Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Cannon-netting in Dublin Bay

We have had three cannon-netting sessions as part of the project so far, and have brought on board cannon-netting experts from Scotland to help us out with this very technical method of catching birds.  

Here, Simon Foster, Policy & Advice Officer at Scottish Natural Heritage, regales us with a synopsis of his experiences on the project, ably accompanied by Kenny Graham and Ewan Weston, the other members of their modestly self-named “Team Awesome”.

3….2…..1…., kind of like a cannon net catch, and as quick as that it seems our time helping BirdWatch Ireland and the Dublin Bay Birds Project has come to an end. Back in 2012 we were asked to help with the project – “come over to Ireland an ye can catch some waders, ah go on”. I think that’s how it went. Seriously though, we had no idea what we were embarking on. Our only sneak previews were from Niall; a few photos of the Merrion gates roost – wow that’s a lot of oystercatchers!  A look at the map, hmm that’s a big area! And counts of the individual roosts – jings that’s a big flock of birds!!

Merrion Gates roost at high tide Niall Tierney

Anyway, convinced that this was a very worthwhile thing for us to embark on, the three of us headed across. The first time we drove all the way from north Scotland to Dublin.  Navigating all the way to Dublin was easy. Getting around Dublin was a nightmare! We frequently drove right round the Aviva stadium on our way between Merrion and Bull Island, spent what seemed like a lot of euros on the tolls, which was only because we drove up and down the same bit of road several times within the space of an hour!  But when we got to the shore we could see the massive numbers of waders:  flocks and flocks of bar-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin and oystercatchers. Bucket loads of shoveler, mediterranean   gulls, little egrets – it was a birders’ paradise.  Our job from the outset was to catch some waders so that they could be colour-ringed and their movements could start to be unravelled.  Thanks to the detailed recces by everyone involved, it made our job relatively simple. The Dublin Bay Birds team had identified the roosts in advance, and had watched the birds intensely, which meant they knew how birds moved up the shore as the tide pushed in. If we had to do this from scratch ourselves, it would have probably taken a great number of days to figure out what was happening.

Radio-tagged Redshank John Fox

In the first year we took a small oystercatcher catch on Merrion, the next winter we spread our wings and targeted redshank at a few locations and of course the memorable large catch a lot of you were at.  In our last winter, we were successful again, with a lovely catch of 190 oystercatchers and 20 curlew, which allowed all of the remaining colour rings to go on and 10 radio transmitters.  Not only have we learnt a great deal about Dublin Bay (although our navigation skills are still terrible around the city!) but we’ve collectively learned a huge amount about wintering waders in Dublin. 

Members of Team Awesome getting just
the right angle!
Helen Boland
So, our impressions – it’s been a real genuine pleasure to help with this fantastic project. To be able to help in starting, what we really hope will be a long-term commitment to studying waders in Dublin Bay, is a genuine privilege.  Bird colour-ringing is vital for helping us understand our birds, and these studies are the work of teams, not solo efforts.  You guys pulled together as a great team – showing enthusiasm, enjoyment and of course a lot of entertainment. We hope we have whetted your appetites and will be spurred on to continue this great work.

Keep watching all those colour-ringed birds and remember “Team Awesome” are only a phone call away!

Simon Foster, Kenny Graham and Ewan Weston.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Colourful jigsaw pieces added to the puzzle!

A day spent reading colour-rings, with your help, has allowed us to gather important information on 51 individuals across five different species.

After a brief introduction to the project at the Bull Island Interpretative Centre, volunteers and equipment were divided, and two teams headed out into Dublin Bay in search of birds with bling (colour-rings). As the tide rose, it pushed the feeding birds closer to the shore, where teams stood ready, searching legs for splashes of colour.

