Friday, 3 November 2017

New Book: Dublin Bay - Nature and History

A new book, Dublin Bay - Nature and History has just been published by Collins Press. The authors, Richard Nairn, David Jeffrey and Rob Goodbody have done a superb job in compiling all that is wonderful and interesting about the heritage (natural and built) of the bay.

Book cover  from Dublin Bay - Nature and History
Collins Press
The book was launched on November 2nd by Senator David Norris at the Dublin Port Centre to a big crowd of naturalists, historians and academics as well as the family and friends of the authors. Senator Norris gave a characteristically enthusiastic and humorous speech followed by author Richard Nairn who summarised (on behalf of all three authors) the motivation and journey behind getting the book to print.

Authors, David Jeffrey, Rob Goodbody, Senator David Norris and author Richard Nairn
Dublin Port Co 
The book covers many aspects of the natural history of Dublin Bay, including its habitats and birds making it of particular interest in the context of the Dublin Bay Birds Project. The book is also full of beautiful photographs, old & new maps and interesting illustrations. Local birdwatcher and contributor to the Dublin Bay Birds Project, John Fox, was Principal Photographer for the book, and his bird and landscape photographs are superb.

Black Guillemots  John Fox

BirdWatch Ireland's Ricky Whelan with Eoin C. Bairéad at the launch 
Dublin Port Co

The Dublin Bay Birds Project Team and all at BirdWatch Ireland would like to wish Richard (who has close ties to the project through his work for Dublin Port Company), David and Rob great success with the book and future publications.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Ready or Knot!

When out counting Terns in September I cast my eye over some wader flocks - delighted to see some of our Dublin-ringed Oystercatchers back for another winter, as well as some individuals ringed on their breeding grounds in Iceland. As my scope-view moved across a flock of newly-arrive Knot – some carrying traces of ‘rusty’ breeding plumage and others with their plainer whites, browns and grey feathers that they’ll have for the winter, something bright yellow caught my attention. It was a flag – very similar to a colour ring, but one that sticks out to make it easier to read. The tide was pushing in and the Knot were constantly on the move but I eventually managed to read the code – 07K – my first Knot ring/flag to read!

The Knot I had seen was ringed in Iceland last May, and had been seen in Merseyside near Liverpool at the end of August before moving on to Dublin in the subsequent two weeks.

Knot in NW Iceland. Photo by J. van de Kam.

Knot with unique colour ring and coded-flag combination.

'My' bird was part of a study to learn more about the different populations of Knot in northern Europe and where they go at different times of the year (breeding, moulting, staging, wintering). You can’t conserve and protect a species if you don’t understand the different parts of its life cycle and where the protection is needed! 

The study began with ringing at sites in north Norway and Iceland, and has recently expanded to include flocks in the Irish Sea in Liverpool Bay and the Ribble Estuary. Several thousand birds have been ringed as part of this project since it began and resightings are providing vital information on this species. We’ve already spotted one bird from Liverpool that had moved over to Dublin Bay, and there will undoubtedly be loads more over the winter!

As recently as 22 September 2017, 519 Knots were colour-flagged in Liverpool Bay. The birds are marked on the tarsus with an orange flag with two inscriptions, over a pale blue ring. About 50% of the marked birds were 2 years old, which means that for the first time the summering population on the west coast has been marked in good numbers.

Knot in N Norway(bottom). Photo by J. van de Kam.

In Jim Wilson’s own words:
As so many knots are now carrying flags you are almost guaranteed to find marked birds, but in most situations need a good telescope to read the codes on the flags. The record is about 90 readings in one day, but that was near the ringing site. Even if codes are not read off, the position and colours of flags and colour rings also tells us whether knots are marked in Norway, NW Iceland, SW Iceland or the Netherlands. Knots with one flag and 4 rings on the tarsus are marked in the Netherlands. Records of lack of sightings despite searching through flocks are also interesting.”

Sightings of Knot in Ireland with the above rings/flags should be sent to

Photo courtesy of J. van de Kam

Photo courtesy of I. Hartley.

Photo courtesy of P. Knight.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The worst named bird in Dublin Bay!

