Monday, 7 August 2017

Not a Shingle Warden Left

The Little Tern breeding season has come to a close. 24/hr monitoring of the colony ended on the 22nd of July, and the wardens embarked on their own migration home on the 1st of August. Though we have yet to determine official numbers, it was a very successful season for the Little Terns at Kilcoole. The bare beach is a strange sight, with all fencing and posts removed- the season really flies. Over the next few weeks, the wardens' energies will be put into report writing- I quickly figured out the sparrowhawk was more cunning than me, and chasing him wasted both my time and his. However, considering most chicks were fledged by the time he discovered the colony, we are hopeful not much damage was done.

It's a goodbye from the fledglings, and it's farewell from us. (Sketch by I. Sullivan).

This year, both day wardens were new to the project, and we have loved every minute of the season. We would like to extend our gratitude to all the wonderful locals and visitors to the colony who educated us, entertained us, and inspired us. It's clear that the Little Tern Conservation Project has a special place in the hearts of Kilcoole people, birders, and wildlife enthusiasts alike, and it's heartening that conservation projects such as this one are met with such enthusiasm and positivity. It was a privilege to warden the Little Terns.

-Irene S. and all the Little Tern Conservation Project team.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Living Life On The Fledge Vol. II

Apologies to our followers for the lack of updates recently; the past couple of weeks have been hectic to say the least! The season is coming to a close, with 24/hr monitoring of the colony no longer in practice as the wardens are packing up. Most of the fencing has been taken down and put into storage, and numbers of Little Terns have been gradually depleting as they embark on their journey home. The last active nest of the season, K195, has hatched one chick successfully, so we're hoping this little dude will catch up with its peers.

The last little floof of the season beside the final egg of the season (which sadly, did not hatch). Photo taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
Though this chick is at a disadvantage having hatched this late into July, Little Tern chicks grow incredibly fast, packing on the grammes and milimetres to fledge in just under a month (25-28 days). Following some serious gainz, the chicks begin to grow their pins, developing wings capable of the great flight home. Parent Little Terns definitely deserve a pat on the wing for providing all the sprats, sandeels, gobies and more necessary to satiate the appetite of their chicks.

This older chick is really concentrating on wing development.. look at that unbroken gaze. Photo taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
A sketch of the right wing of the chick featured in the photo above. (I. Sullivan).
The wing of a fledgling. Notice the loss of yellow down, replaced by sturdy grey wings which have yellow and blue-green tones in the covert plumage. (I. Sullivan).

Recently, we were delighted to welcome a really wonderful enthusiastic group of after-schoolers from Little Harvard Creche & Montessori. A fantastic time was enjoyed by all, and we wardens are so chuffed to receive your artworks (Thank you!). I think this collage perfectly captures the essence of the Little Tern:

~Little Harvard-Little Tern Collaboration, 2017.~

We would also like to extend our gratitude to David and Barbara at "Wicklow People." Last week's edition of the newspaper featured an outstanding piece on the work carried out by the Little Tern Conservation Project. It's really great when the efforts carried out to protect the Little Terns are publicised in local media.

You can read their article about the Kilcoole Little Tern Project here.

There appears to be no rest for the wardens despite the season coming to an end, as a local Sparrowhawk has taken to agitating the colony over the past couple of weeks. Though continually chased and mobbed by the terns and wardens alike, this bird of prey could pose a major threat to remaining fledglings and the few young chicks left on the foreshore. Though we're packing up here at Kilcoole, there is still a significant number of terns around - I counted between 20 and 30 today. Therefore, it is vital we continue to respect their presence on the beach as the fencing is removed. 

We would like to extend a massive thanks to all beach users for continuing to ensure the Little Terns aren't disturbed.

Until next time,
Irene and the Kilcoole Team

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Basking Sharks and Basking Lizards

We have found (drum roll) 200 nesting attempts by the Little Terns at Kilcoole this year, with 220 chicks ringed, and numerous fledglings scattered along the foreshore. The chicks are doing very well, and are becoming more independent (and therefore, elusive) by the day. Regular fledgling counts have begun, during which a warden estimates numbers of chicks from a distance using a telescope. Last Wednesday, Chris and Andrew were delighted to welcome visitors from the Garden Team at Sunbeam House. A fantastic day was enjoyed by all, and the group showed great interest and enthusiasm- so thank you so much for coming down guys!! We hope to see you again in seasons to come.

Some chicks and fledglings waiting to be ringed. Photo taken under NPWS licence by Andrew McManus.

The variations in habitat at the Kilcoole site support a wealth of biodiversity. Every day it's possible to come across a species you haven't seen yet in the season. This week, a Basking Shark was seen by Andrew. This is a fantastic spot, as Basking Sharks aren't often present on the east coast. Catching a glimpse of a Viviparous Lizard while strolling along the path is always great, as is watching Grey Seals snooze in the shallows.

A viviparous lizard sunbathing. Photo by I. Sullivan.

The basking shark video is available on the Birdwatch Ireland Wicklow Branch Facebook page:

Over the weekend, we were delighted to welcome a group of visitors made up of highly experienced ringers, birders, and wardens from previous years - a big thank you to Declan, Paddy, Susan and Brian for the fantastic ringing session, and the BBQ!

The colony is beginning to quieten down, as numbers of Little Terns are starting to dwindle and more chicks are taking to the foreshore. However, we do have a few recent hatchings, and around 22 nests are still active. Though these eggs and chicks will not be afforded the protection of mobs of adult terns over the coming weeks, we are hopeful for their success. Stay tuned for the next blog post, which will feature drawings and descriptions of the Little Terns progression from baby hatchling to monster fledgling!

"Are you talkin' to me? Are.. you TALKIN'.. to ME?," - a suspicious fledgling photographed before it was ringed. Photo taken under NPWS licence. (Andrew McManus).

Cobber, the resident Mute Swan by the caravans, with his family behind him. Photo taken by I. Sullivan.
With thanks as always for all the encouragement and support we receive from the public down at Kilcoole.

- Irene and the Kilcoole Team

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Living life on the Fledge

Over the past couple of days, the waves rolled in upon the shingle at Kilcoole and the wardens were temporarily banished to the hide by the bad weather. The fencing around the southern colony was knocked by some unforgiving tides, but this has been repaired and is now back to being a secure barrier against predators. The first round of chicks have mostly entered their tweens, and are speeding around the beach, doing their utmost to evade ring-clad wardens. However, the older chicks are growing up fast, and a few fledglings have been spotted!!
Our fancy shmancy new scales, modelled by a Little Tern chick from the southern colony. Photo taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).

Many birds are still incubating eggs and nests continue to be discovered. More and more puffed-up parents can be witnessed with their wings enveloping chicks and protecting them from the elements. Two very successful ringing sessions were carried out over the past week. A grand total of 190 chicks have been blinged so far. We look forward to their return in seasons to come.
An adult bird seen through the scope, incubating chicks. Photo taken under NPWS licence. (I.Sullivan).

On Thursday 22nd June
, Andrew Butler, Andrew McManus and myself were delighted to welcome Ms. Webb’s sixth class from St. Patrick’s primary school, Greystones. You guys were brilliant! Some excellent questions were asked and great enthusiasm was shown by you all, despite the fact that the walk from Greystones was a strenuous 7km. Nevertheless, Bear Grylls like stamina and good banter fuelled a fun-filled afternoon. As part of the interactive visit, the class were shown a nest on shingle made up of unviable eggs, to illustrate how effective their camouflage is on the beach. We also discussed the breeding behaviour, feeding ecology and migration of the Little Terns. A special thanks must be given to sixth class at St. Patrick’s for naming one of the Little Tern chicks “Réaltóg". We’re optimistic it’ll have a future as bright as it’s name.
The Kilcoole team would like to remind visitors to the beach to please avoid the Breaches outlet, as there may be chicks and fledglings around the area. We greatly appreciate your consideration for the Little Terns and their wandering.
- Irene and The Kilcoole Team

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ringing in full swing

At the moment, here in Kilcoole, entering the colony is like wading through a ball pit, except the balls are chicks...and they are extremely difficult to see! Most of the chicks are going through the "terrible twos," at the moment, toddling off in every direction. However, it's imperative we ring as many as possible as part of the Little Tern Protection Scheme, so all hands have been on deck with Andy Butler, Steve Newton and Jason Monaghan (our local NPWS Conservation Ranger) down to help catch as many chicks as possible.

A relaxed, reclining youngster. Photo taken under NPWS licence, by Andrew McManus.

A Little Tern chick expressing itself. Photo taken under NPWS licence, by Andrew McManus.

The weather has been spectacular of late, and even factor 50 couldn't protect us from farmer's tans. The sunshine and low winds gave us the perfect opportunity to ring as many chicks as we could find within a couple of days. Any recaptured chicks were weighed (using a spring balance) and measured (using a wing rule): this information gives an insight into just how fast the chicks grow in this early stage, as they gulp down the sandeels, sprats and other prey caught by their parents. Chicks that are old and big enough are currently being fitted with colour rings. Green 'darvic' rings with three-alpha or three-alpha-numeric codes, always beginning with "I" (Ireland), are fitted to the tarsus of the leg, so that wherever they go, those Little Terns can be traced back to the Kilcoole colony.

Chris assessing a chick to see if it's grown big enough for a ring. Photo by Andrew McManus.

Yours truly, squatting to pick up a squatting chick. Photo by Andrew McManus.

Little Tern chicks aren't the only chicks scurrying around the shingle. A Ringed Plover nest hatched recently, so keep an eye out for balls of cotton wool on stilts, bumbling along at surprisingly high speeds.

A Ringed Plover chick. Photo taken under NPWS licence, by Jason Monaghan.
We have estimated that we have over 300 Little Tern chicks this year, so the birds are doing very well so far. We continue to find new nests, with 175 discovered thus far, and more expected to be spotted over the next few days. The satellite colony now has 24 nests, and so extreme care must be taken when walking alongside it due to egg and chick camouflage. The shingle around the Breaches is a highway for chicks old enough to explore, and is best avoided. As always we greatly appreciate the enthusiasm the Kilcoole locals show for the project, and the care they express for the Little Terns.

Rainbows like this are a regular sight at Kilcoole: this is one seen from the front window of the hide. (I.Sullivan).
- Irene and the Kilcoole team

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Oldest Chick in the Book

Mayhem has descended on Kilcoole, as Little Tern chicks are hatching left, right and centre....

A pair of Little Tern chicks. Photo taken under NPWS licence. (I. Sullivan)
The adult terns have become ever more protective and territorial, and have started utilising their arsenal of guano against the wardens. Nevertheless, the great work continues. Any chick found is being weighed, their wing lengths are measured, and they are ringed, so as to be able to identify them on future encounters as well as monitor their growth.

Chris, one of the two day wardens here at Kilcoole, weighing a Little Tern chick... like a pro. Picture taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
It's a privilege to watch the Little Tern's journey from egg to chick on a daily basis, but the process is summarised quite nicely by the photo below, which shows a nest holding an egg, a newly hatched young 'un, and a chick a couple of days old.

From incubation to hatchling- the odyssey. Picture taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
In terms of colony news, we found nest number 158 today, and we have 87 chicks!! The satellite colony is still going strong, with 20 nests found, and it's thought that 16 of these are active. The main colony currently supports at least two Oystercatcher nests and at least three Ringed Plover nests. Unfortunately, a local pair of Mute Swans with 7 cygnets appear to have lost one, but the other 6 are going strong. The biodiversity of Kilcoole is extraordinary, and as always we would love to hear of your sightings, so be sure to share them with the wardens as you pass by the colony. The blackboards which display colony news and species spotted in the locality are propped by the north end of the colony, and there's always room to add to the species list! 

The Daily Page Terner- the latest colony scandal, gossip, and craic. (By I. Sullivan).
Finally, we would like to introduce Pádraig Webb, our volunteer of the hour! Pádraig, who just finished his first year studying Wildlife Biology at I.T. Tralee, will be helping out at the colony over the next couple of days. He is very knowledgeable about birds, plants and other wildlife, and has already proven to be a great addition to the Kilcoole team.

