Thursday, 8 May 2014

Welcome to Rockabill!

It's the time of year again that Rockabill starts to fill up with its summer residents - coming all the way from west Africa (Roseate & Common Terns), Antarctica (Arctic Terns), Greystones (Donnacha) and Roscommon (Brian). After a very crazy week (packing, doing the Late Late Show - the usual stuff!) we arrived at Skerries on Tuesday evening and were on Rockabill in no time at all courtesy of Eoin and Jerry of Skerries Seatours. On arrival we were greeted by around a thousand Terns screeching overhead - an impressive sight and a reminder of the busy but memorable summer we have ahead! 

(Picture taken under  NPWS license)

So since we've got here we've done a few circuits of the island to familiarise ourselves with the habitat, the sites used by each species, and where we'll be carrying out research from - adding to the volumes of data gathered by previous wardens and BirdWatch Ireland staff over the last 25 years. Firstly we've been taking out and organising several hundred nestboxes which we'll be putting out over the coming days to maximise the suitable breeding space for the birds, as well as to help our monitoring work as the season progresses. We expect that the first few eggs will start appearing in a week or so, so over the next few days we'll be deploying nestboxes, installing ledges and managing some of the vegetation to make the Terns feel at home again, as well as erecting three hides around the island to enable us to record everything going on in our study areas. The weather so far has been mixed - but luckily these lighthouse-keepers houses are built to last! 

 A small fraction of the nextboxes we'll be putting out!

Our Kittiwake population looks like it's close to 'full strength' and they've started moving onto their preferred ledges so should start nesting very soon.  We've also been carrying out morning counts of Black Guillemots. Numbers are definitely down on last year's counts, though there's still time for some to arrive. We've been told by Dr. Steve Newton (BWI Senior Seabird Conservation Officer) that there have been recoveries of Black Guillemots ringed on Rockabill from various parts of the coast at Dublin and Northern Ireland, the birds having been caught up in last winter's heavy and prolonged storms. It will be interesting to see the final numbers we get here, as well as to hear how seabirds elsewhere in Ireland and in the UK are faring after the hugely difficult winter.

Lastly, we've started our Rockabill bird list and are hoping we can top last year's count of 51 species. We're on 23 species so far, so we're off to a good start! 

Fingers crossed for some good weather and a good breeding season ahead!
 - Brian & Donnacha 


  1. More please! Any cool sights since you've been there? How have you slept? What time do the birds wake you up?

    1. Hi Diablo - we'll have a couple more posts later this week - struggling to find the time at the moment!

      As I type this I can hear the Terns outside making a lot of noise, but to be honest we're so exhausted by the end of the day that we have no trouble sleeping!! We start our day at 7am and so far the Terns have been out at sea by that time - but they're coming back to the island earlier and earlier every day, and their numbers are building every day too!