Thursday, 21 May 2015

First Things First!

So - one of the first things people say to you when you tell them you work somewhere like Rockabill (after "are you mad?!?") is to ask " what do you actually do?". An excellent question with a long answer! The first thing we do is 'habitat management' i.e. making the island suitable for thousands of nesting terns.

There's usually considerable vegetation growth here between the wardens leaving in August and coming back in May, but the amount of vegetation we came back to this year was ridiculous!! The main culprit is Tree Mallow (Lavatera arborea), a large shrubby plant that grows very quickly and can grow to over 2 metres tall when left undisturbed. And believe me when I say the island was absolutely covered in it!! 

This nestbox was put down on bare ground in 2014 - a year later it's crowded out by Tree Mallow.

A bit of tree mallow here and there is actually a good thing - Roseate Terns will nest under it, but the sheer density of tree mallow last week was just too much. Roseates could nest around the edges in some areas, but all of the middle space would essentially have been wasted. The conservation project here on Rockabill has found that the best strategy is to cut most of the mallow down and to install nestboxes for Roseates, thus maximising the available space to allow as many Roseates to nest as possible.

Andrew clearing a garden area that was completely covered in Tree Mallow.
Andrew installing nestboxes while Brian takes pictures....
Clearing vegetation and putting in nestboxes helps us fit a larger number of nesting terns.

 And what about the Common Terns? Well they nest on the ground, in the open - so they don't use nestboxes, but they're delighted to see the tree mallow go as it opens up patches of bare ground for them.

Garden when we arrived - completely shaded out by Tree Mallow.
Same garden after an afternoon of hard work - ready to fit c.200 pairs of Common Terns and a few Roseates too!

So - 8 days later we cleared what feels like tonnes of tree mallow - some of which was thrown into the sea to provide nesting material for our Kittiwakes, and the rest of which was left in a large pile that we're pretty sure can now be seen from space.......

The end result? Rockabill is a small island but through managing the vegetation and habitat here we've ensured we can fit in as many breeding Roseate and Common Terns as possible - we have a record to beat!!

Roseate Tern nestboxes made by the pupils of Balbriggan Community College

On the topic of nesting Terns, we'd like to say a huge thank you to Sean Pierce and the pupils in Balbriggan Community College who kindly donated 40 nestboxes this year. The nestboxes are very solid, and many of the pupils took the time to decorate them accordingly. We're sure they'll be seen and appreciated by both wardens and terns alike for years to come!

'Welcome to your new house'

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