Monday, 26 June 2017

Dalkey Tern Colony Mid-Season Update

 We had our first ringing session 21st June on Maidens’ Rock. Steve, Brian and Niamh all joined to help me out. We ringed 11 chicks with 2 others too small just yet. I think we might have missed 6 others which had already hatched but with so many nooks and crannies to hide in it is hard to tell. There are also Oystercatcher chicks around but they need to grow a bit before they are big enough to ring, usually they are much faster than tern wardens at that stage!
Steve, Niamh and myself ringing chicks under NPWS license on Maidens' Rock. Photo: Brian Burke

A confused Arctic Tern chick, just ringed (and photographed!) under NPWS license. Photo: Brian Burke

There has been an influx of new nests on Maidens’ rock but unfortunately this is likely due to the Lamb colony collapse over the weekend of 10th/11th June where there were at least 90 pairs. The Maidens’ colony has grown from about 30 pairs to approximately 90, it is impossible to tell for sure due to relaying of original pairs and continual relaying of new pairs due to predation or weather effects.

Very well camouflaged Oystercatcher chicks. Photo taken under NPWS license by Andrew Butler.

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

As always, Johnny gets us on and the islands safe and dry. Thanks Johnny! 


The Dalkey Tern Watch is running every Tuesday Evening 5-8pm until the end of July at Coliemore Harbour as well as Weekend events. During July the South Dublin BirdWatch Ireland branch also run the event from 6:30-8pm, they have been doing so for many years.

The next events are this weekend, Sunday 2nd, 11am-1pm. I’ll be running the Tern Watch as normal and then 2:30, 3:30 & 4:30pm I will be running 45 min guided walks on Dalkey Island. You need to make your own way to the Island (ferry), meeting at the pier on the Island. The event is weather/boat dependant.

The species list from our watch event on Tue 23rd May.

All events will be advertised on: locally in Dalkey town centre.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Veni, Vidi, Census

Common nest goes from 3 eggs to 3 chicks.

Dr. Chris Redfern, Miley and Shane with Percy the Short-Lived.
Last week we were delighted to host Paul Morrison and Dr. Chris Redfern from the UK as part of knowledge sharing within the EU LIFE Project. Paul oversees the conservation of a number of seabird species on the massively important Coquet Island. Coquet is the second largest Roseate tern colony in Europe. The island also supports over 12,800 puffins and many Eider ducks, Common and Arctic Terns. Following the success of the GLS monitors used on Black Guillemots here last season, a number of roseate terns were caught and fitted with their own monitors. Chris and Paul’s expertise were vital in fitting these loggers safely. These devices will track the birds migrations using incident sunlight to detect latitude and longitude. Hopefully we will have both these gentlemen back to recapture the study birds next year!

Roseate with GLS tag which will record its migration path.
We have recently completed our nest census which involves counting every tern nest on the island whether Common, Arctic or Roseate. The official numbers are 2085 Common nests, 1597 Roseate nests and 44 Arctic nests. A large proportion of these have hatched in the last week so the island is crawling with chicks. We have high hopes this year to fledge more Arctic chicks than previous years. We have therefore started patrolling the colony early in the morning to deter predators from taking eggs or chicks in the more exposed areas of the colony. Arctics nest here in very low numbers so don't have the mob mentality of their Common cousins. This means they are pushed to the edge of the colony and more exposed to predation.

The "If I can't see you" method of camouflage".

- SS

Thursday, 8 June 2017

BREAKING: First Chicks!

This week marked two major milestones of the season here on Rockabill. Firstly, we are in the midst of the all important nest census (or in the official parlance; The Great Egg Hunt). The nest census involves us covering every inch of ground including paths, tops of walls and the most unlikely looking undergrowth. Counting the number and size of the clutches for each species is a vital part of monitoring the effectiveness of the our conservation efforts for the Roseate, Common and Artic terns. An accurate count of nests on the island along with the data from our intensively monitored study plots gives us information on the number of fledglings produced by Rockabill each year. The nest census also tells us the number of breeding pairs on the island- one of the most important measures of the health of any species.