Niall Tierney talks about the merits of colour-ringing as a conservation tool Ricky Whelan 

We managed to read colour-rings on five species; 32 Oystercatchers, 9 Brent Geese, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 4 Redshanks and one Black-tailed Godwit. When a colour-ring sighting is submitted, a detailed history, showing information on all re-sightings of that ring, is returned to the person who submitted it.

Ringing and re-sighting information for colour-ringed  Oystercatcher "LL"

One Oystercatcher, LL, which was spotted on the day, has been re-sighted 11 times since it was ringed in February 2013. The first sightings were during the autumn/winter of 2013/14 when LL turned up at Bull Island, Merrion Gates and Shellybanks, exploiting foraging opportunities on both sides of the bay. However in May 2014, LL was reported in Orkney in Scotland. A few months later LL returned to sunny south Dublin, with sightings from August to December at Sandymount. After that, LL disappeared off the radar until August 2015, when it was spotted back at Merrion Gates, before being spotted again in October at the same place.

Some of the key overwintering areas for waders in Dublin Bay

The majority of colour-rings read were part of the Dublin Bay Birds Project, but we did manage to spot some non-project birds, ringed by other schemes. A lot of patience was required to read a Black-tailed Godwit ring (LG-WL - lime over green on left leg, white over lime on right leg).

Colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit “LG-WL” (centre) at the 
North Lagoon, Bull Island Niall Tierney

After a quick tweet to @JenGill3, Professor of Applied Ecology at the University of East Anglia, who works on Black-tailed Godwits, we discovered that LG-WL was ringed in the south-western part of Iceland in April 2000, and has been re-sighted 52 times since then! Between 2001 and 2014 LG-WL was re-sighted a whopping 47 times in Ireland, with 46 of those sightings in Dublin Bay and one in Cork harbour, in 2003. Towards the end of 2014 LG-WL was spotted at the Wash Estuary in Lincolnshire in east England, but returned to Dublin Bay in September 2015.

Searching for colour-ringed birds on Sandymount Strand, 
South Dublin Ricky Whelan

Throughout the day, nine Brent Geese with colour rings were also spotted, and their details hae been sent to the Irish Brent Goose Research Group. If you spot a colour-ringed bird in Dublin Bay or elsewhere, we are very keen to hear from you. More information on how to report a colour-ring sighting can be found here. Follow the project on Twitter using #DubBayBirds.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Colourful German Curlew Overwinters in Dublin Bay

Reading colour-rings is a great way to make valuable contributions to bird research projects all over the world. Why not join us on Bull Island on Saturday 17th October to learn what it’s all about?

Here’s an account of the last colour-ringed bird that we read in Dublin Bay and the information we were able to find out about the bird. More importantly though, we were able to provide a very important datapoint for the project coordinator, and let them know where one of their study birds spends the winter.

On the 6th of October, during an “all-day” waterbird survey in Dublin Bay, we found some extra time between counts to scour the mudflats for colour-ringed birds. Searching for, and reading colour-rings, requires a little extra time and attention, and we don’t often have this luxury during regular counts, when the tide gives us a small window to count all birds in a specific area. Positioned at the Wooden Bridge at the south end of Bull Island in Clontarf, we watched the hungry waders redistribute themselves as the tide dropped and small islands of mud became exposed. With our heads stuck in our scopes, we picked through a mixed flock of Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwits and a flash of colour appeared! Filled with excitement, we quickly adjusted the scopes to get better views of the colour-rings on both legs of the Curlew. We recorded the important information, which includes colour and location of the rings, and even managed to “phone-scope” a few grainy photos.

Colour ringed Curlew RRY-GYY close to the Wooden Bridge, 
Bull Island, Dublin Bay – October 6th 2015 Jen Lynch

While the bird was still in our sights, a brief exchange on Twitter told us that it was most likely a bird ringed by Natalie Meyer as part of a NABU project in Germany! So we sent off a quick email with the grainy photos. Natalie got back to us to say that the bird, known as RRY-GYY (red-red-yellow, green-yellow-yellow) was ringed as a breeding adult female on the 19th of June 2013 in Tetenhusen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany . Since the project began in 2013, Natalie has colour-ringed 18 adults and 65 chicks. RRY-GYY has bred successfully over the last 3 years at the monitored site and she is excellent at hiding her nest from predators (and the researchers!). Nest predation by mammalian predators is a big problem in the area where RRY-GYY breeds, so this year her nest site received enhanced nest protection in the form of an electric fence!

