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

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