Sunday, 24 July 2016

Goodbye, until next year!

Today we are saying goodbye earlier that usual as the final pair of Little Terns left the area yesterday. It appears that the majority of adults and fledglings have moved up to Baltray, as reports are coming in of colour ringed fledglings that were ringed here at Kilcoole. Most evenings last week there was a roosting flock of around 86 birds at Baltray.

Little Tern Fishing
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty) 
The fencing has been taken down now, as the birds have completely finished nesting for the year and the roosting flock no longer needs its protection either. We would still urge beach goers to keep a careful eye out when walking on the shingle as there are still Ringed Plover chicks hidden amongst the pebbles.

Little Tern chick almost ready to fledge
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)

This season didn't go too well for the Little Terns here. Although we started off well, with over 150 nests, it all went downhill from there. Halfway through June we had a troublesome fox who made its way into the colony one night, and helped itself to over 40 nests and countless chicks! At the south colony, a mixture of foxes and human disturbance lead to a complete failure of this colony, which had 35 nests. On top of this all this, there was a shortage of food for the chicks late in the season, this lead to a high mortality rate among chicks, even those close to fledging age. This was a similar story to what was seen on Rockabill and other Tern colonies on the east coast.

Little Tern chicks just after hatching
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)
In the end, around 50 Little Tern chicks managed to fledge from the colony, which is significantly below average for this site. Last year there was a staggering 293 chicks fledged! There was also around 20 Ringed Plover chicks fledged from the colony as well, but unfortunately out of the 3 Oystercatcher nests we had, no chicks survived to fledged.

Ringed Plover chicks are very well camouflaged in the shingle
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)

We had a total of 126 species of bird seen in the area since the project started back in May, including Hobby, Glossy Ibis, Great White Egret, Cuckoo, Short-Eared Owl, Long-Eared Owl, Red Kite and Great Skua. Apart from the birdlife, we also saw 8 species of Butterfly, including Ringlet and Small Heath. We have also seen Otter, Viviparous Lizard, Harbour Porpoise, Bottle-nosed Dolphin and  a Grey Seal dining on a Ray.

Little Tern bringing in fish for a chick
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)

We would like to thank all of our volunteers that helped us throughout the season this year and all of the public who use the beach around the colony for your continued interest and support for this project.

Little Tern attacking a warden!
Taken under NPWS licence (K Delahunty)

-Paddy and Kevin

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

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Egg-cellent Camouflage!!

Today we want to introduce you to some of our breeding pairs of Little Terns and their nests. Each pair will lay between one and three eggs over the course of four days, which they incubate for around 25 days. They won’t start this properly until the last egg is laid. Usually eggs are laid in a small hole or ‘scrape’ which their parents have dug out with their legs. Often a pair will have made several of these scrapes, and then decide which they will move into. They can be seen early in the season walking together from one scrape to the next, quite clearly house hunting.

Like many seabirds, Little Terns don’t put much effort into their nest. They lay their eggs straight onto the beach, either on sand or shingle. 

A nest in shingle Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
A nest on sand Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
This may seem careless but Tern eggs are perfectly camouflaged to blend into their surroundings, so they are very difficult for predators (or Wardens!) to find. Their camouflage is so good that adults will occasionally end up incubating a pebble by mistake!

 Accidental rock adoption... Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

One of our pairs this year has laid a very strange egg. It is white all over and has no markings or speckles. Most eggs are either brown or grey and are covered in mottles. It will be interesting to see what happens!
A completely white egg, very unusual Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

One peculiar habit of some Little Terns is that they will ornament their nests. They decorate their scrapes, usually by carrying in pale coloured pebbles and surrounding their eggs with them. Sometimes they will also drag in nearby twigs or seaweed.  

A nest decorated with pebbles Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
A nest decorated with twigs and grass Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

The colony is doing well, with 68 chicks and 231 eggs still left to hatch! June is the perfect time of year to come and see them. We are always around to answer any questions you have.

Welcome to the world! Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

- Paddy and Em

Friday, 10 June 2016

Proud Parents

Our first chicks have hatched!!! Little Terns incubate their eggs for just 21 days before they hatch, so we knew that our first babies were due yesterday. Sure enough, when we went out into the colony to carry out our daily nest checks, we found three nests with tiny chicks hatched just a few hours previously.

So cute! Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

Some of them were so freshly hatched that they were not yet dry. This little guy still had bits of his egg shell attached.
Just escaped the egg Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

We were lucky enough to come across one chick in the midst of battling from his shell. His younger sibling had also just managed to break a hole in his shell with the egg tooth on the end of his bill. This falls away after about a day.

Making slow progress.... Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)
As soon as the chicks have grown enough, we fit them with a metal ring with has a unique identifying number on it. This helps with our research, as it means that individual birds can be tracked, which gives us information about their foraging movements and migration as they get older.

Applying a metal ring Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Throughout the summer we will also take measurements of their wing length and weight so we can understand more about their growth rates and development. When first hatched Little Terns weigh around 7 grams and have wings just 11 or 12 millimetres long. So tiny!!!
Getting his tiny wing measured Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)

Newly hatched chicks weigh just a few grams Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)
-Paddy and Em

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Suprise Visitor...

Today we had another dramatic rescue situation! We were carrying out our daily monitoring of the Little Tern colony when we spotted a Razorbill in trouble a little way offshore. It was soaking wet and struggling to swim. It managed to get to the safety of the shore but immediately came under attack from the Little Terns, who were protecting their nests from this harmless intruder.
How did I end up here?? (P.Manley)

We dashed down to the shore and walked towards the bird from opposite directions. We were able to walk straight up to it and pick it up without it struggling or trying to get away; always a bad sign. We dried it off and left it to rest in a dark box. 
Much happier after a rest (P. Manley)

After an hour it was much more energetic; we got some pretty painful bites trying to catch it in the box! 

Ready to be released! (E. Witcutt)
We took it down to the shore, this time away from the Little Terns and released him back into the water.
Eager to go (P. Manley)

After a few seconds he dived down and started fishing. Then off he went out to sea to live out the rest of his life. Another happy ending!

Happy as Larry! (P. Manley)
- Em and Paddy

Saturday, 28 May 2016

100th egg

 We've reached our next milestone down here on the beach, our hundredth egg was laid yesterday! So far the colony has 52 active nests, and they're still going strong. Last year was a record, with 155 nests, but there's still plenty of time to catch up.

Incubating Little Tern Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Little Terns are good parents, and our colony are looking after the eggs well, although we are having some trouble with Hooded Crows. When the eggs are first laid, the female will stay with them for the first few days while her mate brings in food, then the male will take his share of incubation. They are very attentive and will sit on the nest for hours at a time, so when it's time to swap places they usually stand around for a while and have a good stretch before heading off to feed.

Having a stretch Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Feel free to pop down for a visit. The wardens are always around and are always happy to chat about the Little Terns and the other wildlife at the beach.

-Paddy & Em

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Beach Babies!

So sweet... Ringed Plover chicks Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
We have our first chicks!! Not Little Terns, it’s a little too early for that… but Ringed Plover. We were carrying out our daily nest checks of the Little Tern colony and spotted three tiny balls of fluff. 

Ringed Plover nests are amazingly camouflaged Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
And their chicks are very good at hiding too! Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)

Ringed Plovers leave their nest very soon after hatching so these guys were probably less than a day old, and already running around the beach on their long spindly legs. We have plenty more nests around so hopefully lots more chicks will be popping up in the next few days.

These birds are excellent parents. If the adults think something might be threatening the young, they perform a ‘broken-wing dance’. They stumble away from the nest, holding their wings at an awkward angle. The idea is that any predator will think the adult is injured so will be an easy meal, and will attack it rather than finding the nest. Parents literally sacrifice themselves so that their chicks stand a chance of surviving!

A proud parent with a youngster Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
Elsewhere, our Little Terns are well on their way to becoming parents too. We’re up to 40 nests now, with plenty more expected over the coming days. Feel free to come down to the beach for a visit, there will always be a warden around to give you a view of the birds and answer any questions you have.

Paddy and Em