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!