Monday 20 November 2017

You, me and 10,000 birds: Meet the two men about to spend the next three months with thousands of terns

Brian Burke (left) and Donnacha Woods (right) beside more than 800 nest boxes
Brian Burke (left) and Donnacha Woods (right) beside more than 800 nest boxes

Aishling Phelan

Two men will spend the next three months isolated on Rockabill Island with 10,000 screeching terns for their summer job.

Brian Burke and Donnacha Woods applied for the position which will see them study and protect the roseate tern population on the rocky island off Skerries in north Co. Dublin.

The summer-long stint will see the pair of wardens placed on the two-acre rock, of which they will be the only inhabitants.

Kicking off today, the pair will have to endure harsh weather conditions along with incessant bird squeals and disgusting stenches during their stay.

‘‘I’m definitely going to miss the day to day comforts, warmth, dry clothes, hot water whenever I want it and going to the pub with my friends,’’ said Donnacha.

‘‘I’ve always been interested in wildlife for as long as I can remember so working outdoors was an obvious choice for me.

The island is one of only two breeding grounds in Ireland for the particular species of bird. 

As well as the €400 remuneration a week, they will also be provided with their accommodation free of charge as they monitor the most endangered bird species in Ireland.

Niall Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland said it is extremely important to monitor Europe’s rarest seabirds.

‘‘Ireland is home to 80 per cent of the European population [of roseate terns],’’ he said.

‘‘They will be very busy. They will have to count the numbers breeding, how many have hatched and produced chicks and ensure there are no disturbances to the birds as the island is off-limits,’’ he added.

The bird-watching duo will live in a former lighthouse keepers’ house on the island.

Donnacha and Brian have met only once when they appeared on The Late Late Show on Friday.

‘‘We actually only met on the Late Late show and we didn’t even get a chance to meet backstage. The second time I met him was when we were brought over on the boat,’’ Donnacha said.

The environment enthusiasts have backgrounds in environmental science and conservation and they both have masters’ degrees.

The job runs from May to August, during which time the wardens will only be given two weekends off the island – weather permitting.

Although the island has a helipad, they will dropped back and forth by a chartered boat.

The job was advertised by Bird Watch Ireland earlier this year, with a closing date of April 15.

The two chosen men went through an interview process before being picked for the unusual job.

Rockabill island is 7km off the north Dublin coast.


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