Monday, 14 July 2014

They grow up so fast!

It seems like only a short while ago we had our first eggs, nevermind our first chicks, and as this weekend we've had a few of our oldest Roseate and Common Tern chicks take to the skies! Over the past two weeks we've seen plenty of wing stretching, jumping/flapping on the spot and more recently some jumping on/off rocks accompanied by flapping to soften the landing - all a part of the development of the wing muscles and helping the chicks getting a taste of things to come. On Saturday night we found a Common Tern fledgling flying to heights of 2-3m (though not helped by the wind!), and yesterday during our feeding watch we had the pleasure of watching a lot of chicks flying for the first time!  Based on what we've seen they seem to start off by flapping, with a bit of running, and soon end up a metre or two off the ground - though their inexperience combined with their short tails means steering is still a bit of an issue! As the day went on we saw many get more and more adventurous, flying off and investigating the highs and lows around the area they hatched and grew up in so far - with their parents keeping a watchful eye on them. The island really takes on a new lease of life at each stage of the breeding season - going from a somewhat bare island, being filled up with nestboxes, eggs appearing everywhere, those same eggs turning into a huge number of fluffy chicks running around the place, and now those chicks learning to fly in preparation for the huge journey ahead of them in roughly two months time. 

As usual things are happening right on time. The oldest chicks we saw flying yesterday are around 28 days old, and have been undergoing rapid development over that time to change them from small, round and fluffy, to becoming much closer to adults in size, developing a more slender and elongated bodyshape that's more aerodynamic and suited to flying, and exchanging their insulating layer of fluff for feathers that will allow them to fly. Here are some pictures to illustrate what is quite a fascinating and dramatic change in such a short period of time:

Firstly the Common Terns:

Common Terns start off like this for the first few days - small and fluffy! (Picture taken under NPWS license)

After 3 or 4 days they start to look a bit more mature.....(Picture taken under NPWS license)

...their body shape starts to become a bit more elongated, and some proper feathers start to grow on the wings....(Picture taken under NPWS license)

...and the feathers keep growing as the chicks shed the downey 'fluff' they had before; they become noticeably more white and grey, which is how they'll look for the next two years - they're also bigger, longer and better at running! (Picture taken under NPWS license)

And this is our first Common Tern - first egg laid, and first to hatch - a few days before taking flight! Note the black head, white throat and mottled brown/grey wings. In terms of body shape they're now a small version of the adults and capable of flight! (Picture taken under NPWS license)

And Roseate Tern chicks undergo a very similar change process over the same time period, though Roseate chicks have a bit more of a 'spikey' appearance when they're very young:

Roseate Terns start off like this - small, and 'spikey' looking compared to the Commons. (Picture taken under NPWS license)

...then they get a bit bigger, head gets a bit 'longer' and they're less fluffy....(Picture taken under NPWS license)

...and that process continues, revealing the black cap and white body that it will have from now on, plus grey/brown wings (Picture taken under NPWS license)

And by the time they're able to fly for the first time this is what they look like, with a similar body shape to the adults (though a bit smaller), as we saw with the Common Terns. Quite impressive looking! (Picture taken under NPWS license)

In other news, we got a phone call on Saturday to say we were getting a food delivery! Imagine our surprise when 20minutes later we were holding a plate of spicy chicken wings, barbeque ribs, the largest burger either of us have ever seen, and not to mention all of the trimmings! So we have to give a very big thanks to the guys at the new Rockabill Restaraunt in Skerries (great name!) for the unexpected and delicious treat - that dinner has put a spring in our step for the next week! A big thanks too to Eoin from Skerries Seatours for dropping it out to us, not to mention looking after us with milk and biscuits in our times of need! For anyone wanting to get a closer look at Rockabill, get in touch with Eoin (Facebook page) for a boat tour around the island.

Lastly, our species list has finally hit 40 species! In the last two weeks we've had Redshank, Whimbrel and Purple Sandpipers - all wader species, probably individuals that didn't breed this year and have made an early departure from their summer grounds in places like Iceland.

So there we have it - an increasing number of the Roseate and Common Tern chicks on Rockabill are getting past the next hurdle in their lives and learning to fly! Our Black Guillemot chicks are still staying in their nestholes at the moment, but we'll have an update on our Kittiwake chicks later in the week!

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