Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Rockabill Species List 2014

So as part of our day-to-day work we've been keeping a species list of the birds we see on and around the island - it's done by a lot of similar projects, and it can be particularly interesting for an island such as Rockabill because only a few species really belong here, but plenty either get lost or blown of course and end up out here! Here's the list of species we've seen so far......

So we've seen all of the usual species that breed on and generally hang around Rockabill:
1) Roseate Tern
2) Common Tern
3) Arctic Tern
4) Black Guillemot
5) Turnstone
6) Oystercatcher
7) Rock Pipit
8) Kittiwake
9) Great Black-Backed Gull
10) Herring Gull

Common Tern - the most numerous species on Rockabill (Picture taken under NPWS license)

We've also seen a lot of water/sea-bird species that breed on the nearby Lambay and Skerries Islands:
11) Cormorant
12) Shag
13) Common Guillemot
14) Razorbill
15) Puffin
16) Fulmar
17) Gannet
18) Shelduck
19) Manx Shearwater

Razorbill - they don't breed on Rockabill, but do breed on nearby Lambay, so they're commonly seen feeding in the sea here
Gannet - Like the Razorbill they breed on Lambay Island, but are often seen passing Rockabill.

We've also seen a few spring migrants that took a slight detour out here! Some probably got lost or blown off course, but the Swallows have bred out here in the past and we're hoping we'll have a pair again this year!
20) Barn Swallow
21) House Martin
22) Cuckoo
23) Willow Warbler
24) Chiffchaff
25) Whitethroat
26) Wheatear
27) Spotted Flycatcher
28) Common Sandpiper

(Barn) Swallow - Hopefully a pair will decide to nest in one of the buildings/sheds on Rockabill this year. (Picture not taken on Rockabill unfortunately)

And here's a 'record shot' of the Whitethroat in one of the gardens on Rockabill. A record shot basically means a photograph that isn't always very good, but shows enough that you're able to ID the bird from the picture!
Male Whitethroat on Rockabill (record shot)

Then there's some birds that are common around Ireland that occasionally show up here. Again, probably somewhat lost but these ones aren't too surprising to see either:
29) Hooded Crow
30) Dunlin
31) Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove
32) Common Gull
33) Collared Dove
34) Pied Wagtail

As well as a not-so-accidental visit from:
35) Peregrine Falcon

And lastly we have two birds that aren't really at home in Ireland at all, but that do turn up here from time to time - both nice surprises to see out on Rockabill! 
36) White Wagtail (a different subspecies to the Pied Wagtail - these guys live on mainland Europe)
37) Little Gull (a passage migrant, a small number spend the winter in the south/east of Ireland)

White Wagtail - a much paler colour than the Pied Wagtail that's quite common in towns and carparks across Ireland. (another record shot).

So that's the 37 different bird species/subspecies we've seen in our three weeks here so far. Last year the wardens managed to see 51 bird species in total - so that's our target to beat!

- Brian and Donnacha

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Everything's Rosy on Rockabill

So we had our first Black Guillemot egg last Friday, our first Common Tern egg on Wednesday, and today we've found our first Roseate Tern egg! While Common Terns nest out in the open, Roseate Terns prefer to nest under cover - either at the base of some vegetation, or in one of the c.700 nestboxes we put out at the start of the season. And the first Roseate Tern egg we found was in one of our nestboxes - Box 302 - and in one of our designated study areas too!

The 1st Roseate Tern egg on Rockabill in 2014 - in Box Number 302.
(Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Roseate Tern egg - note that it's a bit more pointed than the Common Tern egg from earlier in the week, but similarly camouflaged. (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Compared to previous years, the first Roseate Egg is perhaps slightly later than usual. Their first egg can appear anywhere from the second week of May onwards (15 May in 2011), but weather plays an important part and last year's wet summer meant the wardens had to wait until the 29th of May to find the first Roseate egg. They usually start laying 2-3 days later than the Common Terns on Rockabill, so they're fairly consistent in that respect this year.

A Roseate Tern on Rockabill, wearing a BTO ring (left leg) and 'special' ring (right leg) to enable identification of individuals. (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Rockabill holds over 80% of the north-west European population of Roseate Terns, and almost half of the European population including the Azores, so they're our top priority in terms of conservation on Rockabill. The terns have been coming and going a lot over the last few days, so we're expecting a slow trickle of eggs over the next week, but it's great that they've gotten started!