Curlew RRY-GYY ringed in northern Germany (green) and 
re-sighted in Dublin Bay (red) a distance of approx. 1,033 km

While the researchers are up to speed on the breeding situation for these birds, little is known about their wintering locations. By submitting colour-ring sightings like this one, researchers can gain a better understanding of the movements of their birds away from their ringing sites.

You can get involved in contributing to research like this. This Saturday, October 17th we are holding a ring-reading day at the Bull Island Interpretative Centre where we will introduce people to ring-reading and spend some time trying to connect with colour-ringed birds in Dublin. We’re meeting at the centre at 10:00 sharp, having a quick cuppa and a short presentation before heading out to find some colour-ringed birds. We’ll reconvene at the centre at 14:00 to collate the results and give some feedback on the colour-ringed birds. More details can be found here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A Moving Story

Join us for a day of ring-reading and learning about migration on Saturday 17th October. 

Since the first colour ring was fitted as part of the Dublin Bay Birds Project on the 19th October, 2012, we’ve been doggedly trying to get as many re-sightings of these birds as possible. Nearly three years later, we’ve fitted many more rings and are still on the hunt for these colourful individuals. We’re learning lots about these birds, both locally and internationally, but equally, new questions are being raised.

To date, 396 waders have been colour-ringed with a breakdown of 262 Oystercatchers, 99 Bar-tailed Godwits and 35 Redshanks. Colour-ringing is a fantastic tool for us, as it allows us to generate lots of data on individual birds without the need to recapture them – we can easily identify each bird according to the inscription on its brightly coloured rings.

Colour-ringed Redshank Niall Tierney

There is no question that reading the rings (and submitted them!) is time well spent, and it is very enjoyable too. Time spent in the wilds of the Dublin coast, with the bustle of the city behind you is surely always time well spent. The thrill of successfully “getting” the rings starts to become addictive over time. You start to become familiar with regular individuals at their haunts, and look forward to their return from breeding areas in Scotland and Iceland. 

Colour-ringed Oystercatchers on Sandymount Strand John Fox

Come spring, most of our colour-ringed birds will leave Dublin and indeed the country altogether, and this is when it really gets exciting. We open our emails each morning with huge anticipation, hoping for messages with foreign names from far-flung places bringing news of “our” birds. We have had re-sightings from Scotland, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands so far.  It’s always brilliant to get a foreign re-sighting, but it’s even better to connect with that bird back on Irish soil (or sand!) in the autumn.

Oystercatcher re-sightings outside Dublin. Blue marker: Ringing site (Merrion Gates, Sandymount Strand), red markers: re-sighting locations of Dublin-ringed birds, green markers: original ringing locations for ‘FH’ and ‘HD’, which were recaptured in Dublin in February 2013 and colour-ringed.

We would love to see more birders and nature enthusiasts out keeping an eye on our birds and piecing their stories together. Every single re-sighting we receive adds to our ever-growing dataset, tells us more about how the birds are using their winter home and informs us on how we can conserve it.

Reading colour-rings on Sandymount Strand Jen Lynch

If you are interested in trying out some ring-reading and hearing more about the Dublin Bay Birds Project, why not come along to our ring reading day at Bull Island on Saturday, October 17th? On the day we will be on hand, with experienced ring-readers, to introduce you to ring-reading, and we will take to the coast to scrutinise the local flocks for ringed birds. It’s a fantastic time of year to get out and see the huge numbers of waterbirds that use Dublin Bay.

What: Dublin Bay Ring Reading Day

Where: meeting at Bull Island Visitor Centre

When: Saturday October 17th @10am

What to bring: Binoculars and scope (if you have some), Wellies, suitable clothing and some lunch.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Beach Party!

Autumn is upon us, but you can still catch the last beach party of the year.

Each year we observe the coming and going of autumn migration. Amid the current migrants passing along the east coast are good numbers of sea terns. These terns gather to roost as dusk approaches on the Dublin coast, and Sandymount Strand is a favorite spot, attracting thousands of birds each evening. This gathering starts when the breeding season is over, and the spectacle of thousands of roosting terns can be seen from mid-August until mid-September. These flocks made up of a species mix, gathered together as they share a migration route to Africa and beyond. Numbers will have nose-dived by mid-September, and you’ll be lucky to see a tern in Dublin after that.

Sandymount Strand awaits the arrival
of the terns 
Jen Lynch

So far this year we observed a peak of 4,200 terns. The group is made up of a number of different species, the vast majority of which are Common Terns. The remainder is made up of Arctic and Roseate Terns, and, to a much lesser extent, Sandwich Terns.

Sandwich Tern Fishing Dick Coombes

The presence of Rockabill-ringed Roseate Terns, as well as Dublin Port-ringed Arctic and Common Terns, proves the local provenience of individuals within the group. But the Sandwich Terns show that it’s not just locally breeding terns that join the roost. The nearest Sandwich Tern colonies are Wexford and Down, which tells us that birds are coming to Dublin to the roost from further afield. More interestingly, we see Black Terns with these birds on an almost annual basis. Black Terns belong to the "marsh terns" group, as opposed to the “sea terns” mentioned above. They breed on the freshwater marshlands of Holland, Poland and further east.

The fact that these birds are attracted from so far afield shows how important Dublin Bay and Sandymount Strand is for these birds, as they undertake their epic migrations to the west African coast (and far beyond for the Arctics). A record number of 51 Black Terns was observed by local birders in the flock at Sandymount on the 23rd of August and, across the Liffey, on Dollymount Strand, a White-winged Black Tern was seen. 

Ringed Roseate Tern Dick Coombes

It’s wonderful to be able to watch this migration in action, and great that’s this spectacle happens right on Dublin’s doorstep! It is a very short-lived event, though, and can only be seen between mid-August and mid-September. So grab your jacket and binoculars and get over to the coast before these graceful little creatures leave our shores for another year.

BirdWatch Ireland members enjoying the spectacle Jen Lynch

Monday, 10 August 2015

Returning Waders Add a Splash of Colour to Dublin Bay

After the summer lull, waders are now flocking back to our shores. It's that time of year, and they are on the move from their Arctic breeding grounds. We are in the early phase of autumn migration and many species can still be seen in their charismatic breeding plumage. 

Birds change their feathers every year: good quality feathers are vital for efficient flight and for insulation, but there is a need for a wardrobe chance ahead of the breeding season. A striking, colourful ensemble is essential to attract a mate and to show off to rivals. Many waders migrate northwards before moulting, so we rarely get to see them in their Sunday best. August presents us with the rare opportunity to see returning birds still retaining their breeding finery, before the post-breeding moult leaves them dull and drab for the winter months. 

Winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit  John Fox

There are some handsome examples to be seen in Dublin this month, so make sure to take the time to get out and have a look. Among them, Bar-tailed Godwits have returned from northern Scandinavia and Siberia, and feeding parties may be observed probing for buried morcels the tide line. Scattered around the flock are birds with rich brick-red underparts, which extending unbroken from head to tail. This contrasts with the dark wings with golden specs admixed with the grey, black and brown feathers. The Tolka Estuary is a good place to see these flocks on a rising tide. 

Dunlin can easily be identified at the moment by their distinctive black bellies, which will turn pale as the weeks wear on. Now, they have rufous and black wings, white flanks and a black belly just like they were swimming in black ink. They will become brown-grey above and white below soon, and will blend well with Sanderling and Ringed Plover later in the season. You will find Dunlin on Dollymount Strand and south of the Bull Island causeway at this time of year. 

Dunlin in Summer plimage  Clive Timmons

It’s a good time to see other species on their way through, following the Dublin coast on their way to Africa. Whimbrel can be seen and heard now, but can be difficult to distinguish from the slightly larger, longer-billed Curlew. Their call, on the other hand, is unique. Try learning the call before going looking for them; it's described as a loud, rippling whistle “pü pü pü pü pü pü pü”. Greenshank are also great to see at this time of the year.  Like a Redshank’s paler and lankier older brother, they have very white under parts contrasting with the dark wings. You can see them loosely associating with feeding flocks of Redshanks, but their longer legs allow they to exploit deeper pools. 

Whimbrel  John Fox

So get out there and see what returning waders you can spot this month, as always keep an eye out for colour ringed birds as we are always looking for re-sightings of our project ringed birds.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Fly on the Wall Look at the Dublin Port Tern Colony

Due to tern chick predation by a mystery predator, we deployed a motion-triggered “trail camera” in an effort to identify the visiting culprit. 

When we retrieved the memory card some days later, we were disappointed not to have identified the predator, but we did capture an intriguing insight into the activities and routines of the terns when completely undisturbed on the colony. 

In the three days, the camera was triggered 2,088 times, and after meticulously scrutinising each photo, we discovered that the platform is not just home to terns at this time of the year. 

Nocturnal squatters started to appear around 8 pm each evening and stayed overnight, roosting on the boundary planks and within the nesting compartments until shortly after 5 am each morning. Although the camera was directed into just one nesting compartment, it was clear from the sequence of photos that Starlings use the structure as a night time communal roost with very little, if any, reaction from the nesting terns.

Adult and juvenile Starlings get some sleep among the nesting terns
Ricky Whelan
The early bird gets the....sand eel (bird centre foreground) Ricky Whelan

We also managed to make some observations on the hours that the terns keep. They became active between 4 and 4:30 am each day, and the earliest food delivery occurred at 5:19 am. As expected, the adults spent their day diligently coming and going with food, resting and occasionally brooding young chicks and eggs. Sporadically, the terns do what’s known as a “dread.” Dreading is when the entire tern colony suddenly and silently (unusually for terns!) takes to the air and vacates the nesting area and performs a few looping laps of the nesting site, before returning to business as usual. Dreads are pretty much over as soon as they start, and in general, last less than about 10 seconds. This behaviour is associated with the terns being startled by an avian predator, but often occurs with no apparent stimulus.

Dreading adult terns leave the nesting colony briefly Ricky Whelan

Peace at last. Common Tern chicks and adults roosting for the night
 with Starlings tucked in along the left hand edge Ricky Whelan

As the light fades, the frequency of prey deliveries declines and everyone is settled down for the night by about 10 pm. 

So, while we didn't manage to get confirmation on the mystery predator, (which we suspect is Mink or Rat), we did get some interesting insights into the tern activity on the platforms when they are left to their own devices. The effect that this predation has had on the overall colony success this season has yet to be measured, but will be quantified by the end of the season.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Tern Talk

School’s out, but we’ve still got plenty of work to do. As the seasons pass, we see huge differences in the composition of the birdlife in Dublin Bay. And new arrivals mean different survey types to adequately determine how they are all doing. Tern time is always a very busy time for us… which may explain the lack of blog posts recently! 

Many of the waders and wildfowl are now long gone, with only a fraction of their winter numbers remaining. Last February, we had a total of 38,854 waterbirds in Dublin Bay during a low tide survey. The corresponding number in June was just 3,566. But that doesn’t mean that Dublin Bay is not important for waterbirds in the summer -far from it, in fact, but that’s for another post!

