Sunday, 24 May 2015

Four Species and Counting on Eggs on Rockabill

I'm resisting any egg-based puns this time, so with that in mind lets crack on.....

It's late-May and we've been out here for two weeks. With the vegetation clearance out of the way and around 700 nestboxes put in place, the ball was in the bird's court - which would be first to lay an egg? Usually we'd find the first of the Black Guillemot eggs soon after the first week, followed by Common Terns which usually lay around two days before their Roseate counterparts. The first Kittiwake egg is usually towards the end of the month, and Arctic Terns are usually somewhere around then too but are hard to monitor given their smaller numbers and the fact that most of them breed on The Bill.

*Before I go on, it's worth re-iterating that all pictures in this blog are taken under NPWS license. It's forbidden to photograph breeding birds, nests, eggs or chicks without the appropriate license and we have the training and experience to ensure we cause them no stress or danger. It goes without saying that the birds are our top priority on Rockabill !*

So - as of this morning (23rd of May) we have four bird species on eggs. Take a guess at what ones! If I'm honest I wouldn't have guessed these four, or the order they were laid they are in order.......*drumroll*......

Egg #1
We found our first egg within a day of arriving on Rockabill and it's now a clutch of two eggs being incubated every day......

Two Oystercatcher eggs - our first on Rockabill in 2015. (Picture taken under NPWS license)

.....two Oystercatcher eggs! These I definitely wouldn't have predicted. There have been two Oystercatchers hanging around Rockabill in previous summers, usually trying to lay eggs on The Bill which are subsequently predated by Gulls. This year, for some reason, they decided to breed on the Rock - and so far so good! Fingers crossed we'll have two Oystercatcher chicks to report on in a couple of weeks.

Oystercatcher (Picture taken under NPWS License)

Egg #2
As per usual, a bit more than a week after landing on Rockabill we had our first Black Guillemot eggs. The winter before last was very stormy and a lot of Rockabill's Black Guillemots washed up dead at various parts of the Irish coast, leaving us with a greatly reduced population last summer. Counts of adults this year indicate the Rockabill population is bouncing back a bit though - fingers crossed they'll have a successful year and the population will continue to grow in the coming years.

Black Guillemot egg in a nest hole on Rockabill. (Picture taken under NPWS license)

Egg #3
Remember how I said Common Terns usually lay a couple of days before Roseate Terns? Well the main word to focus on there is 'usually', because this year we found our first Roseate Tern egg two days before our first Common Tern egg! Most Roseate Terns lay two eggs, but there is a trend for the first few pairs to just lay one egg, and that trend at least seems to have continued this year. The first egg was on Thursday afternoon and we only found our second Roseate egg today, with the Terns seemingly delayed and put off a bit by the gale force winds we had all last week - and who could blame them!

First Roseate Tern egg of 2015, in nestbox 461. (Picture taken under NPWS license)

Egg #4

So, no prizes for guessing that the fourth species to lay an egg on Rockabill this year was a Common Tern - found this morning. As above, the strong winds over the last week seem to have put a delay on things, but we're expecting plenty of eggs in the next few days as the season really picks up a gear!
Common Tern egg - a smaller and more rounded appearance than that of their Roseate cousins, with large blotches, and a more greenish colour on this particular egg. (Picture taken under NPWS license)


Egg #5
Well it'll either be Kittiwakes or Arctic Terns - and since most of the Arctics nest on The Bill, we'll probably spot the Kittiwakes first. We've seen plenty of Kittiwakes gathering nest material, but some were set back a few days by the bad weather, with large waves from a south-east gale hitting the Bill at high tide and washing away the beginnings of some nests. It would have been much worse if it happened any later in the season, so we're expecting the Kittiwakes to continue as normal.

'The Bill' getting battered by strong waves last week, taking the beginnings of some Kittiwake nests with them!

So that's where things stand at the moment - it's about to get crazy out here, with thousands of nests and eggs just around the corner. In a few weeks time we'll do our egg census and record every egg on Rockabill - a long but fun process!

In other news we had a very special guest from the BBC with us this week, filming our Roseate Terns for BBC Springwatch! We're big fans of Springwatch, and cameraman Jesse Wilkinson was great to have around for a few days, marvelling at the colony we have on Rockabill and sharing some stories and pictures from his other recent adventures. We havn't gotten a day or time yet, but we'll let you know as soon as we do, and you can enjoy the sights and sounds of Rockabill from your living room!

Until then!

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