Friday, 1 November 2013

“MedFest” – Enjoying Ireland’s wintering seabirds

The Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment (FAME) & BirdWatch Ireland

Free Outdoor Event

Date: Saturday 9th November 2013
Time: 10:00am – 16:00pm

Location: Newtownsmith promenade, along the seafront between Dun Laoghaire & Sandycove. Look for our marquee on the green-space beside the seafront car park on Windsor Terrace (adjacent to the old baths).

About: Ireland is renowned for its seabirds. Our coastal cliffs & islands are home to significant populations of nesting Puffins, Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrel & Gannets. On the East coast, rare breeding Roseate & Little Terns seek refuge at wardened sites such as Rockabill, Kilcoole & Baltray

But what do our seabirds do in winter? Where do they go when they leave the breeding colonies?

BirdWatch Ireland’s seabird experts will be on hand to answer all your questions & guide a series of short walks along the seafront promenade to view some of Ireland's wintering seabirds such as Razorbill, Shag & particularly, Mediterranean Gull.

Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus):
A rough translation of the scientific name would be ‘black-capped gull’ but given that we already have a Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) which actually has a brown head in the summer months then it can all become very confusing! Furthermore, the English name raises questions as to why we also have them in Ireland!

Okay, wind the clock back 20 years and yes, Mediterranean Gulls were generally seen in more southern parts of Europe – most of them breeding in southern France, Italy, Greece and around the Black Sea. In winter they would disperse over the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Iberian Atlantic. Then another ‘sub-population’ commenced breeding in the Low Countries and northern France. Instead of an expected southerly autumn migration, these gulls fly northwest to Ireland & the UK!

We can identify these birds in particular by the colour rings fitted to them as chicks by European ornithologists. The number of Mediterranean Gulls begin to build at staging sites such as Sandycove from July & can be seen there until they leave for their continental nesting sites in April. Their expansion has continued & Mediterranean Gulls now breed in small numbers in Ireland (since 1996), mostly in Wexford!

So if you'd like to see these beautiful gulls in the flesh, learn how to separate them from Black-headed Gull & have a go at reading some colour rings then be sure to head down to the Dun Laoghaire-Sandycove seafront promenade on Saturday 9th November. We'll also take a look at some other seabirds groups such as Cormorant & Shag, Guillemot & Razorbill and Herring Gull & Great Black-backed Gull.

We hope to meet you there,

Steve Newton & Niall Keogh (BirdWatch Ireland Seabird Team)

Adult winter Mediterranean Gull at Sandycove fitted with a white colour ring identifying it as a bird from a breeding colony in Belgium © Niall T. Keogh

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