Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Eggs, pegs and chicks with legs.

It's been a busy auld time around here on Rockabill as of late. We've had  a lot going on with visitors from Coquet Island being drafted into help with our Geolocator Tagging Study of roseate terns and also the epic task of censusing this here small but nest-packed island.

A retrieved Geo-locator tag (centre left of photo), records light level which can be used to calculate the latitude and longitude of the bird over it's long-distance migrations to and from West Africa.
Coquet Island is another tern colony located just off the coast of Northumberland, Northern England in the North Sea ( It hosts an impressive seabird colony hosting nesting birds such as: roseate, common, arctic and sandwich terns, black-headed, lesser black-backed, herring gulls, eider ducks, shelducks and more! The colony is taken care of by the RSPB, and Coquet island, like Rockabill, is also parts of the EU Roseate Tern Life Project.  (

Dr. Paul Morrison, Ibrahim Alfarwi (PhD candidate) and Dr. Stephen Newton landed on the Rock last Monday the 11th and after a brief coffee were put straight to work as we assembled our team and began the eggceptionally herculean task of finding every nest on the rock, counting every egg and marking all the nests. We searched through every patch of tree mallow, mayweed and scurvy grass as well as considerable number of nooks and crannies and 843 nestboxes. We were not disappointed! In total this exhaustive search yielded 1473 Roseate Tern nests, 1851 Common Tern nests and 63 Artic Tern nests.

After the initial census of Rockabill was completed it was time to re-trap all of the roseate terns that were initially tagged with Geo-locators last year. Ibrahim manned the hide on the south side of the island overlooking the nestboxes of the geo-locator birds, waiting patiently for birds fly in and out of boxes revealing their tags and relaying info to Dr. Steve and Paul who then caught 12 out of 20 of the tagged birds, a great result, though we hope to get some more in the near future when the boss man returns.
Steve attentively removing the Geo-locator tag while Paul takes note of ring and biometric data for a roseate tern. Image taken under NPWS licence.
Steve measures the wing length of a roseate tern. Image taken under NPWS licence.
Ibrahim and Paul out checking boxes. Image taken under NPWS licence.

Paul and Steve out retrieving tagged birds. Image taken under NPWS licence.
Now that everyone has left and Steve has headed for sunnier shores to liase with other members of the LIFE Project in the Azores as they visit the second largest Roseate Tern colony on this side of the Atlantic, time for the second census where the three of us will take on the challenge again and find the last of the nests. We're currently mid re-census and the numbers just keep climbing! Stay tuned for a final tally on the Rockabill Terns.

Oh and in other news are eggs have begun hatching en masse with many sorry little wet creatures emerging for the first look at the world but it doesn't take too long for them to dry off and tern into fluffy cute chicks that would just make your heart melt! It won't be long until these tiny cuties start legging it all around the place in force, in fact it's only going to be a day or two. Anyways that's all I got for now but we'll back again soon with more updates. Though if your bird senses are twitching and you're still looking for your fill on Rockabill life please check out the Instagram page "Birds_bats_and_beyond" for pictures of bird-life on the Rock (not affiliated with BirdWatch Ireland or anyone/thing else for that matter, all views my own if there even are any and please excuse this shameless self-promotion :D )

Two common tern chicks (Left:2 days old, Right 1 day old). Image taken under NPWS licence.

David Miley &
The Rockabill Team

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