Friday 10 June 2016

Inch Island - Terns and Gull

On Wednesday morning, Ken, Steve and I headed up to Inch Wild Fowl Reserve in Donegal to study the breeding Sandwich Terns for the 31st continuous year.  We met up with a team of four from the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service and were also enjoyed by Adam and Gary from the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.  The weather has been brilliant with temperatures hitting 30°C in recent days but torrential rain on Tuesday afternoon had us a little worried, as, this is often a major killer of chicks during prolonged periods.  It turns out that it hadn't been too bad around Inch and the day itself was dull, calm and warm - perfect conditions!

The really dry weather presented us with a new problem and that was really low water levels, in what is already a relatively shallow lagoon.  The Islet itself was now probably 150% larger, although much of that was thick, sticky mud/clay.  We had to do quite a bit of manoeuvring to get the boat in position to ferry people across the short crossing which was now only roughly 75 metres.  Andrew did a great job getting us across safely and would probably be quite nifty on the Gondolas in Venice! 

Sandwich Tern

I had mentioned the success of the previous visit in a recent post and the great year continues.  The small islet was covered in chicks and nests with Sandwich Terns, Common Terns, Black-headed Gulls, Tufted Ducks, Mute Swans and Mallard.  The majority of the 200+ Sandwich Tern eggs on the last visit have now hatched with around 30 left to go.  The Common Tern colony has increased further with many new nests, again mostly with three eggs.  Only a handful of the eggs have hatched but should be out for the final visit in a couple of weeks.  The Black-headed Gulls are the most numerous bird on the island and I would hazard a guess at a of 500 pairs, probably many more.  They are at many different stages with birds already fledged, to eggs yet to hatch and everything in between. 

The greeny/brown areas the newly exposed parts of the Islet because of the low water levels

The trip was a great success with another 154 Sandwich Terns ringed, taking the total up to 334 and the first 10 Common Terns.  Adam and Gary have a colour ringing project for Black-headed Gulls in the North and have picked up metal ringed birds from Inch as part of their study.  They came armed with colour rings and added 70 new birds to the study with 66 of those being new birds and 4 from the last visit when 43 were ringed.  The majority of the birds colour ringed were well developed chicks, close to fledging.  The colour rings are orange with a four digit alpha-numeric black inscription.  The first digit is always the number 2 then three letters after e.g. 2ABC.  Please keep an eye out for these birds and for more information check out: .

You can follow updates from Inch Wildfowl Reserve on Facebook -

We plan to do the first visit to the Sand Martin colonies on Saturday before I head to Croatia for three weeks.  I'll try and post an update on that before I head off on Sunday.  Looking at other first visits around the UK it looks like the Sand Martins have bred early with come catches of up to 30% juveniles already! 

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