Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Start of Another Season!

It's now mid May, and the Little Terns are just arriving back at Kilcoole after spending the winter around the warm seas of west Africa. Over the past two weeks the numbers of Little Tern have been steadily increasing, with a peak of 150 birds on Saturday. We expect this number to continue rising over the coming weeks. The birds are busying themselves with displaying and courtship. The males can be seen flying over the colony calling while carrying freshly-caught sand-eels in the attempt to woo a mate. The first copulation was observed on Sunday the 13th, so we expect our first eggs within the next week!

The wardens have been onsite since the 30th of April, setting up the caravans and preparing the beach for the first Little tern nests. The winter storms have had profound effects on the beach at Kilcoole, and there's a notable abundance of sand in the preferred Tern nesting areas, so we will watch with interest to see how the terns deal with this potential challenge over the coming season. So far the wardens have spent most of their time erecting temporary flexi-net fencing, demarcating the safe areas in which to walk (to avoid inadvertently trampling chicks or eggs). We've erected the colony and public fencing, as well as the Wardens' hide. Some attention has also been directed at locating the nests of other beach-dwellers, and to date 7 Ringed Plover and 2 Oystercatcher nests have been found! The wardens are present with telescopes, and would be happy to show you the incubating Ringed Plovers, 'Oycs' and the Little Terns, so make sure to pop down for a visit!
We've only been on-site just over two weeks, but already the great biodiversity of Kilcoole is apparent; we've seen Harbour Porpoise, Otter, Grey Seal and even Harbour Seal in and around the colony. This year one of the wardens(yours truly) is a keen birder, and I've already had some excellent scarcities such as Yellow Wagtail, Garganey and Little Ringed Plover around the colony. Good numbers of migrating Whimbrel are also a feature, while every day there's a new flock of waders in the lagoons. If you have any bird sightings, or indeed any wildlife sightings in general from the area, feel free to tell a warden, and we'll include them on our blackboard which will soon be back in its rightful place welcoming walkers from the north with the latest colony news. 

Will update soon on the latest developments.


The caravans are back in place by the colony

Chris working on some flexi-net fencing

RP1- The first nest found on the beach this year

Erecting the hide

'The weather has taken a tern for the worse!'

A rare visitor to the lagoons behind the colony- A little ringed plover

Every inch of shingle is precious!

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