Tuesday 21 July 2015

Mediterranean Gull Survey

Mediterranean Gull (often referred to simply as ‘Med Gull’) is a species which has undergone a dramatic and well documented expansion across Europe. They were once found breeding only around the Mediterranean regions of France, Italy, Greece and also along coast of the Black Sea. In winter they would disperse over the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Iberian Atlantic. In recent decades they began forming new breeding colonies in northern continental Europe. Instead of an expected southerly migration after breeding, these pioneering gulls now fly northwest to Ireland and Britain!

Breeding plumage adult Med Gull © Stephen Lawlor

Observations of birds fitted with colour rings has shown that Mediterranean Gulls found in Ireland largely originate from breeding colonies on the near continent (France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark). The number of post-breeding Mediterranean Gulls found in Ireland begins to build at well-known staging sites such as South Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour from June onward with peak counts often recorded from late July to mid August.

Colour-ringed Med Gull © Conn O'Brien

They are now considered a regular but uncommon bird in Ireland, present throughout the winter around harbours, rocky coasts, estuaries and amenity grassland/sports pitches (where they feed on invertebrates) until they leave for their continental nesting sites in March/April. They are still a scarce bird in the west and north however, seemingly favouring the somewhat drier and warmer climes of Leinster and Munster. Their expansion has continued across Europe and Mediterranean Gulls now breed in small numbers in Ireland (c.20 pairs) since 1995, mostly in Wexford and Antrim.

The number of Mediterranean Gulls recorded at post-breeding staging sites in Ireland has been steadily increasing over the past few years with 100+ birds to be expected at favoured locations in high summer. A recent count at Sandymount Strand, Co. Dublin revealed 257 ‘Med Gulls’ present at the evening roost on 12th July.

Juvenile Med Gull © Stephen Lawlor

As such, a coordinated count of Mediterranean Gulls at evening roost sites in Ireland has been organised for Monday 27th July (East Coast focus) and Tuesday 4th August (South Coast focus). We would ask waterbird counters, birders and interested members of the public to go out and check their local gull roost on those evenings and report back with details of any Mediterranean Gulls they find (see details below).

The use of two dates gives a chance for optimal count conditions at sites both in the east and the south, but coordinated counts from both regions on both dates are encouraged.

Date: Monday 27th July (East Coast focus)
Start: 20:30
Finish: Dusk
Sunset: 21:30
Evening High Tide: 3.5m @ 21:19 (Dublin - North Wall)
Evening Low Tide: 1.2m @ 21:11 (Cobh)

Date: Tuesday 4th August (South Coast focus)
Start: 20:15
Finish: Dusk
Sunset: 21:15
Evening High Tide: 4.2m @ 21:22 (Cobh)
Evening Low Tide: 0.6m @ 20:58 (Dublin – North Wall)

The following information is requested:
  • Number of birds present
  • Age of birds present (adult / 2nd-summer / 1st-summer / juvenile)
  • Presence and details of any colour ringed birds
  • Latest time (closest to dusk) when birds are recorded
  • Direction of travel by birds to/from survey site
  • Behaviour (e.g. roosting, feeding)

The last three pieces of information (especially times seen) will be useful in ascertaining whether there is any movement between sites, overlap in counts etc.

All records can be submitted to Niall Keogh by e-mail nkeogh@birdwatchireland.ie 

An indication of who is covering which sites would be desirable before the count dates so as to allocate effort if needs be so please get in touch if you are planning on taking part.

Monday 6 July 2015

Roof-nesting gulls 2015: a request for records

In 2014, Dublin City Council in collaboration with BirdWatch Ireland established The Dublin City Urban Birds Project, initiating a series of volunteer-led monitoring projects throughout Dublin City including the roof-nesting gull survey which aims to map the distribution of gulls breeding in urban environments.

The roof-nesting gull survey has continued through the summer of 2015 and we are still looking for members of the public to submit their records of Herring Gulls (pale blue-grey back with pink legs), Lesser Black-backed Gulls (slate grey back with yellow legs) or Great Black-backed Gulls (black back with pink legs) that may be currently tending to well grown chicks.

Herring Gull at a typical urban nest site, located between chimney pots © Daragh Owens

Historical records are also appreciated, so if you have noticed any of the following breeding behaviour on the roof/chimney of your home or place of work this year or in previous years then please fill out the quick and easy roof-nesting gull survey form: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Roof_Nesting_Gull_Survey

  • Pair of gulls holding territory/displaying at a suitable nest site
  • Agitated behaviour (alarm calling, dive bombing) displayed by adults
  • Adult seen sitting on a nest or brooding small chicks
  • Downy young seen at or near suitable nest site 

Records from other urban areas around Ireland are also welcome so if you have observed gulls breeding on rooftops in any town or city then please let us know.

Lesser Black-backed Gull with a well grown chick © Friends of Emsworth Wildlife

Wednesday 1 July 2015


Please text BIRD to 50300 to donate €4 to our Seabird Appeal 
(a minimum of €3.25 will go to BirdWatch Ireland)

Save Ireland's Seabirds

Ireland’s seabirds are threatened and urgently need your help.  We are home to some of the most important seabird colonies in the world, but these are coming under increasing pressure and need proper protection. Help us to secure a future for Ireland’s seabirds before it’s too late.

Threats to our Seabirds
Irish seabirds have one thing in common: they are in trouble.  Sea pollution, overfishing, climate change and a host of other threats have made their lives ever more difficult.  Human disturbance has hit them hard too, and some colonies are now also overrun with mink and rats which eat the birds’ eggs and chicks; this could be the final straw.

What we’ll be doing
BirdWatch Ireland has been at the forefront of protecting and monitoring our seabirds for the last 45 years. Our work has ensured the recovery of the national Roseate Tern population at colonies in the Irish Sea, Gannets are thriving on the BirdWatch Ireland reserve of Little Skellig, and Little Terns are being protected from disturbance on the Wicklow Coast. To continue and expand this important work, we need your help….

Your donation will directly fund projects that will help us:

  • To have more wardens on the ground to protect important colonies.
  • To remove the rats, mink and other non-native predators that prey on the chicks.
  • To carry out much needed research and monitoring, to learn more of how our seabirds live, where they go to feed and how well they are coping with the unprecedented changes to the marine environment.
  • To actively lobby for seabird protection at sea

How your donation will help

  • €5 will help pay for materials to build a Roseate Tern nest-box
  • €20 will buy an electric fence battery to help protect Little Tern colonies
  • €50 will buy a GPS tag for seabird research and monitoring
  • €250 will help charter a boat to take staff and volunteers to the Roseate Tern colony on Rockabill
  • €1,000 will pay for an expedition to survey threatened seabirds on remote west coast islands

Thank you for your support.

Appeal Target: €5,000 and beyond

   Donating online is simple and secure: 


You can also donate by:
Telephone: 01-2819878 
Post: Donations by cheque, please make payable to BirdWatch Ireland and send to: Save Ireland's Seabirds Appeal, BirdWatch Ireland, Unit 20, Block D, Bullford Business Campus, Kilcoole, Greystones Co. Wicklow.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Seabird Event: Gull watch on the Green

Gull watch on the Green: Tuesday 30th June 12:30-3pm at St Stephen's Green
In conjunction with Dublin City Council

Join us on Tuesday 30th June for a free event at St. Stephen's Green, Dublin City where BirdWatch Ireland staff will be present from 12:30 until 3pm to talk about gulls and our work with seabirds as well as the general bird life which can be found around the capital. Come along and learn more about the impressive and often misunderstood gulls that call Dublin City their home.