But it’s tern time for us now, and it will be until around about the time that the kids go back to school and the terns go back to Africa (and beyond). So, right now, we’re flat out doing nest censuses, ringing and colour-ringing chicks and assessing foraging locations within Dublin Bay. And before too long, we’ll be assessing the numbers of post-breeding terns roosting on Sandymount Stand in late August and early September. At which point, the waders will be flying in and the wildfowl won’t be too far behind them. So, it’s always worth taking the time to enjoy the breeding season before it passes...

Common Terns  Niall Tierney
Arctic Tern nest at the foot of a mooring bollard Niall Tierney
Arctic Tern nest Niall Tierney
Arctic Tern nest Niall Tierney
Arctic Tern nest Niall Tierney
Erythristic Arctic Tern eggs Niall Tierney
Common Tern nest Niall Tierney
Common Tern nest Niall Tierney 
Newly hatched Common Tern Niall Tierney

Common Tern chick Niall Tierney
Common Tern chicks Niall Tierney

All photos taken under NPWS licence. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Spring Break

Bird life in Dublin Bay certainly has changed to reflect the coming and passing of spring. As we discussed in our two preceding blogs many of our familiar species have headed north in an effort to mate and hopefully successfully breed at their respective breeding grounds. For the most part it's business as usual for the Dublin Bay Birds Project Team. We continue our monthly suite of waterbird counts and have seen increasing numbers of terns return to the bay in anticipation of their breeding season ahead. A new tern-breeding raft has been installed north of the Great South Wall in the past month and we will keep a close eye on the "take up" of breeding pairs on the raft as the season develops.

Last week our own Niall Tierney took the opportunity to visit Iceland for a short holiday. Showing true commitment to the project he has spent much of his time in Iceland combing the coastlines' fjords and bays for project-ringed birds. Lo and behold he has connected with one of our birds previously caught and ringed at Sandymount Strand as part of our project work last February.

Oystercatcher "FL" foraging last week on the Icelandic coast - Niall Tierney

Word has reached us of two sightings the Oystercatcher "FL"(the birds individual code) on the 6th and 16th of May at Hvalfjordur which is located on the south western side of the Icelandic coast. Niall reports "FL" has been with a non-breeding flock of c140 oystercatchers frequenting the area. It must have been a great experience for Niall to have caught and possibly even personally ringed FL in Dublin last February (HEREs the blog from that catch day) and then see it in Iceland where it has returned in an attempt to find a mate and raise young this spring. We look forward to hear more details from Niall in the coming days. 

Oystercatcher "FL" re-sighted at Hvalfjordur Iceland

Standby for more re-sighting stories as the season develops and for news on the breeding tern season ahead.

BirdWatch Ireland is currently running a campaign (along side other EU Birdlife partners) in an effort to stop the European Commission from reopening and making negative changes to two EU Directives. The strength of the EU Habitats Directive and The Birds Directive is under threat. These laws are incorporated into Irish law and are the vital in protecting the habitats and species of Dublin Bay and throughout the rest of Ireland and Europe. Please follow the link HERE and take a few minutes to help this campaign.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

April Fowl

As spring is (almost) turning to summer, there is also a transformation in the bird life of Dublin Bay. Having spent the winter taking bi-monthly counts of the birds at Bull Island, I have watched the birds in the lagoon shift with the seasons. Not only are new species arriving and others heading off around the world, but the appearance and behaviour of certain species is adjusting to the warmer season.

The difference most apparent to me were birds coming into their colourful summer plumage, which is generally much more striking and attractive than winter plumage (and makes identifying species at distance a much faster task!). Many of the Black-tailed Godwit have already traded their plain brown winter plumage for vibrant rufous-orange on the neck and black barring on the breast. Similarly, Dunlin become a rich chestnut with a prominent black belly patch, rather than their wintertime grey-brown. The Black-headed Gulls finally live up to their name and develop a striking chocolate-brown head for the breeding season. This emergence of birds in full breeding plumage signals the birdy courtship season is in full swing and summer is truly on its way!

