Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Crunching of Carapace

The final Little Tern chick of the Kilcoole season hatched on Monday 22nd July. It will be metal ringed soon, bringing the total to 248 and a further 126 green darvic colour rings applied to the right tarsus of captured chicks will identify these birds as having been born at Kilcoole. Our next duty is to ascertain, to the closest possible account, what proportion of the chicks fledge successfully and to do our best in making sure the percentage is high.
To provide the highest level of protection to Little Terns and their chicks at Kilcoole beach, wardens are present around the clock. This means three wardens, each on sentry duty for eight hours a day. Shifts are divided into morning, evening and night and are rotated occasionally to afford the wardens some variety, whereby the wildlife encountered can vary considerably at different times of the day and night. The morning shift is a marvellous time to experience birds embracing the new day, boldly staking a claim to their territory through their dawn chorus of song. The evening shift, which encapsulates the local celestial meridian, is the best time to encounter heat loving invertebrates such as bees, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.

Birds of the dawn chorus (from top left: Goldfinch, Sedge Warbler, Yellowhammer)

 As the sun retreats and the birds and butterflies abate, a dusky calm descends on the beach and over the lagoon. Gulls and corvids depart the mudflats having foraged contently all throughout the low tide. The chirping of Little Terns recedes, until; silence. Then, an Oystercatcher calls out in it's distinctive trill in typical defiance to the end of the day.

Night has fallen...

I have finished my evening shift. It is now 23:05 and I venture out once again to become a part of the nocturnal wildlife. I have a bat detector in hand and hopes are high for some encounters, due to the warm, calm night. All at once the tiny fluttering silhouettes of bats surround me, resonating at 55KHz on the heterodyne detector, Soprano pipistrelles. With a foraging range up to 3km, they have most likely travelled from a roost in the broadleaved woodland across the lagoon to the west. I retune in the hope of detecting a Leisler's bat, the Irish population is of international importance and the species has been recorded at this location in the past but to no avail.

Pictures above: top left; Four-spotted chaser, top right; Common Blue, bottom left; Small Tortoiseshell, bottom right; Drinker moth caterpillar.

Then suddenly, from within the lagoon, a ripple accentuated by the moonlight and the silhouette of a swimming mustelid comes into view. It navigates into the shadow of the shore, in close proximity but out of sight.. then.. from the other side of the earthen bank.. the crunching of carapace! I retreat with haste to get a torch, feeling certain that another encounter with a mink is looming. Shining the light down from on top of the bank where I am now standing, homing in on the noise, illuminated, chewing, a mustelid indeed, an Otter.

It's great to see an Otter in the lagoon for the first time this season, not least because they will repress the number of mink in the area (Bonesi, 2004) but also because their playful nature and social habits are a joy to watch. Fingers crossed that they hang around.

Bye for now,


Reference, Bonesi, Laura & Chanin, Paul & Macdonald, David. (2004). Competition between Eurasian otter Lutra lutra and American mink Mustela vison probed by niche shift. Oikos. 106. 19 - 26. 10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.12763.x.


  1. Hi Darren - Just like to congratulate you and all the team at Kilcoole for your efforts this season. Yet again another year has passed and I haven't got there but your posts are brilliant and I feel reassured that things are going well. Best regards. DAVID

    1. Thanks for the supportive comments David, hopefully you can make it down next year! All the best, Darren.

  2. Really enjoy your commentary. Keep up the good work.

  3. Keep up the good work Darren and all involved in the project. Great to see first hand the work involved in protecting the future generations of this vulnerable species. Rob ��

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