- Brian and Donnacha

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Now it's the Common's turn!

With the news that our BlackGuillemots had been busy laying eggs over the weekend, we knew the Terns couldn't be far behind! So since Saturday we've carried out daily checks for any new eggs. 

Our search for Roseate eggs is quite targeted - they nest under cover so are usually either in a nestbox or under a shrub. Common Terns on the other hand will nest just about anywhere there's a bit of soil or sand, so our search for their first egg has been a mix of optimism that we might find the first egg anywhere, and paranoia that we might just as easily miss it!

Of course, there were other signs that we might start seeing Common Tern eggs soon......
 (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

So we checked everywhere this afternoon - no new Guillemot eggs, no eggs in any Roseate nestboxes, and no sign of any Common Tern eggs either. But then this evening the Terns left the island for a while, so we took the chance to have a bit of a look around knowing that we wouldn't be causing any disturbance. And then, on a small ledge amongst some grass and twigs, we found our first Common Tern egg of the season!

First Common Tern egg of 2014 on Rockabill - found this evening. (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

I must say it's quite morale-boosting to find your first eggs of the season - whether it was the first Black Guillemot egg on Friday, or this evenings first Common Tern egg. Common Terns tend to lay a day or two earlier than the Roseate Terns, so hopefully we'll have some news on that front before the end of the week!

Until then!
- Brian and Donnacha

Monday, 19 May 2014

Weekend Update

So with the news that the first Black Guillemot egg was laid on Rockabill last week (see Friday's blog post here), we've started to check all of our Black Guillemot nest-holes and nestboxes for eggs. There were no new eggs on Saturday, but we found another four yesterday, belonging to three different pairs - two eggs in a nestbox, one in a hole in a stone wall (see pic below) and another in a hole similar to the one where we found the first egg on Friday!

Several of the larger holes in this stone wall are used as nesting sites by Black Guillemots.
Black Guillemots (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

The picture below shows the size of a Black Guillemot egg. This egg was found on one of our first days on the island and was one of last year's that didn't hatch. The colour is a bit washed-out from all the weather over the last 12 months - their eggs are similarly spotted but are a light shade of blue.

An old Black Guillemot egg, around 2.5 inches long. The blue colour has faded but you can still see the spots and markings that give the egg camouflage.

The first egg found on Rockabill this year - a Black Guillemot egg. (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Black Guillemot eggs take 28-32 eggs to hatch, so we should see their chicks in mid-June. Until then we'll have plenty more nests to monitor and eggs to record!

- Brian and Donnacha

Friday, 16 May 2014

Eggcellent News!

(I'm sure every bird blog over the summer will use that pun)

So for our first week here we were getting up at 7am and doing counts of all of the Black Guillemots on Rockabill, to get an estimation of the amount of adults and breeding pairs likely to be here over the summer. While we were doing that we also put out a few special nest boxes, and checked some of the existing holes used by Black Guillemots for eggs. We've seen plenty of holes with heads poking out of them, and a lot have had nice neat little scrapes (they don't build nests - just scrape a kind of little bowl shape in the gravel/soil), ready for egg-laying which we knew could start any day now.

Black Guillemots (All pictures taken under  NPWS license)

So while we were doing some jobs this morning we had a look in some of the holes we were passing. This hole in a wall, partly blocked up by bricks (for shelter) is used by a pair of Black Guillemots and we've given it the rather catchy name of 'east of Fire Point' (it's to the east of a fire point, but you probably guessed that..)....

Home for a pair of Black Guillemots - plenty of shelter and surprisingly spacious inside!

And when Donnacha took a look inside it around 10am this morning, this is what he saw:

(Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Black Guillemot egg - the first egg laid on Rockabill in 2014!
 (Picture taken under  NPWS license)

You can imagine our delight to find the first egg on the island for the 2014 breeding season! We've checked most of the other Black Guillemot nestboxes and holes and none have eggs yet, but we're told by Dr. Steve Newton that the first Black Guillemot egg is usually laid in that part of the island each year!

So there you have it, the first egg of many on Rockabill this year. We'll keep you updated with any further finds! 

- Brian and Donnacha

*We should note that any pictures of eggs or breeding birds on Rockabill shown in this blog are taken with the appropriate NPWS license and nests are accessed as part of our conservation work and research. Under no circumstances should anyone take photos of nests without the appropriate license and training as it can lead to disastrous consequences for the eggs in question - particularly in areas with a lot of gulls or crows!