Wednesday, 4 June 2014

So what's actually on the Bill part of Rockabill?

As of later this week we will have been on Rockabill for a month - and that month has flown by for the pair of us! From the first ten days or so of vegetation management and nestbox deployment, to the comings and goings of the Terns before they all started to settle and lay eggs, with many of them now incubating a full clutch - there's never a boring moment out here and the next two months will no doubt be the same! 

We've been based on the main part of Rockabill i.e. 'the Rock' a.k.a. 'the lighthouse island' because this is where the vast majority of the Terns nest, but today we made the very brief journey across 20m of the Irish Sea to 'the Bill', on a ship (well, an inflatable rubber dinghy..) captained by Dr. Steve Newton (BWI Seabird Conservation Officer, and our boss!).

'The Bill' as seen from 'The Rock'.

We had some curious onlookers as we made our way across the water.

So what's actually on the Bill I hear you ask? Well put it this way - if someone asked you to describe what the lighthouse island is like, one of the first things you'd probably mention is 'rocks'. If someone asked you to describe the Bill, the only thing you'd mention is rocks!  It's a little bit longer and wider than I expected, but it's very very rocky!

Rocks, rocks and more rocks! (and a conservationist or two...)

In terms of avian life there's usually Herring and Great Black-Backed Gulls resting on the west end of the island, with the occasional Cormorant taking a break with their wings outstretched.

Cormorant on the Bill.

There's also a few Black Guillemot nests in various cracks and crevices under boulders, and importantly it's where a significant proportion of Rockabill's Arctic Tern nest. The Arctic Tern migrates to here from the Antarctic Seas - it's one of the longest migrations of any animal (>60,000km) and because it spends so much time in the extreme northern and southern lattitudes it experiences more daylight than any other living creature!

We had a quick look and found 7 scrapes with 1 egg each (Arctic Terns usually only lay 2 eggs), but we'll be back next week when there'll hopefully be a few more.

Artic Tern egg - they're supposedly 'more' blue or olive green than Common Tern eggs, but it's often hard to tell! (Picture taken under NPWS license)

Artic Tern us, it is...... (Picture taken under NPWS license)

In addition to the Arctic Terns a lot of the Rockabill Kittiwakes nest on the Bill too.
Kittwakes nesting on the Bill (Picture taken under NPWS license)

So that was it - a quick check to see what's going on over on the Bill - we'll be back again in the coming weeks to track the progress of the breeding birds over there. We got back in our dinghy, and made our way 'home', under the curious and watchful eye of our local seals - no doubt criticising our rowing technique! 

What's been happening on the Rock? Eggs, Eggs and more Eggs! In our next blog post we hope to try and convey just how crazy things are out here, and next week we should be carrying out a full census of the island to see how many nests are here - so keep an eye out for those posts in the near future!

Until then!
- Brian & Donnacha

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