Pádraig Webb on his first day volunteering for the Kilcoole Little Tern Project. (I.Sullivan).
That's all for the moment! As always, a massive thanks to those of you following our progress, and to the wonderful locals of Kilcoole for their interest in the project and the care they show when using the beach. Until next time!

Irene and The Kilcoole Team

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Chicks Have Arrived!

The caravans are still in place, the colony is still active, and Ken still hasn't been blown away- though the strong SW winds that have been swirling around the site do mean our resident scarecrow has been sleeping on the job. Some exciting events have been happening over the past week, the most major news being that chicks have started hatching!!

Little Tern chicks. Picture taken under NPWS licence (I. Sullivan).
Their parents have been busy bringing prey species (such as sandeels) back to growing chicks and ensuring their broods stay nice and cosy. Both parents share these duties, and swap roles through out the day. Currently in the colony there are 35 chicks. The satellite colony supports 13 active nests, with the central colony supporting 153 nests.

A highly significant component of the work carried out here at Kilcoole is the ringing of chicks and recording of their biometric data. Measurements such as wing length and weight, taken regularly, provide the wardens with accurate indicators of chick growth rate and general success. Chick growth rates also reflect hunting success and food availability for parent birds. Metal ringing is carried out on newly hatched chicks, while colour rings are fitted when the chicks have grown in order to ensure the weight and size of the ring has no detrimental effect, and stays in place while the chick moves about.

The colony's newly hatched chicks are keeping a pretty low profile at the moment, huddling into the scrapes for warmth and to escape the attention of "predators," (usually a day warden, tip-toeing through the shingle). They are impossibly cute and fluffy and we're looking forward to seeing them grow successfully into fledglings.

The wardens here at Kilcoole continue to strive for Tern safety - carefully moving nests in danger of flooding, and doing their very best to keep an eye out for potential predators. We will continue to provide updates on how the chicks are doing, so stay tuned!

- Irene and the Kilcoole Team

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Rook, Line and Sinker...

It's a beautiful day here in Kilcoole and this week has seen a few interesting developments. The Little Terns continue to exhibit copulation and territorial behaviours, and each day we find more incubating birds. Unfortunately, last week the colony was subjected to an intrusion from a few Rooks, and 8 nests were lost. However, the colony continues to grow, with the current number of active nests at 107!

A view of the hide from the pedestrian pathway.

To deter the crows from any future attempts to nab Little Tern eggs, Ken the Mannequin (so, ManneKen I 'spose?) has been installed at the northern end of the north colony. He stands to attention 24/7, rain, hail or shine, without food or rest... fueled only by the need for vigilance. 


Ken always knew he was meant for a purpose greater than posing in shop window displays in the latest CK y-fronts.

We have some exciting news to share: the first Oystercatcher nest in the colony has hatched, so we have adorable little Oystercatcher chicks running around! Though we haven't managed to capture a photograph just yet, we'll be sure to post one when we can. They're surprisingly hard to sneak up on!

The colony also supports a few Ringed Plover nests. Ringed Plover eggs are distinguished from Little Tern eggs due mainly to their pointed ends (and also, you'll usually find a Ringed Plover feigning a broken wing in the vicinity, in the hopes of distracting you, "the predator," from their brood). Below are a few photos comparing the eggs of Little Terns, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers.

A clutch of Little Tern eggs. This clutch is complete at a max of 3 eggs. Photo taken under NPWS licence.

A clutch of Oystercatcher eggs, which in reality are considerably larger than those of Little Terns or Ringed Plovers. Photo taken under NPWS licence.
A Ringed Plover nest. Photo taken under NPWS licence.
There are over 200 Little Terns here at Kilcoole, doing their best to look after their clutches. Though there has been a couple of days of poor weather, and predators pose a threat, the Terns are dutifully incubating their eggs. They are the smallest breeding tern in Ireland, but they are not defenceless... here is a video of them swooping and diving on a poor Oystercatcher whom they felt annoyed by!

