On a calm day, you hear them before you see them. Their excited chittering rises above the sound of waves lapping against the shore. If you are strolling along the shingle beach at Kilcoole in County Wicklow, be prepared to take a little detour. During the summer months, this stretch of shoreline belongs exclusively to a colony of one of Ireland's rarest seabirds.
(Video footage courtesy of Andrew Power)
This year the huge conservation effort at Kilcoole has delivered remarkable results. 111 Little Tern pairs successfully hatched their young, more than any other year since the project began. A total of 213 chicks have been recorded, most of which have now fledged. The chicks are being colour-ringed for the first time. This will help to inform conservation requirements in the future. It should also shed some light on the mysteries surrounding their migration behaviour.
The little tern is a diminutive migrant bird which returns to Irish shores each year to breed. The colony at Kilcoole in County Wicklow has been protected since 1985 under a joint initiative by BirdWatch Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
The colony at Kilcoole is enclosed by an electric fence to keep out a range of predators including hooded crows, gulls and foxes. It is patrolled day and night by wardens who live in caravans, adjacent to the site.
Eggs and chicks are exceedingly well camouflaged by the pebbles on the beach. Without the fencing, it would be very easy for walkers and dogs to accidentally trample on them. The chicks pictured below are just a few hours old.
Many of the chicks have already moved out of the colony to other locations along the east coast. They will begin the long journey to Africa very soon. But the little terns will return to Kilcoole next summer. And this huge conservation effort will swing into action once more.
So what have Andrew Power and Darren O'Connell made of the experience of being little tern wardens?
(Pictures courtesy of Mark Carmody)