Thursday, 20 June 2019

Colony Update

The last couple of weeks have been so hectic that there has barely been time to blog! We left you with news of the presence of American Mink and although there have been several recent sightings from the vicinity of the colony to the East Coast Nature Reserve, this species has not yet inflicted any harm upon the Little Terns. Here's hoping that the lagoon has an ample supply of water borne food to provide adequate sustenance for it/them (there may be more than one!) There have, however been many other unwelcome incursions onto the colony, most notably, beginning on the 27th May an invasion by hedgehogs. Best efforts are made to ascertain the absence of hedgehogs after the perimeter fence is installed initially, by checking the marram grass thoroughly and ensuring the fence is impregnable. However, the wardens have occasionally been working over-time to replace the fence due to radically frequent extreme weather events in late May and early June each time it is washed in on tides driven by strong easterly winds. A weakened boundary section can improve the chances of such opportunistic scavengers gaining entry and causing damage to the colony, as happened twice during the week commencing 27th May, alas, two single hedgehogs were removed to safe distances from the site on two separate nights. Subsequent monitoring of the colony would reveal the perpetual loss that week of 48 nests, although some may be attributed in part to other predators such as corvids. Egg predation by hedgehogs can be identified, firstly; by their ravenous appetite and covert operation and secondly; by the rectangle incision that they craft on the egg, to access it's nutrition.  The colony had experienced it's first major threat, going from an initial population count of 136 pairs down to 88 active nests in a few days. In the aftermath, it appeared as though many birds had abandoned the site. We were devastated but it was early enough in the season for birds to attempt relaying and we were hopeful but above all resolute that this will be the last such of losses.
Left: Hedgehog apprehended on the Kilcoole colony by night wardens. Right: Example. Note the right angled incision in the chicken egg, characteristic of this species, this individual was not the culprit here though.

 Before we move on to some more positive news it must be reported that a continuation in bad weather and wind from the east, last week, caused the 'washing up' of a further 27 nests which had been laid too close to the high tide line. The losses were to include fourteen of the fifteen nests at the 'satellite colony' south of the breaches. Miraculously, one nest remains there and it is that of our previously christened pair Evan and Hazel. We have been spared a posit of joy from the almost decimated satellite colony and I fervently look forward to reporting on the arrival of chicks from Evan and Hazel.

Despite a marathon of hurdles, currently the colony remains active and is doing well with the second coming of many Little Terns to the skies over Kilcoole. During the past week the predation threat has diminished considerably allowing many chicks to hatch and many more nests to be relaid. Presently there are 61 active nests and over the course of the past week wardens have been busy ringing a total of 46 chicks.
Little Tern chick alongside expectant siblings.

Incubating. Many birds continue to relay after a harrowing start to the season.
 As always the project is well respected by local residents and beach-goers and their support is most welcome given the myriad of challenges faced from other quarters. Towards the end of May we welcomed the annual visit from St. Laurence's school from Greystones. Pupils of all ages and their teachers joined us over four mornings to see Little Terns and talk about the project and other wildlife using the area.

The visits didn't all go exactly as planned however, as on one of the mornings just as a school group was arriving on site we were accosted by a very tame fox which made it's way along the footpath adjacent to the colony. This fox did not scare easily and barely flinched in the face of a challenge from the two wardens present. Eventually the intruder was escorted away but not before showing a considerable interest to what was happening within the confines of the fenced off colony. Once the fox had departed we were somewhat amazed at the audacity but briskly regrouped to chat to our guests, who were more than happy to have encountered the sly fox.

Fantastically casual Mr. Fox.

Wardens watching Little Terns through the scope with pupils from St. Laurence's school.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been joined by some fantastic people who have volunteered to work on the project. We are most grateful to them for their help and by all accounts the project is providing everyone with good experience of rare breeding seabird conservation.
If you get a chance drop down to the beach and see us, we will be delighted to have a chat! On Saturday we will be joined by the Wicklow branch of Birdwatch Ireland, perhaps you could join them for a full guided tour of the local wildlife from Kilcoole to the breaches, including the Little Terns.

All the best for now,



  1. Great work being carried out. Keep us posted.

  2. So many things happening, hopefully the weather stabilises so they can catch a break. Great blog post and amazing pictures!

    1. Thanks Alex, feel free to start working on your own blog piece for this years project :)

  3. Fingers crossed for the rest of the season. You're all doing a fantastic job!

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