Footage recorded under NPWS license.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

No Stone Left Un-Terned...

Hello Kilcoole colony followers! Apologies for the delay in updates- we’ve had an incredibly busy and unusually quick start to the season. The site wardens and volunteers have been kept on their toes by the frenzy of terns that have settled into their scrapes. The day wardens, Chris and Irene, have spent from dawn ‘til dusk checking nests for incubation; locating newly discovered nests; and checking numbers of eggs. The night wardens have been dutifully protecting the terns from nocturnally active predators, such as the Red Fox, and have ensured that the fencing is so secure, even Andy Dufresne wouldn't get past it.

The Kilcoole site is extraordinarily beautiful and supports a wealth of biodiversity. The wardens’ accommodation is situated right beside a lagoon, from which spectacular sunsets can be observed. The stretch of shingle beach opposite this lagoon, between Kilcoole and Newcastle, is an extremely important breeding grounds for the Little Terns, and so has been protected by Birdwatch Ireland since 1985. 

The lagoon on which the warden's accommodation is located.

The process of finding nests at Kilcoole can be a challenge- the stretch of beach on which the terns lay is comparable to a Where’s Wally book. The tern eggs blend in seamlessly with the shingle, and great care must be taken when walking through the colony (quite literally, walking on eggshells to make sure you don’t walk on eggshells!). The nests are located using a telescope from the hide, and binoculars when walking alongside the colony. below are a couple of images through the scope of Little Terns incubating their eggs.

A Little Tern incubating (1): taken by Andrew McManus under NPWS licence

A Little Tern incubating (2): taken by Andrew McManus under NPWS license
We’re very excited by this year’s numbers. The weather so far has been in the terns’ favour (hopefully won’t jinx that now) and the number of incubated nests is high, so plenty of positives. If you find yourself down around Kilcoole, feel free to ask the wardens on duty any questions you may have on the colony. Our on-site blackboards (updated daily) feature the latest in the colony news bulletin (titled “The Daily Page Terner,”) and also provide a list of species spotted in the locality, to which we would be delighted to add your sightings and contributions.

Stay tuned for our next installation, which will feature some notes on Little Tern biology and more photos, as well as updates on the colony's progress!

Monday, 29 May 2017

First Milestone Reached

Hello again

I promised an update on numbers earlier this afternoon.

We have just marked our 100th Little Tern nest in the main colony of which between 80 and 85 are being incubated. The losses are mostly attributable to Hooded Crows and maybe Turnstones or Starlings; one or two have been abandoned.

In the south colony 13 Little Tern nests have been located of which 11 are presently active.

Nesting in among the terns are at least 3 pairs of Ringed Plover and 3 pairs of Oystercatcher.

Finally, all the local Mute Swan pairs have hatched broods and we have seen families of 2, 4 and 7 cygnets.


2017 - Up and Running

Hello readers

The new breeding season at Kilcoole is well underway and this is a brief update to introduce you to the new team running the project.

Our day wardens are  Chris Johnson and Irene Sullivan backed up by Andrew Butler and Niamh FitzGerald.

The night shift is covered by Cole Macey and Angus Lee.

Additionally, also on site is Andrew McManus (Zoology, Trinity College Dublin) who will be undertaking some research on Little Terns for his undergraduate dissertation.

Hovering in the background are Steve Newton at BirdWatch Ireland HQ and Conservation Ranger Jason Monaghan from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

All these folk will introduce themselves on these pages in the coming weeks and we will also highlight the input of several key volunteers.

We have had a very busy start to the year with our first Little Tern eggs discovered on the very early date of Sunday 14th May.

We now have two sub-colonies, the traditional one north of the Breaches and a secondary one south of the Breaches. Both are now protected by the usual "string" (buffer area) and electric fences to protect Little Tern nests and eggs.

A full tally of nests and interesting observations will be posted soon.


One of the first Little Tern nests of the season. Can you see the egg? Photo taken by Niamh FitzGerald (under NPWS licence)