Saturday, 22 July 2017

Growing Pins

It’s been a busy time here on The Rock this past month with the vast majority of eggs having now hatched. We’ve seen the eggs here tern from chick to fledgling in what seems like no time at all as we wardens have been scrambling to try keep up with the big peaks in synchronised laying and hatching that happen. The chicks go through dramatic changes here in a very short space of time (30 days). In this blog I wanted to try show how striking a transformation these birds make so quickly.

 This is the first chick hatched in a 3 egg clutch Common Tern clutch and we can also see it’s sibling has pipped a little hole in its egg and will be out soon (likely in the next 24hrs). This chick is around 1 day old, they’re more or less immobile for their first 1-2 days and it is nearing the point of taking it first few steps around the nest. When they emerge from their eggs they are wet, sorry looking creatures but soon they dry off and become these cute little fluff balls that wait in the nest for mammy or daddy to come home with a nice wee sprat or sand eel. They rapidly put on weight and have usually doubled in weight after just 2 days going from 10-12g to 24g!
Here is young Roseate chick at around 3 days old, at this stage they’re still little balls of cute fluff but have begun running around and searching for hiding places and shelter from the elements and predators.

The fluff ball stage lasts for about a week and then they begin transitioning to growing pins. This common tern chick is around 7 days old at this point has started growing their pins, the narrow tube like structures from which their very first set of feathers will emerge from. At this stage they have become quite mobile and start venturing all over the place away from their original nest site to any decent shelter or hiding place. Though venturing around the place comes with its own dangers as they can be pecked by other adults who are usually none too pleased to see these curious chicks that aren't theirs roaming around their nests and chicks.

This is a common chick that has reached a bit of an intermediate stage between chick and fledgling. As you can see it’s still quite fluffy overall particularly on its head and body but the wings are becoming quite feathery and chicks at this stage spend a good bit of time of flapping their wings about to start exercising their flight muscles and preparing for what’s to come. This chick is around 12 days old.
This stage I think is the point that I find them at their least cutest and is unofficially referred to as the great balding (by me) where their juvenile plumage has more or less fully emerged but not fully grown out on the head where the former fluffy top has fallen out and is being replaced by feathers.
Here is a fully fledged Roseate Tern, and this folks is what Rockabill is all about. If these young chicks can survive all the way through the trials and tribulations of early life where they must run the gauntlet of survival, persevering against food scarcity, exposure to wind, rain and being chilled to death and not to mention predation; they eventually take their place out on the rocks amongst the pantheon of great ones (i.e. the ones who survived) near the pools where there parents bathe, preen and sun themselves. At this point they’re capable of flying quite well but still not the best flyers just yet and many end up flying off and ending up in the surf to have to paddle back to the rocks and dry off before making anymore premature flight attempts. They’re also still reliant on their parents for food still quite some time, as the art of fishing remains a mystery to them for quite some time yet.
This fully fledged Roseate might be able to fly but it's still begging for dinner!

Well that's all folks, until next time. 

David Miley 

& The Rockabill Team

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

A Royal Affair

This past weekend our tiny island was lucky enough to receive a royal visit. After much anticipation and a generous piece of luck with our famous Irish weather, Her Imperial Highness, Princess Takamado of Japan, arrived from Lambay just after ten o’clock on Sunday morning, together with BirdWatch Ireland’s Chairperson, Gerry Lyons, and Interim CEO, Declan O Sullivan, and a select party of invited guests. 

Her Imperial Highness, Princess Takamado of Japan, Shane Somers, Steve Newton and two common tern chicks. Photo: Dick Coombes. Taken under NPWS licence

An avid birder, Her Imperial Highness (HIH) is Honorary President of BirdLife International and an accomplished wildlife photographer. Despite a packed itinerary of official business, HIH had made the trip out to us specially here at Rockabill, in the hope of spotting some Atlantic Puffins in their summer finery, as well as some of our breeding Roseate Terns.

By all accounts this special and unique visit was a great success. Following a calm crossing, HIH was greeted on Rockabill by a full variety of the island’s bird life. With the nesting season in full swing, we were able to show HIH everything from clutches of unhatched eggs through tiny fluff ball Common Terns to nearly fledged Roseate Terns. Dr. Steve Newton was on hand to locate a Black Guillemot nest - luckily the entourage came prepared with baby wipes for when the chicks presented HIH with their regurgitated lunch.

As our most seasoned warden, Shane Somers had the honour of catching an adult Common Tern to show HIH. From the ring, we determined that the bird he caught was a local - born and ringed here on Rockabill in 1994, making it 23 years old, the same age as our youngest warden!

Her Imperial highness, Shane Somers, David Miley, Steve Newton and Caroline McKeon. Photo: Dick Coombes. Taken under NPWS licence. 

Along with this season’s young, HIH got a good look at the adult terns as well. The hide in Garden 5 has previously been modified for ease of access, and proved a perfect spot for observing the aerial acrobatics of Roseate Terns in flight. Hopefully HIH got some great shots!

After signing Rockabill’s guest book and posing for some photos of our own, HIH sailed back to Howth for the final stop on her seabird sightseeing, leaving us flustered, impressed, and surrounded by much appreciated cupcakes from HIH’s boat!

Her Imperial highness, Shane Somers, David Miley and Caroline McKeon. Photo: Dick Coombes. Taken under NPWS licence. 
Aside from our weeding and carpentry, a huge amount of preparation went on behind the scenes into organising and authorising this amazing visit.  A BIG thanks to everyone at BirdWatch Ireland HQ for making it happen. It was great to have the opportunity to host such an interested and genuinely enthusiastic birder, not to mention someone who happens to be royalty! Hopefully HIH will take back some fond memories of her time on the Leinster coast, which along with her photos, showcase the fantastic natural heritage still to be found here, and the importance of the conservation work done to protect it.

Caroline McKeon 
The Rockabill Team