Herring Gull © Siobhan McNamara

Did you know? Gull Facts:
  • 22 species of gull have been recorded in Ireland of which seven breed here regularly.
  • Great Black-backed Gull is the largest species of gull in the world, weighing as much as 2kg and with a wingspan of over 150cm.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gulls are accomplished migrants. Birds breeding in Ireland may travel up to 3,000km to spend the winter in Morocco.
  • Many of our large gulls may live for over 30 years. One Lesser Black-backed Gull ringed as a chick in 1965 was found after it died: 34 years, 10 months and 27 days later.
  • Both Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull are 'Red List' species of high conservation concern in Ireland due to serious declines in their breeding populations.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Guided Boat Cruise: Seabirds of Dublin Bay Biosphere

To celebrate the launch of the new Dublin Bay Biosphere, Dublin Port Company is pleased to support a guided boat cruise which will be led by staff from the BirdWatch Ireland seabird team.

The cruise will visit some of the various seabird colonies located around Dublin Bay: Black Guillemots on the River Liffey near the East Link Bridge, the Common and Arctic Tern colony near Poolbeg Power Station and impressive numbers of cliff nesting seabirds at Howth.

Date: Saturday 27th June 2015 
Time: 08:00 am - 11:00 am
Departing from and returning to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin City (near the Samuel Beckett Bridge)
Booking: please email biosphere@dublincity.ie or call 01 2223394
Admission: €5 per person or 10 per family of four (children must be accompanied by an adult)

Proceeds from the cruise will go to the BirdWatch Ireland Save Ireland's Seabirds Appeal.


Photos courtesy of Richard Nairn, Niamh Ni Cholmain and John Fox

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Lambay Island Seabird Survey

Staff from BirdWatch Ireland conducted a census of breeding seabirds on Lambay Island off North Co. Dublin between 2nd and 8th June 2015. The work was carried out as part of the national cliff nesting seabird survey commissioned this year by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Many thanks to The Trustees of the Lambay Estate Company for their hospitality and consent to survey on the island and to Skerries Sea Tours for transport.

Below is a series of pics detailing our recent survey work on Lambay. 

(all images © Niall Keogh)

Some examples of Lambay Island cliff nesting seabird colonies

A unusual looking yellow-billed Guillemot was seen. Other examples of this aberrant colour variation have been recorded on Bardsey, Isle of May, Bass Rock and Newfoundland.

Some seabird ringing was also carried out, here allowing for an up close and personal look at a stunning 'bridled' Guillemot. An approximate total of 1.3% of Guillemots in study plots showed this plumage variation.

Puffins on Lambay Island are limited in their distribution and breeding success due to depredation by rats. They seem to be holding on however with over 250 individuals recorded by the seabird survey team.

An adult Kittiwake found tangled up in marine litter was rescued by Niall Tierney and Dr Steve Newton.

A full census of the gull colonies inhabiting the centre of the island was also carried out. Lesser Black-backed Gulls prefer to nest in the lush swathes of bluebells (pictured here) whereas Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls prefer the more open cliffs and hill tops.

We observed this mixed pair of Lesser Black-backed Gull (left) and Herring Gull (right) building a nest together. It is not unusual to find mixed pairs of gulls at busy colonies across Ireland and Britain, especially when closely related species can often nest side by side. They are capable of breeding successfully and producing some confusing looking hybrids!

Most of the Shag nests recorded on the island were still incubating eggs or tending to young chicks. A small number of fully fledged juvenile Shags, such as this bird, were also seen.

Later in the week we were joined by Heidi Acampora (PhD student at GMIT). Dead seabirds such as this Great Black-backed Gull were collected to investigate for the presence of ingested plastic as part of Heidi's research project. See the Plastic Tides blog for more information.

We also recorded other wildlife inhabiting the island during our stay including the curious population of Red-necked Wallabies (introduced here in the 1950's) with up to 30 individuals seen on any given day. Here a mother wallaby is seen with her joey.

Friday 29 May 2015

2015 East Coast Tern Projects

BirdWatch Ireland has a long history of undertaking wardening, conservation, monitoring and research at breeding colonies of vulnerable tern species along the east coast. This work continues in 2015 with most of the terns now at their respective nesting sites and getting on with the business of courtship, display, mate selection and egg laying.

All of these breeding sites are wardened or monitored by trained seabird staff. Some of the colonies are safe to view for the public while others are not. Certain sites however even call for members of the public to get involved as volunteer wardens!

Information relating to the birds, access and viewing options at each site can be found below:

(1) Baltray, Co. Louth
The sandy beach at Baltray near Drogheda is home to a colony of Little Terns which has benefited greatly from protective fencing and round-the-clock wardening provided by a joint BirdWatch Ireland and Louth Nature Trust project which has seen the population of breeding birds here rise to over 100 pairs. Members of the public are encouraged to visit the project to view and learn more about Little Terns but please follow the designated route on site around the colony and heed instructions given by the wardens.

Updates from Baltray can be found on the Louth Nature Trust Little Tern blog.

Volunteer! To volunteer at Baltray beach please contact Breffni Martin (bmartin@regintel.com) or call the site hotline 086 2434874

Little Tern © Terry O'Rourke

(2) Rockabill, Co. Dublin
Home to Europe's largest Roseate Tern colony with upwards of 1,250 breeding pairs (most of which raise their young in custom made nest boxes). All these Roseates alongside over 2,000 pairs of Commons Terns, small numbers of Arctic Terns plus Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots make this isolated rocky island a hectic place to work! 

Rockabill is off limits during the breeding season but you can keep up to speed with all the latest developments by checking out the excellent Rockablog or by following the wardens Brian Burke and Andrew Power on Twitter.

Alternatively, why not book a boat trip with Skerries Sea Tours and view the Rockabill terns from a safe distance at sea?

Roseate Tern in a nest box © Brian Burke

Working on Rockabill is not for the faint-hearted! © Brian Burke

(3) Dublin Port, Co. Dublin
A bustling colony of up to 500 pairs of Common Terns and up to 100 pairs of Arctic Terns breed within the confines of Dublin Port along the River Liffey where the birds are monitored annually by staff from BirdWatch Ireland. New custom built tern rafts have been put in place for the terns by the Dublin Port Company, one in the Tolka Estuary and one in the River Liffey which is on view from the base of the Great South Wall. This is an ideal location to watch the terns from a safe distance where they can be seen travelling to and fro on foraging trips, beaks full of fish for their hungry chicks.

Keep an eye on the Dublin Bay Birds Project blog for updates on the Dublin Port terns.

Arctic Tern © Dick Coombes

(4) Dalkey, Co. Dublin
The islands off Coliemore Harbour at Dalkey host a small mixed colony of Common, Arctic and Roseate Terns. Numbers fluctuate year on year in response to weather, storms and disturbance. Please do not land on the islands if kayaking, scuba diving or sailing in the area as it will cause fatal disturbance to eggs and chicks. Alternatively, the terns can be viewed safely from Coliemore Harbour where a permanent telescope is in place and also during organised tern watch events held by the South Dublin Branch of BirdWatch Ireland every Tuesday evening in July from 6:30pm-8pm.

For more information see the Dalkey Tern Project webpage or download the information leaflet.

Tern watch event at Coliemore Harbour

(5) Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow
The Little Tern conservation project at Kilcoole has been running since the 1980's when just 20 pairs could be found. Thanks to the installation of protective fencing around the colony during the breeding season along with 24/7 wardening from BirdWatch Ireland staff and volunteers between May and August, the colony has now grown to record levels with 120 nesting pairs in 2014! Open to the public, this is a great site to visit to see conservation work in action with wardens on hand to aid viewing of one of Ireland's rarest seabirds through telescopes from a safe distance. Several organised BirdWatch Ireland branch events are also held here throughout the summer.

Updates from Kilcoole can be found on the Little Tern Conservation Project blog and a 20 minute documentary about the project can be watched online via the Crow Crag Production website.

Volunteer! To volunteer at Kilcoole please contact the project wardens at littletern@birdwatchireland.ie

Protective fencing around the tern colony at Kilcoole © Niall Keogh

Little Tern chick and egg © Peter Cutler/Andrew Power