Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dalkey Tern Colony 2017

The first visit to the colony this season was on 10th May with approximately 50 terns on Maidens' (10 Common Tern & 40 Arctic) and 17 on Lamb. By 20th May we had all our nest boxes out, 25 on Lamb and 14 on Maidens'. We also put out lots of gravel and sand on each island to make the site as attractive as possible to breeding terns. Hopefully we can attract some Roseates, none so far! (I'm still hopeful) 

Susannah helping me put nest boxes and gravel on Maidens' Rock.

Me marking new nests on Maidens' Rock

My most recent visit to check the colony was May 30th. The colony is now up to similar numbers to last year, with 116 nests in total, with 90 on Lamb Island, 23 on Maidens’ Rock and 3 on Dalkey Island. The Dalkey Island birds are surrounded by breeding large gulls, within 3 metres of a Great Black-backed Gull nest. I don’t know why they chose that spot when there’s a much nicer and safer spot on Lamb but fingers crossed they are successful.

Nest with 3 Arctic Tern eggs, Picture taken under licence from NPWS, Susannah Cass. 

Very unusual to get 4 eggs in an Arctic Tern nest, probably one laid by another tern, picture taken under license from NPWS, Andrew Butler

Nest boxes and Arctic Terns nesting on Lamb Island, Andrew Butler

Loading Ken’s boat with new nest boxes at Coliemore Harbour, Susannah Cass

I hope to do regular visits throughout the season to track the progress of the colony and hopefully get some Roseate Terns nesting too.

Johnny the ferryman bringing me out for my regular visits. Lamb and Dalkey Islands in the background.


The Dalkey Tern Watch is running every Tuesday Evening 5-8pm until the end of July at Coliemore Harbour as well as Saturday events, dates to follow.

The next events are this weekend, Sunday 4th & Monday 5th. 11am-1pm I’ll be running the Tern Watch as normal and then 2:30, 3:30 & 4:30pm I will be running 40 min guided walks on Dalkey Island. You need to make your own way to the Island (ferry), meeting at the pier on the Island. So the event is weather/boat dependant.

The first 2 Tuesdays have been very nice with lovely weather but I wouldn’t mind a few more visitors, so anybody thinking of coming along, please do.

The species list from Tuesday the 23rd of may.

All events will be advertised on:

Friday, 19 May 2017

Day 13 on The Rock!

(Article authored on Thursday the 18th of May 2017)
The bird of the season, Sterna dougallii A.K.A. The Roseate Tern, mid-preen [(Photograph courtesy of Shane Somers) Taken under NPWS License]

Day 13 in the Big Birdy House, oh sorry I mean Rockabill Island. Today is the first full day for our newest arrival Caroline McKeon, fresh in from finishing her final exams in Zoology, congratulations and fair play Caroline! We’ve been showing her the ropes and getting her used to all her new wardening duties. It’s also a day mixed with a tinge of sadness at losing our former Rockabill Warden/Blog writer/Pun Enthusiast Irene Sullivan yesterday, who has moved into a luxurious caravan in Kilcoole where she will be working as a Little Tern Warden and has access to all the pleasantries of mainland life such as running water and showers within a ten minute walk from her residence. 

A brand-spanking-new batch of nest-boxes thanks to the crafty students of Balbriggan Community College! Thanks folks! (Photograph courtesy of Shane Somers)

Along with our warden exchange we also received a fresh shipment of finely crafted and greatly appreciated nest boxes from the kind and skilled students of Balbriggan Community College. No time has been wasted in getting these precious love shacks out to the various sites around the Rock where they will provide ample protection for nesting Roseate Terns, their clutches of eggs and soon to be pulli (that’s chicks that haven’t fledge yet, for the uninitiated). Nest boxes have been instrumental in increasing the Roseate Tern population on Rockabill, they protect eggs and chicks from what can be extremely harsh weather conditions on this tiny island, as well as providing a hideout from the prying eyes of a variety of predators. So thank you very much to all the students and staff at Balbriggan Community College your work and generous donations will contribute to the conservation of one Europe’s rarest breeding seabirds! 

