Saturday, 30 July 2016

Come Fly With Me

After most of our Terns laid eggs in late-May and early-June, and they take around 22 days to hatch and another 28-30 days to be able to fly, we're now coming to the end of the Tern breeding season here on Rockabill. While we do still have some chicks around that have a bit more growing up to do, we have far more that are able to fly and have left the area where their nest was. Our Common Tern fledglings tend to congregate on large 'obvious' areas like the helipad or on some of the shed roofs, where they can be easily found by their parents and they can readily spot any incoming food that's either intended for them or another fledgling from whom they might be able to steal it off! Our Roseate Tern fledglings on the other hand to to stay a bit closer to their parents and hang out on the rocky parts of the edge of the island.

Some of our Rockabill Roseates have moved on already however, with sightings from elsewhere in Dublin and even as far south as Wexford already. Conversely, we've seen some fledglings from Lady's Island in Wexford here on Rockabill, with the birds from there tending to move north for a while after the breeding season before beginning their southern migration next month. So if you live on the coast keep an eye out for Terns on the move!

Productivity, that is the number of chicks that fledge per nest, hasn't been great this year on Rockabill with many chicks seemingly dying due to lack of food. But seeing the chicks that we've worked hard to protect and monitor take their first stumbling flight and even become experts in the air after a few days has provided a very welcome boost to morale as the season draws to a close!
Fledgling Common Tern on the Rockabill helipad.  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Fledgling Roseate Tern  (picture taken under NPWS license)

When it comes to ID'ing the two fledglings Roseate Tern fledglings are a little but smaller than their Common counterparts, and are generally darker in their feathering, with black legs and a black bill. Overall they bear a closer resemblance to Sandwich Tern chicks, despite not being particularly closely related to them. Common Tern fledglings have a mostly orange bill with pink-ish legs and warmer brown and light grey colours to their plumage.

Fledgling Roseate Tern calling out to its parents  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Common Tern fledgling  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Fledgling Roseate Tern and adult  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Fledgling Common Tern begging for food.  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Fledgling Roseate Tern on Rockabill  (picture taken under NPWS license)

Fledgling Common Tern having a rest in between meals. (picture taken under NPWS license)
Below are two videos of a Roseate Tern chick and parents. This chick is days away from fledging and can be seen making rough attempts at flight to get on top of the nestbox! Many of our Roseate Terns practice their flying skills in a similar way before eventually getting the skill and confidence to fly out of the nesting area. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Dalkey Tern - We have Roseates breeding!

To the north of Dalkey Island lie two small islands, one with some vegetation one just bare rock. These are Lamb Island and Maidens’ Rock and are home to three species of tern; Common, Arctic and Roseate.

We have some mixed news since our last update, having had such large numbers of nests and chicks on Lamb Island; it went very quiet around the July Bank Holiday Weekend. By Tuesday 5th July there were only 16 Adults and about 4 chicks on Lamb Island, many of the first chicks should have been old enough to fledge at that stage but many nests/eggs were predated. The main culprits are rats, Hooded Crows and possible large gulls. Although the numbers were down on Lamb they are up on Maidens’ with 7 new clutches with 10 eggs and 1 chick and 160 adults on 14th July. 2 Roseate Terns were seen at the public event on Tuesday 5th, hopefully the start of many visitors from Rockabill. On 14th July, when hopes of breeding Rosies had faded a pair of Roseates had laid an egg in Box 5 on Maidens’ Rock. Maybe not great prospects of a successful fledging for that egg/chick but they are here and will hopefully come earlier next year with a few companions.
This is still a record year in terms of total terns present during the breeding season.

Roseate Tern egg on Maiden's Rock, 14th July.
  Photograph and egg handling carried out under NPWS licenses.

On 21st & 27th June & 6th & 14th July myself and a few ringers, Steve Newton, Niall Tierney & Ricky Whelan got out to put leg rings on 54 chicks (6 Common) with 15 big enough to get a colour ring too. Hopefully we will be able to see these guys if/when they return in 2-3 years.
Ringing in progress on Lamb Island with Niall Tierney, RIcky Whelan and Steve Newton.
Ringing and photo carried out under NPWS licenses.
Public Events
The Tuesday evening and weekend events are going great, even when bad weather is forecast we got rainbows. 

Tuesday evening Rainbow Watch over Dalkey Island!

The BWI South Dublin branch has joined the Tuesday evening events (it’s been their event for years now) for July. I set up from 5pm then they all join from 6:30-8pm. It’s great having so many sets of eyes with local knowledge there to check every bird and inform the public.

Tuesday evening Tern Watch event with South Dublin BWI branch.

Weekend guided nature walks on Dalkey Island.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

And now for something completely different...

Our work changes a lot between various parts of the season - there's a lot of vegetation to be cut in May, a lot of eggs to be counted in June, chicks to be weighed and ringed in July and nestboxes to be scrubbed in August! One standard throughout the whole season however are our nest checks. Every morning and every evening we have specific study areas around the island that we visit and record any changes since our last visit - new nests, new eggs, chicks hatching, chicks dying etc etc. so that we have a few hundred 'nest histories' for each season. 

I was somewhat surprised by one nest in my study area earlier this summer as it appeared to be a Roseate Tern egg in a site I knew had been used by Commons in previous years. The egg was a 'typical' Roseate egg however and the location did offer some degree of shelter and so could conceivably have been picked out by a Roseate. A second egg was laid, again a typical Roseate egg and a little reconnaissance from a distance confirmed it was a Roseate Tern sitting on the eggs.

Then, last week on one of my nest rounds I saw that the first of the two eggs had hatched - that is the first of those two typical-looking Roseate Tern eggs that had been incubated by Roseate Terns for all those weeks. The only problem was that it had a fluffy appearance and pink legs among other features, meaning it was a Common Tern chick! 

A few days later and the second egg hatched - another Common Tern chick I hear you ask? Nope! A Roseate Tern chick! So this pair of Roseate Terns ended up with a brood of one Common and one Roseate Tern chick. There were no nearby nests that an egg could have been stolen or even accidentally rolled from, so the whole thing is a bit of a mystery! The adults are blissfully unaware however and are dutifully feeding their Common Tern chick as if it was their own - which I suppose it is now anyway! Given the similarities between the two species, particularly their diet, this chick stands as good a chance as any of fledging in the not too distant future!

Here are a couple of videos from this unusual nest - the larger and more active chick is the Common Tern and the smaller chick with a 'spiky' appearance is the Roseate Tern chick.

Monday, 11 July 2016

LIFE on Rockabill

Another busy week! Having thousands of birds on Rockabill is fairly standard over the summer months, but this week we had loads of people out here too! Given that there's usually only two of us out here, a bit of social interaction at this stage might be no harm as we we look to ease ourselves back into society at the end of August!

First of all we were visited by the Roseate Tern team from RSPB Coquet Island - Paul Morrison, Wes Davies and Tom Cadwallender. Coquet Island lies off the Northumberland coast in England and is home to 102 pairs of Roseate Terns (and counting!). The Coquet team's visit was facilitated by the current EU LIFE project to protect and expand the breeding range of the Roseate Tern in Ireland and Britain, and provided a great chance for the Rockabill and Coquet teams to meet up and 'talk Terns' and exchange knowledge on how we can continue to improve the fortunes of the Roseate Tern.

Check out the Coquet Island twitter account and website to keep up to date with all of the goings-on at Coquet and to see a live feed of how their Roseate Terns are getting on:

The Rockabill and Coquet Roseate Tern teams together for the first time.

It was also a great chance for the Rockabill team to sample the "Roseate Tern IPA", made by the 'From the Notebook' label which is on sale in the UK and from which a portion of sales go directly to the Roseate Tern project on Coquet. The label features a beautiful picture of a Roseate Tern with Coquet Island in the background, a short description of the species and it even has a pink/roseate cap! I had heard of the Roseate Tern IPA a couple of weeks ago, and let's just say it lived up to expectations!

Roseate Tern IPA on Rockabill!
The Coquet guys left on Thursday and on Friday we were delighted to welcome another group of visitors on Friday. It was great to meet Daniel Piec and Chantal Macleod-Nolan who are overseeing and co-ordinating the Roseate Tern LIFE project as part of the RSPB, as well as wardens and staff from a number of Tern colonies in Northern Ireland and Wales who came to see how we do things on Rockabill and how successful our work has been to date. (and Paddy from Kilcoole came out too, just 'cos Rockabill is the place to be!).

Given that every tern colony is different it was great to hear about other colonies and how they're faring this season, the different mix of species that each colony has, and the different problems each colony has and how they're tackled. These kinds of information-exchanges, however formal or informal, can be really valuable in the long run. Hopefully our visitors left with a renewed enthusiasm to attract Roseate Terns to their own colony and help this fantastic seabird become less rare in the coming years!

