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