Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Fledglings at Kilcoole

We were sad to say goodbye to Em who had to leave the project at the end of June to go to a new contract. She is off to the South Atlantic to work with Albatrosses on Gough Island. Kevin has now joined the team, moving down from Baltray, which had an unsuccessful year with no Little Terns attempting to breed and has been delighted to begin working on the colony.

We have had our first fledged Little Tern last week, the first chick was seen making short flights inside the colony on the 3rd of July. After many hours of practicing in the relative security of the colony, this little guy built up the confidence and strength to make his first flight out to sea on the 4th of July. Since then, more and more of the chicks have fledged every day. We now see 15-20 chicks roosting with the adult terns and learning how to fish just offshore. The first of our fledglings have started to move off as they are not reliant on their parents for food or protection any longer. These fledglings will fly up and down the coast looking for other potential nesting sites for when they become mature. Once they get the lay of the land they will begin flocking up and heading south to the west of Africa where they will spend their first two years before coming back to breed in 2018.

Little Tern chick almost ready to fledge
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)
 Meanwhile, the last of the eggs have hatched, with the final chick hatching on the 7th July. The new chicks have all left their nests now making it difficult for us to monitor them. Our careful patrols reveal that we still have about 15 unfledged chicks that are still under care from their parents. Unfortunately, 1-2 dead chicks were discovered daily during last weeks patrols of the foreshore. These chicks were aged between 3 and 10 days old and had no visible physical damage to the body leading the wardens to believe that they may have starved to death. This has been a constant theme for the past two or three weeks now and one of the reasons why our fledgling numbers are so low this year. The other main reason is due to heavy fox predation on one early morning. This fox is the main reason that the south colony, which hatched 50 chicks, was completely wiped out.

Little Tern flock at roost Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)
Despite the predation and lack of food available, the number of Tern chicks that have made it to fledgling stage is still a notable amount. We estimate that at least 40 chicks have already fledged, and possibly another 15 to fledge in the coming weeks.

Little Tern flock dreading Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)

-Paddy and Kevin

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