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

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dalkey Tern Colony 2017

The first visit to the colony this season was on 10th May with approximately 50 terns on Maidens' (10 Common Tern & 40 Arctic) and 17 on Lamb. By 20th May we had all our nest boxes out, 25 on Lamb and 14 on Maidens'. We also put out lots of gravel and sand on each island to make the site as attractive as possible to breeding terns. Hopefully we can attract some Roseates, none so far! (I'm still hopeful) 

Susannah helping me put nest boxes and gravel on Maidens' Rock.

Me marking new nests on Maidens' Rock

My most recent visit to check the colony was May 30th. The colony is now up to similar numbers to last year, with 116 nests in total, with 90 on Lamb Island, 23 on Maidens’ Rock and 3 on Dalkey Island. The Dalkey Island birds are surrounded by breeding large gulls, within 3 metres of a Great Black-backed Gull nest. I don’t know why they chose that spot when there’s a much nicer and safer spot on Lamb but fingers crossed they are successful.

Nest with 3 Arctic Tern eggs, Picture taken under licence from NPWS, Susannah Cass. 

Very unusual to get 4 eggs in an Arctic Tern nest, probably one laid by another tern, picture taken under license from NPWS, Andrew Butler

Nest boxes and Arctic Terns nesting on Lamb Island, Andrew Butler

Loading Ken’s boat with new nest boxes at Coliemore Harbour, Susannah Cass

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

Johnny the ferryman bringing me out for my regular visits. Lamb and Dalkey Islands in the background.


The Dalkey Tern Watch is running every Tuesday Evening 5-8pm until the end of July at Coliemore Harbour as well as Saturday events, dates to follow.

The next events are this weekend, Sunday 4th & Monday 5th. 11am-1pm I’ll be running the Tern Watch as normal and then 2:30, 3:30 & 4:30pm I will be running 40 min guided walks on Dalkey Island. You need to make your own way to the Island (ferry), meeting at the pier on the Island. So the event is weather/boat dependant.

The first 2 Tuesdays have been very nice with lovely weather but I wouldn’t mind a few more visitors, so anybody thinking of coming along, please do.

The species list from Tuesday the 23rd of may.

All events will be advertised on: