Friday, 25 July 2014

Seatrack 2014

The Seatrack project aims to assess the status & distribution of the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater as well as other migratory seabird species in Irish waters through a series of coordinated volunteer seawatching surveys from headlands right around the coastline between early August & early November.

If you would like to sign up your local headland as a Seatrack survey site or simply wish to send in some opportunistic seawatch records at any stage during the season then feel free to get in touch with Niall Keogh (Seatrack project co-ordinator) at for more information on how to get involved.

There has been some excellent seabird sightings off the Irish coast over the past week which bodes well for the first survey weekend taking place on Saturday 2nd August. Pelagic boat trips off Mayo and Cork have recorded several sought after species such as Wilson's Petrel, Great & Cory's Shearwater, Fin Whale, Atlantic White-sided Dolphin etc.

Great Shearwater © Aidan G. Kelly

Seatrack 2014 Core Survey Dates (priority dates in bold):

August: Sat 2nd/Sun 3rd (start time 06:45am)

September: Sat 6th/Sun 7th (start time 07:45am)

October: Sat 4th/Sun 5th (start time 08:30am)

November: Sat 1st/Sun 2nd (start time 08:25am)

Seatrack 2014 Suggested Supplementary Survey Dates:

August: Sat 16th/Sun 17th (start time 07:10am)

September: Sat 20th/Sun 21st (start time 08:10am)

October: Sat 18th/Sun 19th (start time 09:00am)

Aidan Kelly & Victor Caschera were kind enough to send on some fantastic seabirds images taken during a recent pelagic trip to the continental shelf edge off North West Mayo. They'll hopefully whet the appetite for anyone thinking of doing some Seatrack surveys this Autumn!

 Great Skua © Aidan G. Kelly
Great Skua chasing a Lesser Black-backed Gull © Aidan G. Kelly
Great Shearwater © Aidan G. Kelly
Great Shearwater © Aidan G. Kelly
Puffin © Victor Caschera
Leach's Petrel © Victor Caschera 
European Storm Petrel © Aidan G. Kelly
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin © Aidan G. Kelly

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Roof-nesting gulls: a request for records

Regular listeners to the Mooney show on RTÉ Radio 1 will already know all about the the Herring Gull family nesting on the RTÉ studio roof in Donnybrook, south Dublin (link to the Mooney show live camera Herring Gull NestWatch here).

Herring Gulls (with pale blue-grey backs and pink legs) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (slate grey-black backs and yellow legs) have been nesting on rooftops in coastal towns and in Dublin City Centre for many years, but it seems that the habit is spreading and BirdWatch Ireland wants to track it. 

We are asking you to tell us if you know of any roof-nesting gulls near you. 

We need a postal address (or GPS coordinates), the type of building (office, factory, residence, church, etc.), the species of gull and whether or not you can see a nest and/or chicks. 

Please report your sightings to Dr. Stephen Newton, Senior Seabird Conservation Officer, at

Roof nesting Herring Gull (Photo: Darragh Owens)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Update on BirdWatch Ireland's East Coast Tern Colonies - June 2014

BirdWatch Ireland is responsible for the protection, management and monitoring of terns at 5 key east coast colonies. Terns are small, graceful seabirds that make spectacular plunge-dives to catch small fish. Five tern species nest in Ireland:

Roseate Tern, surely one of Ireland's most graceful-looking birds
(Photo: Billy Clarke)

Now, in late June, the first chicks are hatching at most colonies so it is well worth paying a visit to one of them in the coming weeks:

Baltray, Co. Louth: 70-100 pairs of Little Terns

The colony is located at the Haven, on the north side of the mouth of the River Boyne. Drive past the entrance to Baltray Golf Club and proceed down a very poorly surfaced road to a locked gate. Park, cross the stile and walk on the track through the dunes. When you see signs warning signs (electric fences and requests to keep dogs on leashes) try to locate the warden or a volunteer  near the colony and they will give you an update. Read more on the Louth Nature Trust Little Tern Blog.

Rockabill Island, north Co. Dublin: Roseate, Common and Arctic Terns (probably at least 2,500 pairs)

This is the largest single colony of Roseate Terns in Europe.  You can follow the work of our two resident wardens via their popular "Rockablog". Landing on the island is not allowed during the nesting season, but Skerries Sea Tours run trips out to the island to view the spectacle from the boat at a safe distance.

Dublin Port: Common (400-500 pairs) and Arctic Terns (50-70 pairs)

This colony is on old ship mooring "dolphins" in the River Liffey.  It is best viewed from the Holyhead (Wales) ferries! Updates about the terns and waders of Dublin Bay are posted on our Dublin Bay Birds Blog.

Dalkey Island, south Co. Dublin: mostly Arctic Terns (40 pairs) plus one pair of Roseate Terns

Public viewing with the experts from BirdWatch Ireland's South Dublin Branch, every Tuesday evening in July (i.e., 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd & 29th) at Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey, from 18:30 to 20:00.  For more details on the Dalkey Tern Project, please see the BirdWatch Ireland South Dublin Branch website.

Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow: 108 pairs of Little Terns

The colony can be reached by an easy 15 minute walk south along the coast from Kilcoole Railway Station carpark. When you see signs and the blackboard with recent bird news, look out for a warden and they will be happy to show you the birds. Please see the wardens' Kilcoole Little Tern Blog for more information.

Dr. Stephen Newton
Senior Seabird Conservation Officer
BirdWatch Ireland

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cahow (Bermuda Petrel) recorded in Irish waters

One of the world’s rarest species of bird, the Cahow (also known as Bermuda Petrel) was seen off the West coast of Ireland from the Marine Institute’s R.V. Celtic Voyager on Monday 19th May 2014 over the Porcupine Bank, approximately 170 nautical miles West-Northwest of Slea Head, Co. Kerry.

The endangered seabird was recorded during a survey for cetaceans (whales & dolphins) and seabirds in the area being conducted by staff from BirdWatch Ireland, Irish Whale & Dolphin Group and Ecologists Ireland.

The Cahow was first observed at 17:56pm, travelling alongside the survey vessel at c.250m range, over a water depth of 1,030m whilst approaching the head of a canyon on the Western slope/shelf edge of the Porcupine Bank. It was on view for a maximum of 1 minute before heading off in a South East direction.

Cahow seen from the R.V. Celtic Voyager © Ryan Wilson-Parr

This is the first ever sighting of this species in Irish waters and in the North East Atlantic as a whole.

Originally thought to have numbered over half a million birds, its population suffered a catastrophic decline after the colonisation of Bermuda by humans in the early 1600's. Extensively hunted for food by the settlers and preyed upon by introduced rats, cats, dogs and pigs, the Cahow was believed to have become extinct as quickly as 1620. After 350 years it was rediscovered in 1951 surviving on tiny offshore islets where as few as 17 or 18 breeding pairs clung on. Thanks to an intensive conservation program which began in the 1960's, there are now 108 breeding pairs of Cahow in existence yet it still remains an incredibly rare bird.

Studies on their migration and foraging movements using geolocators have shown that they range widely across the North Atlantic, including a small number of birds that reach as far East as Irish waters in Spring (these are thought to be failed breeders or non-breeding immature birds). Sightings of this species at sea are very rare however. Small numbers are sighted annually off the East coast of USA and the first sighting from Canadian waters was made in April of this year. A single bird has also been recorded visiting a site in the Azores between 2002 and 2006.

Cahow seen from the R.V. Celtic Voyager © Ryan Wilson-Parr

Niall Keogh (BirdWatch Ireland Seabird Fieldworker) who was lucky enough to see this particular bird, elaborates: “With no more than 350 individuals in existence, the chances of encountering one bird from the small proportion that visit Irish waters was very slim. As such we were absolutely thrilled to have recorded this Cahow, not only because it was a privilege to see one of the world’s rarest seabirds, but also as it confirms the presence of yet another example of threatened wildlife utilising the dynamic and ecologically important marine habitats that exist in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The seabird team at BirdWatch Ireland is committed to mapping the diversity of marine avifauna in Irish waters so as to better understand their ecological requirements in this area and help inform conservation practices accordingly.

Jeremy Madeiros of the Cahow Recovery Program who is working tirelessly to conserve the species on the breeding grounds in Bermuda also had this to say: “This is a great confirmation of the information and tracks we were getting from geolocaters attached to adult breeding Cahows several years ago, which clearly showed that some Cahows at least during the period April to early June were approaching rather closely (to within 100-200 miles) of both western Ireland and northwestern Spain/Portugal.

Cahow seen from the R.V. Celtic Voyager © Ryan Wilson-Parr

Sunday, 20 April 2014

FAME seabird talk & Dingle Peninsula Bird Report launch

An exciting event to launch the Dingle Peninsula Bird Report 2011-13, by Michael O' Clery has been organised by the BirdWatch Ireland Corca Dhuibhne (West Kerry) Branch. It will be held on Sunday 27th April in Dingle (see event poster below for details).

Highlights of the report include articles on Wilson's Phalarope in Ireland, Little Egrets in Kerry and the White-Tailed Sea Eagle Project.

In addition to the launch of the bird report, the branch is delighted to welcome Dr. Steve Newton (BirdWatch Ireland) to give a talk on seabirds. Dr Newton's talk will focus on the FAME project, entitled "Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean". Furthermore there will be a BBQ & live traditional music later that evening as part of the days festivities.

The afternoon start time offers plenty of scope for pre-event birding at local hot spots (Ventry Harbour, Baile an Reannaig, Dingle Harbour, Ferriters Cove and Riasc Wetland).

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Winter Seabird Strandings: a request for records

Several seabird stranding events have occurred along the Atlantic coast of Europe over the past month. Numbers of dead or dying seabirds found on beaches have been greatest in Brittany, the Channel Islands & along the South West coast of Britain. The situation in Ireland seems less severe so far but a number of dead seabirds have been reported from coastal areas in Counties Donegal, Galway, Cork & Wexford.

The prolonged period of bad weather experienced this winter is believed to be the main driving factor behind these stranding events. A continuous run of strong low pressure systems has made feeding conditions at sea very difficult with some of the smaller species such as Guillemot, Razorbill & Puffin being hit hardest. Lack of food & exhaustion leads to them washing up on our shores either dead or in a weakened condition, displaying signs of malnutrition. Other seabirds such as Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Shag & Great Northern Diver have also been reported among the list of casualties.

In order to ascertain the full scale of this event, BirdWatch Ireland are asking members of the public to report any dead or dying seabirds they have found washed up along the coast so far this winter and over the coming weeks. 

As many of the following details as possible would be greatly appreciated:
(1) Date
(2) Location (with a Grid Reference if possible:
(3) Species involved
(4) Numbers involved
(5) Presence of any ringed birds (metal or coloured rings on the birds legs with details of codes if noted)

Please send details of any stranded seabirds you have encountered to the BirdWatch Ireland seabird team at

If any live seabirds are found which may require rehabilitation then please consult the Irish Wildlife Matters website ( for guidance and details of any listed vets or rehabilitators in your area which may be able to help. 

Guillemot. The long, pointed, all dark bill and generally brown tone to plumage helps separate them from Razorbill. Note the sunken appearance of the breast, a sign of malnutrition © Niall T. Keogh

Razorbill. The bill is shorter, blunter and often features a vertical white stripe unlike Guillemot. The plumage tends to be more solid black in tone © Cammy Harley

Juvenile Great Northern Diver. The fact that this bird is swimming in a hunched position with its legs raised out of the water would suggest it is in a weakened condition. The squinted eye is another indication of this © Aidan G. Kelly

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Spring Seabird Talks

Continuing on from a series of seabird talks which ran over the course of the winter, another set of presentations featuring the work being undertaken by BirdWatch Ireland & Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment (FAME) will be given at BirdWatch Ireland local branch indoor meetings throughout March & April.

Each event is free & all are welcome to attend. 

Co. Louth
  • "Oceanic Wonders & Migration on the Edge! - seawatching & the Seatrack project" - a talk by Niall Keogh.
  • The Spirit Store (upstairs), Dundalk, Monday 3rd March at 7:30pm
Co. Mayo
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • Castlebar, Thursday 6th March (further details will be posted soon).
Co. Donegal
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • County Museum, High Road, Letterkenny, Thursday 13th March at 8:00pm.
Co. Roscommon
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • Hannon's Hotel, Roscommon Town, Thursday 20th March at 8:00pm.
Co. Laois
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • Parish Centre, Portlaoise, Tuesday 25th March at 8:00pm.
Co. Tipperary
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • Cabragh Wetlands, Thurles, Thursday 27th March at 8:00pm.
Co. Cork
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • SMA Hall, Wilton, Cork City, Wednesday 2nd April at 8:00pm.
Co. Dublin
  • "Oceanic Wonders & Migration on the Edge! - seawatching & the Seatrack project" - a talk by Niall Keogh.
  • Botanic Gardens (main auditorium), Glasnevin, Thursday 17th April at 8:00pm. 
Co. Kerry
  • Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment – safeguarding Irish seabirds in a rapidly changing ocean” - a talk by Dr. Steve Newton.
  • The Díseart, Green Street, Dingle, Sunday 27th April at 2:30pm (talk will feature as part of all day festivities to celebrate the launch of the Dingle Peninsula Bird Report 2011-13. See here for more details).

Puffins © Clive Timmons