Tuesday, 13 May 2014

So what's actually on Rockabill?

We're back! I assure you we're not forgetting about the blog - just doing a lot of preparation work as the Tern breeding season kicks off in earnest! We'll have one or two more posts this week, plus updates and pictures of the first eggs when we find them!

A few people have asked for an idea of what the island itself is actually like, so here's a bit of a whirlwind tour:

So the above is the first thing we saw when we landed - A lighthouse, a pumphouse, a lot of Terns and a lot of rock! As you walk up the steps there are holes in the wall that are used by Black Guillemots for their scrape/nest, and we've since added a number of specially-made wooden nestboxes that mimic the kind of tunnel/hole they like to use.

The Black Guillemots also nest in gaps in some of the old stone walls such as the one below - it's quite a sight to see them poking their heads out in the morning! (I'll get a picture of it soon, promise!)

In the shadow of the lighthouse itself are two houses. In the past the lighthouse would have been run by three lighthouse keepers and their families - two families would be on the island at any one time, with the third remaining on the mainland at Skerries and rotating between the families every two weeks. The lighthouse has been automated for a number of years however, and the Commission of Irish Lights have been very helpful in allowing BirdWatch Ireland staff to use one of the houses and to carry out the conservation and research of the island's bird species for over 25 years.

To carry out that research we've erected a few hides around the island. They're small, surprisingly cosy and they mean the Terns can get on with their activities without being disturbed by us! Each hide overlooks specific study areas with specially laid out nestboxes.

Each nest box is marked with a number and placed in the same position it was in previous years, to allow us to make comparisons of the Roseate Tern's behaviour and breeding success from year to year.

As well as those special study plots we have almost all other suitable areas laid out with nestboxes. In total we have almost 700 nestboxes put out for the Roseate Terns, the vast majority of which are used each year. 

We also have a helipad! Wasn't quite sure how to fit that into the flow of this blog post, but anyway.....
The helipad is sometimes used by the guys from the Commission of Irish Lights when they're
carrying out work and maintenance on the lighthouse. Mostly it's used by the Guillemots in the 
morning and Terns in the afternoon as somewhere to stand around or try and show off to a mate! 

The helipad also provides a nice bit of shelter for some more Black Guillemot nestboxes.

(Picture taken under  NPWS license)

As well as Roseate, Common and Arctic Terns, and the Black Guillemots, Rockabill is also home to a colony of Kittiwakes - this part of the cliffs affectionately known as 'Kitti City'. 
(Picture taken under  NPWS license)

Rockabill actually consists of two islands - 'the 'rock' is the bigger bit that we're on, and just north of the island is 'the bill'.
The bill is considerably smaller then the rock, but is home to more Kittiwakes, a pair of Oystercatchers, Turnstones, gulls and some seals when the tide is right! We'll be making the short hop over to the bill later in the summer to monitor the birds breeding over there. 

I suppose the last thing to mention is the view. We have Lambay Island to our south (below), Skerries and the rest of Dublin to our west, and a lot of water around us! We usually have a pretty good view of the rain headed our way, but on a nice evening with a clear sky and a few thousands seabirds around you, it really is a spectacular place to be!

So there you have it - a rough idea of what Rockabill is actually like - only there's a lot more rocks and a LOT more Terns - but you'll be hearing plenty about them in the coming weeks and months!

We hope to have another blog post up later in the week, so keep an eye out for it!

- Brian and Donnacha

1 comment: