lagoon on Thursday. This pretty Caribbean species most probably wandered out of a garden pond somewhere and ended up in Kilcoole. Although it is completely out of place, it is still a lovely sight.

AWhite-cheeked Pintail wanders into the lagoon (photo: Niall Keogh)

 Also found here are plenty of gulls, such as Greater Black-back, Lesser Black-back and Herring Gull and the past week saw the arrival of Black-headed Gulls in large numbers to the lagoon. We have had a couple of more unusual gull sightings as well - Yellow-legged Gull and Little Gull. Finally, there are the Little Egrets and Grey Herons that have become part of the camp furniture.

Little Egret (photo: Trail Camera)
Grey Heron (photo: Brian Power)
The Sea Buckthorn at the north end of the colony is a nice spot for passerines. The regulars include Reed Bunting, Goldfinch, Linnet, Blue and Great Tits, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit and Wheatear. 
Wheatear on the colony fence (photo: Niall Keogh)
Offshore, a powerful telescope will turn up Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Gannet, Common Scoter, Puffin, Guillemot and Black Guillemot among others. Out on the farmland, there are Yellowhammer and Kingfisher, Sightings have been reported for both of these colourful birds this year, but I myself have yet to spot them! I will be keeping my eyes pealed with every trip!

Susan and Paddy



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