Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Spring tides and storms

The Terns and I spent Monday sheltering from the wind and driving rain. The sea was angry and, combined with Spring highs, crashed its way up the beach and into the colony.

Many of the chicks sought refuge in "chick shelters" that the wardens have positioned in strategic locations around the colony. These are roofing tiles placed on the ground that a chick can duck under in a hurry! While they were used as rain shelters on Monday, on warmer days the chicks will enjoy the cool shade the shelter provides, and they are also ideal boltholes when a bird of prey passes overhead!

Chick shelter (with no chick!)
Not quite what we had in mind.... © Niall Keogh (picture taken under NPWS licence) 

Unfortunately, we suffered heavy losses during the high tide and stormy winds. It has brought us rather abruptly close to the last nest hatching. Over the weekend, tides of 4.2m+ swept away 17 nests, and two chicks perished in the cold and the waves.

So where do we stand now?

Throughout the season, there have been 171 nesting attempts within the colony (plus 9 more attempts in 2 satellite colonies) with a total of 402 eggs laid. This implies huge productivity for the Little Terns and it is very encouraging to see how well they are getting on in Kilcoole for the past 2 years. So far, 149 of these nests have hatched, producing 286 chicks. On the other hand, 46 of the nests were lost (96 eggs overall). Almost 75% of egg losses were due to the tidal surge in June and the spring tide in July, with the remainder due to a combination of egg infertility, abandonment, loss of the parents and depredation, all of which are to be expected at any breeding colony. Despite rather heavy egg loss, the successfully hatched chicks have survived well, with only 9 losses, and 275 happy chicks currently gambolling about the shingle. If all these little chicks reach fledgling age, Kilcoole will have another record year to celebrate!

There are still 8 active nests on the beach with a total of 20 eggs between them. Now that the high tides are over, these eggs are much safer and, with any luck, we'll have a few more chicks to add before nesting is over.

Susan and Paddy 

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