The old and the new; a row of our old and deteriorating boxes against our shiny, generously contributed, new boxes! [(Photograph courtesy of Shane Somers) Taken under NPWS License]

It doesn’t take long after deployment for our Rosies to start scouting out new boxes, as the pairs have a squawk about the new real estate, a bit of a perch and see if this is the next rung on the property ladder for them. Once the decision is made they’ll settle and get a scrape going, forming a nice fresh bowl under their luxurious ceilings and, with any luck, eggs.

Things are changing rapidly around Rockabill, we had our first Roseate egg on the 13th after a quiet lull of no other eggs in sight for 4 days, it’s all starting to happen at once with eggs springing up all over the place since yesterday (May 17th), it’s keeping myself, Shane and Caroline on our toes (literally: we have to be very careful moving around the island as eggs can be laid and hidden anywhere!).

Well that’s all for now everyone thanks for reading and may your day be filled with a lot less bird guano than mine! :D

Yours Truly
David Miley

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Rockabill Island Blog- The Season Commences

The year 1989 marks two very special occasions; the birth of one of this year’s Rockabill Wardens, David Miley, and the year Birdwatch Ireland began monitoring and protecting the Roseate Tern breeding colony on Rockabill Island, situated off the coast of Skerries, Co. Dublin. For those of you finding these blog posts for the first time, the Rock component of the island supports a lighthouse and accompanying accommodation. It is a stunningly beautiful location, providing highly significant breeding grounds for many species of seabird. These include Black Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Common Terns, Arctic Terns, and the species of primary concern for resident wardens, the Roseate Tern- the conservation of which by Birdwatch Ireland staff would not be possible without the efforts and contributions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the EU LIFE Nature Project.
Rockabill Island lighthouse.

Kittiwakes perched on their most densely populated nesting area, known as “Kitti-City.”(picture taken under NPWS license)
Roseate Tern. (picture taken under NPWS license)
2017 marks the 29th year of wardening on Rockabill (woo!) and also marks the first year in which three wardens have been committed to the project for the full season. This year’s devoted tern protectors are Shane Somers, David Miley, and Caroline McKeon, with Irene Sullivan filling in before Caroline’s arrival on the 17th of May. Shane spent 6 weeks on Rockabill last summer, and as such spent some time showing his colleagues the ropes...

Tool safety training.

This year, the wardens arrived on the island on the 6th of May by ferry. Eoin and his boat, “Fionn Mac Cumhaill,” kindly brought the three wardens and their supplies of food and gear to the island. The wardens were also accompanied by a team of Skerries Sea Scouts, who volunteered to assist with the vital vegetation clearing that allows terns to nest unimpeded on Rockabill. The scouts brought energy, dedication and Coco-Pop Rocks, and their contribution was massive- so thank you lads!!
Common Terns in flight. (picture taken under NPWS license)
The first few days of the project involved clearing massive amounts of mallow and scurvy grass, readying study sites for nest boxes, and erecting hides. We were treated to spectacular weather and the sun split the stones of Rockabill while we prepared the island for nesting terns.

Shane and project leader Dr. Stephen Newton assembling a new hide.

Numerous bird species can be spotted on Rockabill; a broad diversity of which have already been encountered this year. These include puffins on the surface of the sea, cormorants and shags, turnstones, oyster-catchers, and non-seabirds such as swallows and warblers. The Bill component of the island can be accessed by boat or, if you’re feeling frisky, by swimming. David and Shane both braved the elements in their efforts to intimidate potential tern predators on the Bill.
Shane's and Miley's gear was wet-suited - I mean, well-suited to the conditions.
This year's first Roseate Tern egg was discovered by Irene on the 13th of May. Though an egg laid this unusually early in the season is likely to be an outlier, it is exciting to see the progression of the season as the terns settle on nest boxes and begin to scrape bowls on Rockabill.

As part of the introduction of this year’s wardens, it seems fitting to have their portraits included. Here is Shane in his natural state:

And here is David, in his characteristic robe after a hard day’s work at the office.

Stay tuned for updates on the progression of this year’s occupation of Rockabill!

- Irene Sullivan