At this time of year thousands and thousands of Terns gather and roost in Dublin Bay before migration, providing an unforgettable spectacle for birdwatchers and Dublin residents alike! It's one of the most important tern gathering points for Europe and we've been monitoring it for several years to find out how many Terns use it, what species are there, how long they stay, and what kind of threats the birds and the site might face. So this blog is inspired by our late-summer evenings spent on Sandymount Strand, but it's not about Terns....

Black-headed Gulls roosting on Sandymount Strand - August 2017 (B Burke)

The Terns spend their day feeding out in the Irish Sea and return to roost around 8pm, arriving bit-by-bit in their 10's and 100's until after dark when there are several thousand present. Before they get there however, we see the arrival and gathering of their Larid (Terns & Gulls) cousins, including large flocks of the humble Black-headed Gull! The Black-headed Gulls also gather in Dublin Bay in their hundreds and thousands, but rather than coming from the middle of the Irish Sea, most arrive here from rivers, ponds, parks inland, as well as coastal sites, around county Dublin. Unlike our Terns they'll be here with us through the winter.

A Black-headed Gull beginning to come out of its summer plumage - changing from brown head to white. (B Burke)

Black-headed Gulls are one of the small gull species, much smaller and very different from an ecological point of view to the sometimes-controversial large Gulls. Black-headed Gulls don't nest in urban areas, but like Terns they nest in colonies on offshore and inland-lake islands around the country. They have a brown head during the breeding season, a mostly white head in winter, and show various shades in between during the spring and autumn months. During winter they're very common pretty much everywhere there's water - the coast, inland lakes, rivers, turloughs and even ponds in parks. Don't let this seasonal abundance fool you though, they're red-listed in Ireland and like most of our ground-nesting species they're under threat and losing ground year after year.
Black-headed Gull in late summer, changing from brown to white head (B Burke)

Black-headed Gull in late summer, having lost most of its brown head (B Burke)

A winter plumage Black-headed Gull - the dark smudge at the back of the head is the only hint of it's alternative summer plumage (B Burke)

The reason for their ubiquity from August to March is because we get a huge influx from all over Europe. Before our Autumn Tern counts at Sandymount and Merrion we set aside some time to look for Gulls and Waders that have been colour-ringed, and we haven't been disappointed. We've seen Black-headed Gulls with yellow, white and green rings; some with letters, some with numbers, and some with both! A bit of googling and a few emails later we found that our Black-headed Gull flock in Dublin last week consisted of birds from colonies as far away as the UK (2), Belgium (1), Norway (2) and Poland (3)! A lot of last week's birds have been ringed in the last five years, though given that many of them were ringed as adults they are likely a good bit older than that. The BTO tell us that their typical lifespan is around 11 years old, though the oldest Black-headed Gull on record was over 32 years old!

A juvenile Black-headed Gull - they're Red Listed as a breeding species in Ireland (B Burke)

In Ireland we also have two other small-to-medium sized gulls that offer a glimpse into how confusing some bird names can be. One of our other resident Gulls is the Common Gull - but it's much less Common than the Black-headed Gull. We also have a growing population of Mediterranean Gulls who actually have a black head during the summer, in contrast to the brown head of the Black-headed Gull! So we have Black-headed Gulls that aren't actually black-headed, and are much more common than the Common Gull! 

Winter plumage Black-headed Gull (B Burke)

Keep an look out for these birds next time on your walk along the coast or in a suburban park, take a look at the variety of head-plumages on show, and keep your eyes peeled for a colour-ring that might give you an insight into the history and travels that bird has taken to get there!

For further information about Black-headed Gulls, see the links below:

  • Our South Dublin BirdWatch Ireland Branch will be meeting at 7pm this Thursday to go and see the Tern roost at Merrion Strand - if you haven't seen it before then this is your chance!

Monday, 31 July 2017

'PUL' the other one!

An important part of our work in Dublin Bay involves the ringing of key waterbird species to learn more about the birds and how they use Dublin Bay. As well as providing us with important information on their usage of breeding/feeding/roosting areas within the bay, we also get some very interesting ring resightings of ‘our’ birds from further afield – some of the Terns we’ve ringed in Dublin Bay have been resighted in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and on migration in Namibia!