Black-tailed Godwit in breeding plumage (Andrew Kelly)

 Black-headed Gull living up to its name (Oran O’Sullivan)

Dunlin in summer colours (Ken Kinsella)

The change is not only in appearance but also, of course, in behaviour. As their migration departure is approaching fast, the Brent Geese at Bull Island are frantically building stores to see them through the journey. Since they have spent the winter gorging all the eelgrass and algae in sight, by spring Brent Geese must look for something new to devour. In the last month I have observed more geese feeding in the grass around the lagoon instead of the intertidal zone within the lagoon. Early in winter, the geese feed on eelgrass and algae at low tide, but when all of it has been eaten away, they begin to graze grassland. This reflects how the change in vegetation through the seasons influences the bird life, as some sources become depleted and others are made available.

Perhaps the most significant change through the seasons is inward and outward migration to and from Dublin Bay. By late April, most of the over-wintering species have left Ireland and summer species are arriving. I have noticed a reduction in wintering species’ population numbers at Bull Island during April counts, as migration to their summer grounds gets underway. Smaller numbers of Sanderling, Knot and Turnstone meander around the lagoon, while Wigeon and Teal in particular have disappeared off my radar. But the upside to the absence of these birds are the arrival of summertime species to Bull Island. I spotted my first two Sandwich Terns of the season pottering around the lagoon just last week - something that screams “summer is here!!” in my face.       

While my bird counts at Bull Island are finished for this winter season, the spring transformation is set to continue. More summer species, such as the remaining Terns, will arrive, and those Brent Geese inhaling the grass will abscond to Canada. Hopefully this summer will be a kind one to our breeding birds and next winter’s monthly counts will show positive results!

Susan Doyle

Friday, 3 April 2015

March: In like a lion, out like a lamb…or did we get that backwards?

We have seen the end of March, and Spring is in full swing throughout Dublin Bay. Our schedule of bi-monthly surveys have allowed us to see all the changes that happen across the month, and at this time of year, Dublin Bay becomes an airport terminal, with passengers arriving a departing from far and wide.

In the past few weeks, bird numbers throughout the bay have been steadily decreasing, as waterfowl, waders and gulls take flights to their breeding grounds. The Teal will end up in Iceland, northern Europe and Russia; the Knot will head for Greenland and Canada, after staging in Iceland or Norway; and the Black-headed Gulls will spread out again right across northern Europe.

On the ground, the sound of wee-oo-ing Wigeon is replaced by the coor-eee of Whimbrel passing through on their way northwards having wintered on the West African coast. On Bull Island, singing Skylarks nearly drown everything else out, but what a welcome sound it is. And there has been a Meadow Pipit singing his heart out over the spit at Merrion gates too.

These days, the project team open our inboxes each morning in anticipation of getting emails from northern climes, bringing news of Dublin-ringed Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Bar-tailed Godwits en route to, or on, their breeding grounds. Last week, we heard from Ian Durston from Nairn in Scotland who has one of our birds breeding in the field next to his house. XI has taken up residence in a stubble field in Cawdor, Nairn and seems to have paired up, so it may not be too long before he hears the pitter-patter of tiny …cockle-stabbers.

XI and mate in Nairn, Scotland Ian Durston

The Brent Geese are preparing for their imminent departure, before re-fuelling in Iceland, crossing the Greenland Icecap and finally arriving in Artic Canada. Soon there won't be sight nor sound of them until they return in September. But now we're on standby for the arrival of the breeding terns. Sandwich Terns tend to take an earlier flight than the rest, and handfuls have been seen already, but it’s the Common and Arctic Terns that we’re waiting for. Their harsh and rasping screechy calls will herald the onset of summer fieldwork, and trips to the Port to ring the chicks and monitor the breeding success of the colony. 