To keep up to date with the Roseate Tern LIFE project check out the facebook and twitter pages at the link below:
Our guests getting a tour of the island. (picture  by Daniel Piec)
The Rockabill team and our colleagues from the Roseate Tern LIFE project. (Pic via Chantal Macleod-Nolan & Usna Keating)

In addition to the Roseate Tern stuff we also had Saskia Wischnewski with us for most of the week. Saskia is studying seabird ecology at UCC and is currently carrying out work on behalf of Birdwatch Ireland which aims to look at where seabirds go to feed in the Irish Sea. She deployed a number of tags on our Kittiwakes and got some fascinating data with many of our birds heading far out to the north east in search of food to feed their chicks. 

Saskia removing a special tag that tracked the movements of one of the Rockabill Kittiwakes. Tag attached and picture taken under NPWS license.
And last but not least we had a changing of the guard recently. David Kinchin Smith has departed us to take up his dream job in the South Atlantic conserving birds on Gough Island - so his watch has ended. It was a pleasure working with David and on behalf of everyone here we want to wish him and Kilcoole's Em Witcutt the very best of luck on Gough and we look forward to tracking their progress in the coming months. 

Brian Burke and David Kinchin-Smith - Rockabill Wardens for 2016, just before David departed!

We are also delighted to welcome Shane Somers as the new warden on Rockabill. Unfortunately the Baltray Little Terns failed to breed this year, but Shane will definitely get his Tern-fix out here on Rockabill over the coming weeks and months! It's a big ask to begin work at such a large Tern colony in the middle of the season - the busiest time - but he has risen to the occasion and the Terns continue to be well looked after! 

Shane Somers- the new Rockabill warden! (pic by Matthew Byrne)

Friday, 1 July 2016

Rockabill Nest Census, Part Two

So last week we were delighted to announce that this year's count of Roseate Terns on Rockabill broke last year's record by around 150 pairs! We now have 1556 pairs of this fantastic seabird here, off the coast of Dublin. While counting our Roseate Terns we also carried out a full census of our Common Terns, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots too! 

Common Tern (adult). on Rockabill, Summer 2016. (picture taken under NPWS license)
Our Common Terns have increased since last year, up by around 80 to 2029 pairs this year - good news after last year's slight decline. As well as being an impressive bird in their own right, their famous aggression (they're the ones constantly pecking us!) helps keep the more timid Roseate Terns safe - so the more of them we have the better.

Arctic Tern (adult) on Rockabill, Summer 2016. (picture taken under NPWS license)
Unfortunately our Arctic Terns continue to suffer from gull predation and so we have a maximum of around 60 pairs. The fact that they tend to nest on the peripheries of the colony, in places where Great Black-Backs can easily land and predate their eggs, make it very hard to estimate the exact numbers though in general we can surmise that they're not doing well. Hopefully they'll continue to do well in the Tern colonies in Dublin Port and on Dalkey Island!

Kittiwakes on Rockabill, Summer 2015. (picture taken under NPWS license)

Last year we had a record number of 215 Kittiwakes nesting on our cliffs and this year we have something very close to that number with what are called "apparently occupied nests". Unfortunately the Black-backed Gulls that cause our Arctic Terns such hassle have also become quite efficient at predating Kittiwake nests and as a result there are very very few active nests still left on the Bill, with some nests around Kitti-City on our main island suspected to have fallen victim to a similar fate. In the battle between the biggest gull in the world and the most beautiful gull in the world there's only one winner! 

Black Guillemot on Rockabill, Summer 2016. (picture taken under NPWS license)
Lastly, our Black Guillemots. In my first year on Rockabill our Black Guillemot population had halved from the previous year, owing to terrible winter storms in 2013/14. We had seen gradual increases in their numbers since then, though this year we have 61 nests which is two less than 2015. It seems likely that the vast majority of chicks fledged in 2013 were lost in those storms and so few if any were 'recruited' into the breeding population this year (they normally start breeding around 3 years old). If we can avoid any terrible winter storms again we're hoping the Rockabill population of this awesome Auk will come on leaps and bounds in the very near future.

So good news and bad news from the Rockabill nest census overall. After a hard few days of counting every single nest we were delighted to get a phonecall from Eoin of Skerries Seatours who soon arrived with chips and chicken wings from Ollie's Place in Skerries!! After two months out on Rockabill, needless to say we devoured the food in record timing! By this time of the summer a lot of our snacks have run out and we've been eating very similar meals on a daily basis, so this feast was a real morale booster. Our compliments to the chef! (and the boat man!)

A meal fit for a king - or two very hungry wardens!