Common Tern - the most numerous Tern in Dublin Bay. (BB)

For the terns, these resightings are largely in line with what we’d expect – we’d expect the terns that breed in Dublin would be using parts of the Irish coast on migration and eventually end up in Namibia. We’d also expect that the majority of the Terns that roost in Dublin Bay after the breeding season might be from different parts of Ireland, or colonies nearby in the UK. Though somewhat expected, this is still all very useful information to collect from a conservation point of view! That being said, we do enjoy some of the more ‘novel’ and unusual sightings – so imagine our delight when we got an email from Oddvar Olsen in Norway!

Enclosed in the email was the picture below of yellow ring PUL – a ring we had put on an adult Common Tern at Sandymount Strand in south Dublin last August. Sandymount gets several thousand terns in August and September each year, roosting in the evenings for the few weeks between leaving their breeding site and setting off on migration for African waters for the winter (it's quite the sight on a late summer's evening!).

Colour-ring PUL - put on a Common Tern at Sandymount Strand last Autumn.

PUL was caught in Dublin last Autumn, but won't be back this year! Ring found at Raudholmane in Norway this year.

Now it’s always great when someone accompanies a resighting with a picture, so we can be absolutely 100% sure that the ring was read correctly etc. That being said it’s less great when there’s no bird in the picture… 

Oddvar found our Common Tern ring while investigating causes of decline of Black Guillemots along the Norwegian coast. The ring was  close to the nest of a Great Black-backed Gull. 

Great Black-backed Gull - the largest gull in the world (BB)

Great Black-backed Gulls have a very flexible diet, that often includes young seabirds at this time of year – those that aren’t great at flying take a few seconds extra to take off and they aren’t as manoeuvrable in the air. An adult Common Tern like PUL is a much trickier meal though – these ‘Sea Swallows’ are skilful and pacy flyers compared to a lumbering GBBGull. I have found the rings of adult terns myself near GBBGull nests and roosts though – sometimes the Tern might have been sick or injured, and sometimes the GBBGull might just get lucky! It’s all part of the circle of life and has been going on for thousands of years. In recent times us humans have been disrupting the natural order by destroying the habitat, nesting sites and food sources of terns and gulls alike – that’s where the problem lies! The resulting effects are felt throughout the seabird communities and wider ecosystem biodiversity around our coasts.

Great Black-backed Gull. (BB)

In the coming weeks our Dublin Bay Birds Project staff and I-WeBS team, along with some very dedicated volunteers, will be counting and recording roosting Tern flocks around the country. We'd very much appreciate records/counts of tern flocks from around the country - full details here:

For anyone who thinks they might have spotted one of our Dublin-ringed Terns, please enter the details of the sighting here and we'll get back to you:

Keep an eye out for the next blog later in the month!

- Brian B

Monday, 3 July 2017

Dublin Tern Colonies Bursting With Birds

Tern breeding season is in full swing! We had our first ringing visit of the year to Dublin Port to check up on our summer visitors from Africa. The terns now nest on several structures within the greater Liffey/Port area, such as the disused mooring pontoons near the Poolbeg Chimneys. Most of these support strong numbers of nesting terns, to the extent that some structures near full capacity with adult terns making nests on all available space. As the boat approaches each colony the adults often 'flush' to the skies, screeching and diving. Apart from a small risk of being pecked on the head this is quite a spectacle! It's also a great chance to get a sense of how many terns there are present at the time. From the boat, a count of 290 terns were seen coming off the "ESB Dolphin" - the first established nest site on the Liffey for Common Tern and now protected as part of the many SPA's (Special Area Of Conservation) within Ireland.

The 'ESB Dolphin',
 as seen from the River Liffey Brian Burke 
Adult terns terns flush as the boat approaches the 'CDL Dolphin' Richard Nairn

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon we visited three of the structures in the bay; "Pontoon 1" on the outer Tolka Estuary , "Pontoon 2" and the "CDL Dolphin", both near Poolbeg. Boat transport provided through Dublin Port Co by Jimmy based at Poolbeg Yacht Club, which beats rowing out in the dinghy for sure...thanks Jimmy!

Boat ride with a view of the iconic Poolbeg Brian Burke
Once on the structure the first port-of-call was take a census of all the pulli (young birds that are not yet able to fly) in each section. Then those that were big enough (medium pulli and upwards) were ringed. Common Terns get a metal ring on their right leg and Arctic Terns get a metal ring on their left, so it's easier to differentiate between the two when re-sighted. A "biometrics"  (measurement) are taken for each chick ringed. Wing length is representative of a bird's size so this a good way to keep track of how well they're growing when we visit again.

Pontoon 2. compartments are top real estate for port terns; complete with only the best nesting
gravel, hideaways, chick shelters and not to mention a great view of the port! Brian Burke

Ringing the young terns is a team effort.  Brian Burke
We are sure to spend no more than 30 minutes at each site so as to allow parents to get back to feeding the chicks and all 'round minimise stress on the colony, so we are as efficient as possible when ringing. It's safe to say that it wasn't a bad day's work as c. 150 chicks were ringed and some were even big enough to get colour rings. It's a bonus getting some colour rings on. As demonstrated in the previous blog post, colour rings are so important for re-sighting live birds as they make ring reading so much easier.

"Feed me" - a young Common Tern chick Brian Burke

A young Arctic Tern chick definitely fits in the palm of a hand Brian Burke

A tern nest (using the word "nest" loosely) is just a scrape in the substate and eggs are well camouflaged in the shallow cup, so they can be hard to find but easy to step on. However once you step lightly and know what to look out for the little ones are safe. We are happy with the numbers we've found so far - over 300 nests were found on Pontoon 2 alone. We ringed all suitably robust chicks and will ring the remainder during our next visits.

Although nests are basic, you sometimes see them
decorated with items like this toy plastic fish, which
was probably mistaken for the real thing Brian Burke
A splash of colour. This red/orange colour
 is unusual to see in terns eggs Brian Burke

Creative with crab legs - 
all sorts of materials are used for the nest scrape Brian Burke

So far this season the birds within the wider port colonies are doing a great job and all is going well. In saying that the young terns are sensitive to bad weather conditions and predation events so we'll be eager to get out to the colonies again and keep an eye on their progress. Let's hope those parents keep up the good work! Keep an eye on the blog for updates on how they're doing.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

2017 Tern Season is Here

The longer the days get the fewer waterbirds we see in Dublin Bay. The Brent Geese are all but gone and we look forward to their return this autumn! But there's little time to reminisce on the winter season past as it's time to gear up for the immanent return of our breeding terns.  

The ESB Dolphin, 
Dublin's largest Common Tern breeding colony Helen Boland

As I write Dublin Bay is seeing more and more terns arrive in from the West-African coast after migrating north to breed on the Irish coastline and at coastal areas throughout Europe. Common Terns Sterna hirundo and Arctic Terns Sterna paradisaea breed within Dublin Bay. Further south Little Terns Sterna Albifrons breed along the North-Wicklow coast and not far off Dublin's coast, north-west Europe's largest Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii breeding colony exists at Rockabill Island. The earliest birds are already prospecting nest sites at these colonies and the first eggs will be laid before long. 

An Adult Common Tern offers his mate a Sand eel Neil Harmey

With eggs expected in late May, our first census visits will take place in the last days of the month. During the census visits, nests (slight depression in the shingle) and eggs are counted and we check for any signs of predation. 

Common Tern eggs in "the nest" Ricky Whelan

Predated Common Tern egg
found during the 2014 breeding season
Niall Tierney

To make things a little tougher for would-be predators, terns have no real nest structure and eggs are cryptically marked so the task of finding them all during census visits can be a little tricky. Once you get your "eye in" the operation runs smoothly! 

A tern nest in an old Dublin Port life buoy Richard Nairn

As the season progresses we return to the colonies to asses what the success rate has been and to colour ring the chicks. The ringing allows us to see if and when birds return to breed at the colony, if they move between colonies as well as where migration might take them each autumn.

Common Tern chicks "fluffies"
 with a bit left to go before fledgling Ricky Whelan
Chicks in the box ready to be ringed Ricky Whelan

Dr Stephen Newton and Helen Boland ringing Common Tern chicks
during the 2014 breeding season
Ricky Whelan

With severe weather, predators and disturbance being the main factors potentially dictating the success of the breeding terns its can be a short but tough few months in Dublin. Despite all the potential risks we know from our long term monitoring that the Dublin Bay colonies have been doing well and the population numbers have remained stable over time. 

Colour-ringed newly fledged Common Tern "PAT" on railings
close to Dublin Port, 2016
John Fox 
This past year our tern colour ringing has paid dividends with multiple reported re-sightings from Namibia on the West-African coast and elsewhere. We want to hear about all re-sightings be it from Courtown, Coruna or Cape Town, so please let us know if you spot any colour ringed terns. Our birds have a metal ring on one leg and a yellow or blue colour-ring on the other. The key info we need is the colour and the alpha-numeric code on inscription on the ring i.e. "PAT". For full details on the scheme and to submit your re-sighting Click Here.

Tern colour ring re-sighting reporting page BirdWatch Ireland

Be sure to visit the blog over the summer months to hear about progress over the breeding season. If you require any more info or just want to get in touch you can email us at:

Monday, 27 March 2017

New Web App to Record Your Wader Resightings

The Dublin Bay Birds Project Team has developed a Web App to capture your colour ring wader resightings.

With the Dublin Bay Birds Project now well into its fourth year of monitoring we have learned quite a bit about our avian subjects, on what to expect from them and where to expect them to show up! With 525  waders (incl Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Curlew) now colour-ringed as part of this project spring is an exciting time as we await word that they have been spotted somewhere far from Dublin, maybe even somewhere exotic like Iceland!

Oystercatcher "DJ" Orkney, Scotland 2013 Colin Corse

This spring has been no different and already we have international records of seven Oystercatchers who have been making their way northwards to breed in remote parts of Iceland and Scotland for example. Of the 525 waders colour ringed, 380 are Oystercatchers and we have built up a large database of resighting information.

This spring with the help of fellow conservationists in Scotland and Iceland we have had multiple reports of our birds at locations on the Isle of Tiree, the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides from John Bowler of the RSPB. Johns colleague Morgan Vaughan has sent word of one of our birds "II" from Oransay a small island south of Colonsay in the Scottish Inner Hebrides also! And the record for the furthest north and west has to go to Guðmundur Órn Benediktsson who reported "XT" in Leirhófn, NE Iceland. 

Recent International Oystercatcher resighting records

With spring firmly established on the Dublin coast we see less and less waterbirds each day as they continue to depart for their breeding grounds. Resighting records allow us to track their movements, establish what sites are important stopovers and finally identify where they choose to mate and raise young. All these answers are essential if we have any hope of protecting these important sites and in-turn protect wader species into the future. 

Colour Ring Resightings Web App record viewer

Colour Ring Resightings Web App entry form

We are interested in hearing about all resightings of our project colour ringed birds, be it from Dublin, another Irish county or internationally. If you encounter what you think might be a Dublin Bay Birds Project colour ringed wader, we'd love to hear from you. To make the submitting and viewing of records easy we have developed a web app which you can access here: Report a Colour Ringed Bird . All the information on our colour ring scheme and instructions for the easy to use app are there.

Looking forward to seeing your records and thanks in advance!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

News from Namibia

Since autumn 2014 we have been colour ringing Common (Sterna hirundo) and Artic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) in Dublin Bay. We colour ring chicks under licence at the breeding colonies within the confines of the Liffey and Tolka Estuary. In addition, we catch and colour ring adult terns on Sandmount Strand where they gather en masse to roost ahead of autumn migration.

"PAT" a colour ringed newly fledged Common Tern
at Dublin Port
John Fox

Last year we received our first foreign (outside Dublin) colour ring resightings. They were made on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland (10/05/2016), Larne Lough, Northern Ireland (10/07/2016) and on Anglesey, Wales (13/07/2016). Since last season’s autumn migration things had turned quite on the resightings front until two very exciting emails arrived from West Africa in early January!

Two project ringed Common Terns were observed along the Namibian coastline by Mark Boorman a self-confessed “birder” and a veteran tern ringer (with thousands of terns ringed over the years)!

The first bird a Common Tern “PEX” was seen at Mile 4 Salt Works, Swakopmund, Erongo Region, Namibia (-22.597897, 14.519366) and had been ringed on Sandymount Strand, Dublin as a juvenile on 25/08/2015. Mark explained “At the Mile 4 site there are also Sandwich (Sterna sandvicensis), Great Crested (Thalasseus bergii), and sometimes Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) present. A post-breeding flock of Damara Tern (Sternula balaenarum) can be there in late summer. The large flocks of Common Tern are unpredictable as they will utilise any area which is close to their feeding area at that time. The birds roost on the edge of extensive pre-evaporation man-made pans in close proximity to the sea and also on the high beach.”

Mile 4 Salt Works, Namibia Google Maps

The second, again a Common Tern “PTU” was seen further south at Pelican Point (-22.882860, 14.439098). PTU was ringed as a juvenile four days later than PEX again on Sandymount Strand on 28/08/2015. Mark said “At Pelican Point once again the flocks are unpredictable and can gather from place to place. Here they will also be close (within a couple of hundred metres) to the sea. At times these flocks can number in their thousands.”

Pelican Point, Namibia Google Maps

In a straight line both sites are over 5400 miles away from the ringing site in Dublin, a good spin by anyone’s standard. In reality, the birds will have made their way down from Europe across into northern Africa and followed the coastline south, feeding and roosting at various staging areas along the way.

As always we are delighted to get such resightings back to us and records like this really show the value of colour ringing projects. Thanks to Mark for his efforts spotting and reading the rings which is not always an easy task! Soon we might be able to return the favour and find one of his birds in Dublin, we'll keep you posted.

It’s still too early in the year for Irish sightings but if you do encounter colour ringed terns and believe they might be Dublin Bay ringed birds please enter your sighting at the link below. We have created a new online web map for capturing these resightings, check out the details of the Dublin Bay scheme and enter your records here.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Dawn Patrol - Brent Goose Census in Dublin Bay

Scopes, clickers and coffees were essential kit last Friday as a crack  BirdWatch Ireland team of 8 quietly slipped into position ahead of sunrise. The pre-dawn preparations were vital to ensure we got accurate counts of all the Brent Geese that had roosted overnight on the tidal waters of Dublin Bay. From Dun Laoghaire to Sutton, the Tolka Estuary, Liffey outer and all around Bull Island there were counters lying in wait making sure not a single goose went uncounted. 

Ready and waiting at Bull Island South Lagoon Ricky Whelan
 Annually Light Bellied Brent Geese (to give their full title!) populations in Dublin Bay and at other coastal sites are monitored by IWeBS - The Irish Wetland Bird Survey.  Once daylight arrives many will leave the coast in search of grazing opportunities on grasslands such as parks and pitches. It would be an impossible task to try find and count these scattered feeding groups, hence the coordinated dawn count!

Brent Geese flock flying overhead Dick Coombes

On the morning we totaled a combined count of 7064 Brent, making them the most numerous waterbird species in Dublin Bay. This number is higher than what we have seen during IWeBS and Dublin Bay Birds Project Counts. The explanation can probably be put down to the timing of the count and capturing all the geese just after dawn as other counts are often conducted later in day by which time the geese may have already departed for inland feeding sites. More information on species numbers within Dublin Bay can be viewed here on the IWeBS Project Page.

Light Bellied Brent Geese resting at a grassland feeding site Dick Coombes

We were thrilled to see such good numbers of Brent. We had plenty of time to count the flocks as they remained roosting well after it had become bright. At around 0930am flocks of various sizes began to leave the coast and head inland as expected. After a successful mission the team returned to a local cafe to tally counts and more importantly for the second coffee of the day!

The BirdWatch Ireland Count Team having a 
well deserved coffee Ricky Whelan