So, there's plenty to see in Dublin Bay - it's an ideal time of year to get out and see migration for yourself, to observe the comings and goings of spring

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Ecologists strike it lucky!

BirdWatch Ireland’s waterbird ecologists working on the Dublin Bay Birds project spend a lot of time on Sandymount Strand and have struck it lucky with a remarkable discovery.

A sea-front curtain-twitcher remarked:

“They seem to be here all the time! I’ve seen them here at all hours of the day and night – with their telescopes watching the birds, catching them and marking them with plastic leg rings, or even tracking the Oystercatchers with radio-antennas, so it’s little wonder that they were the ones to find the gold.”

“When I saw the low rainbows, I started to think about their significance,” said one of the project team, who also has a keen interest in Irish folklore. “My grandfather comes from Slieve-an-ore [Gold Mountain], near Feakle in Clare. He has seen the low rainbows there too, and told me what they mean. Tales of leprechauns and pots of gold are not just bedtime stories, despite what people may think.”

Squally showers on Sandymount Strand Niall Tierney
The ecologist continued:
We managed to get some spades and sieves from colleagues in nearby UCD and got straight to work. It’s not rocket-science – it’s simply a matter of scouring the sandflats looking for signs of mineralisation, and then getting busy with our spades and sieves. The gold pellets are pretty obvious, once you get your eye in.”

Sifting through the sediment Niall Tierney

Others have suggested that the gold may originate from one of the many shipwrecks in Dublin Bay and that it may just be washing up now, after the storm force gales of Monday night. The steamship RMS Leinster, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat UB-123 on the 10th October, 1918, is emerging as the prime candidate, as military historians have long speculated on the likelihood that she was carrying a significant cargo of gold.

Whatever the source of the gold, it’s expected that, much like the infamous 19th century gold rushes, people will flock to the Dublin coast aspiring to make their fortunes.

Susan and Helen make their way back with their loot Niall Tierney
BirdWatch Ireland has remained tight-lipped about how it will spend its windfall. However, a source close to Ireland’s largest nature conservation organisation suggested that the money will either be spent on an ambitious plan to create the world‘s largest aviary by roofing Co. Wicklow, or on a Passenger Pigeon re-introduction project, which aims to solve the world’s hunger crisis. 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Coláiste Íosagáin meets Dublin Bay's birds

We were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with the students and teachers from Coláiste Íosagáin, Booterstown recently. The outing was part of the science curriculum focusing on local biodiversity and habitats, so it was an excellent opportunity to spread the word about our research on the waterbirds in Dublin Bay and the habitats upon which they rely. 

Ricky meets with Coláiste Íosagáin students
 at Booterstown Marsh Neasa Ní Ghallchóir

On the day, three 2nd year classes visited Booterstown Marsh and identified the ducks and waders feeding in the nature reserve. Later we visited Sandymount Strand to see some of the birds that prefer to feed on the sandflats and along the tideline.

We also did some radio-tracking, which proved a big hit! We’re currently tracking ten Oystercatchers to work out their foraging and roosting habitats during the day and at night, and with the girls’ help, we were able to get a few more fixes for the database. 

Getting a closer look at some Redshanks 
Neasa Ní Ghallchóir

We all got a chance to see a great variety of waterbirds on the day; everything from the vegetarian, grazing Brent Geese to the carnivorous, probing Dunlin, and learned all about their adaptations and foraging strategies. Other topics covered included disturbance, migration, population trends and conservation issues.

The girls have a go at radio-tracking 
Oystercatchers Neasa Ní Ghallchóir

A big thanks to all the students and teachers for an enjoyable morning chatting about the importance of Dublin Bay for birds and biodiversity. It was heartening to meet students who were both interested and well-informed about the natural environment around them. I wonder if the children at our Oystercatchers’ breeding grounds are as well informed. …Maybe we’ll have to plan a trip to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway or Scotland to find out! ;-)