Our first Roseate chick, sheltering in a nestbox. Picture taken under NPWS licence.

Today we were very excited to find our first chicks of the season! Our first Roseate chick hatched in a nest box and we stumbled across a very well camouflaged Common Tern during the census. This means we are moving into a new phase of our duties here as wardens. We will monitor the growth rates of each chick in our study plots which is a great indicator of their health and ultimately the quality of their diet. The ability of the adult terns to fish is a major concern as our marine resources are severely strained due to overfishing. Hopefully our feeding studies later in the season will shine more light on this aspect of the terns ecology.

Freshly hatched Common Tern. Picture taken under NPWS licence.

The noble visage of Andrew Power, grandly surveying all that lays before him.

Finally, a huge shout out to Andrew Power who was here last week to carry out fieldwork for his PhD on marine contaminants.  It was a privilege to have one of Irelands leading wildlife conversationalists (sic) in our midst! Come back (bring food).


Thursday, 1 June 2017

Meet the Wardens

Taken under NPWS licence

It’s been a great day for the Parish here on Rockabill. First of all, we have our illustrious OverLord-and-Master Steve Newton out to visit us. He is determined to teach us his ways, and has been hand catching black guillemots all morning to assert his dominance and secure our enduring servitude.

Steve removes a GLS tracker from a Black Guillemot.

Some of the black guilles on the island had previously been fitted with GLS trackers (Geo-location systems) to give us an insight into where they spend their time during the winter.
According to the literature, Black guilles are not expected to move around much, but we will keep you posted if we find differently!

Black Guillemot with butterfish taken through a scope. 


The Return of a Hero.
Along with some much appreciated milk, Steve supplied us with  Andrew POWA! Andrew’s an old hand when it comes to terns, having been a warden on Rockabill in 2015. He’s back out to gather data on ocean contaminants for his PhD!!! Fair play Andrew. He was willing to share his tomatoes and cheese with us, so we will continue to expect great things from him: one to watch!

This week’s adventures will be the subject of blogs to follow, but since we’re finally settled and getting used to life on the island, we thought that first we should properly introduce ourselves! Without further ado, please welcome the cast of this year’s summer season: the tern wardens of Rockabill; a breed rarer than the Roseates themselves.

Shane Somers
Age: 24 and a half.
Wing span: 6’7”.
Special skill: Heavyweight Generator Starting Champion of the World (one week undefeated so far).
Shane is commander in chief out here, having spent 5 weeks on the Island last summer. He has worked with everything from sparrow weavers in South Africa to cutting edge gas sensing lasers in one of the world’s smallest labs. If his sanity survives the season, he will go on to betray his Trinity roots by undertaking a Computational Biology Masters in UCC this September.
He doesn’t have a fun fact about himself, but he’s a lovely guy, honestly.
Quote: “When Brian was here..”.

David Miley “Cyrus”
Age: Mid-forties
Ring tone: “Funky town” 
Special skill: Making delicious dinners and emitting powerful yells when they fall on the floor.
Nemesis: the Common (or garden) Tern.
On top of his secret and successful career as a teen-pop sensation, Miley is our resident handy man, responsible for building new ring reading hides and repairing lighthouse steps! Building on his origins as a Galwegian Marine Scientist, he went on to do an environmental Masters in UCD and now has an interest in everything from bat surveys to identifying grasses! He is an enthusiast of Irish biodiversity in all it’s forms, though the common terns in our densely populated Garden Five are testing his patience.
Quote: “This island has taken everything from me”.

Caroline Mckeon
Age: No longer an undergraduate
Kryptonite: Gluten
Irene  Caroline has recently finished her final exams and is eager to tell you all about it. This fast talking southside dub has exploded out of final year Trinity zoology in a blaze of glory to make her name as a Bird Saviour in the high stakes world of seabird conservation. Having recently gained the ability to differentiate between gannets and swans on the wing, this newest edition to the Rockabill crew is set to make a splash.

Quote: “Im not as posh as I sound”.

Stay tuned for updates!!! - Rockabill wardens 2017