The end of another season

So for the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about terns (and posting a lot about terns, and taking a lot of pictures of terns, and writing a lot about terns…!).  I’ve been carrying out a survey of the breeding terns of Rye Bay and although they mostly flew away a while ago I’ve been making graphs, charts and tables about what I saw.  But it’s now the actual end, even though it’s dragged out a little bit over the last few weeks, and the report is all written up.  It will be published online but it’s working its way through the admin. process so I’ll post again to let you know when its up.  Its just left to me to get it all out of my system now, so here are my favourite tern photos of this year…



It took me a while to get used to the speed of some tern dives…


…quite a while…

Little Tern with prey

But sometimes the Little terns were fishing so close together that you couldn’t miss getting at least one in shot.

Just before a dive

And watching the moment just before the dive showed the absolute focus of a hunting tern- head locked in position and body wavering in the wind like a cat about to ponce.

Little Tern with lunch

So when you saw a tern with a fish it made you appreciate just how hard it had to try to get every single one.

Little tern decoys and electric fence

When there weren’t any real terns around there were always the decoys on the shingle trying to tempt them to nest.

Adult coming in to land

The Common Terns were much more reliable to watch and produced a reasonable number of little fluff balls this season.

Common Tern with prey

Common Tern often had prey and seemed to find better hunting conditions than the other species.

So there you go, a handful of the hundreds of shots I took showing some of the amazing acrobatic skills of the “sea swallows” around Rye Bay.  This year has given me a new appreciation for the sheer effort it takes to produce a new tern.  Fishing seems to have become much harder for the birds and even then they face the risk of being predated on the ground, if they find a nesting spot on the small nature reserves which try and protect them.  I just hope that in the coming years our management of land and sea help these dwindling breeding populations rather than hinder them…

Longest Day

Well its come to that time of year when the evenings start to draw in, but for a while yet at least we can enjoy some amazing summer evenings.  Over the weekend I spent an evening at Camber Castle and shot this quick timelapse:

Hope you enjoy!

The Beach

I’m busy working on my tern project and also producing a mini film at the moment so haven’t had my camera in photo mode for a while.  But I was on the beach for an amazing sunrise recently and it reminded me of this shot I took a couple of years ago.  The sand has changed shape slightly under the tides but otherwise the scene was almost identical and pretty stunning.


World Oceans Day

stormy sky

I spend a lot of time looking out to sea searching for seabirds.  A lot of the time there isn’t much out there but it is still mesmerising just looking out at the horizon.
Enjoy world oceans day and go take a look yourself!


Although I’m spending most of my time looking at seabirds, it’s hard not to notice some of the other visitors to the area at times.  With the recent cold and overcast weather the migrating Swifts have been brought in nice and low, giving an amazing opportunity to observe their acrobatic antics.

swiftThe wings of these birds are surprisingly translucent and they show just how long the outer feathers are- extending the rather short arms into long scythe shapes which slice through the air whilst they hunt for insects.  I would love to get some video of these birds but they are way too fast, at times too fast for binoculars and they leave me stood in the middle of the whirling flock of screeching midge control.


Little Tern Fishing Trip

By far my favourite of the terns at Rye Harbour are the Little Terns.  They are the logo of the reserve and have the most character out of all of them, often heard chattering away over the shingle ridges and seen battling the elements to find food close to the shoreline.  A recent session with the camera gave me quite a few good shots and I just wanted to share some of their fishing exploits with you.

little tern big-4

The small size and buoyant flight distinguish a Little Tern and they are often seen very close to shore, patrolling for fish.


Common Terns Finally Getting Started

So it’s been over a month now that I’ve been watching the terns around Rye Bay and the Sandwich Terns have been the main show so far.  The Little Terns have even been settling down a bit but the Common Terns have taken until this week to get going.  But they are at last, bringing in food and even laying eggs.

ct eggs

You can see the pair here don’t have much of a nest- the two eggs in the top right of the image are in a small scrape with a few small twigs.  This helps with camouflaging the valuable eggs, along with the cryptic patterning on brown and green on the shells.  Tern eggs are very variable and if it wasn’t for the few twigs and attending birds it would be almost impossible to discover the eggs- something they rely on if a predator approaches as they leave the nest to attack and distract any would be egg thieves.

Luckily this doesn’t happen too often as the birds at Rye Harbour nest on small islands set on inland lagoons which are themselves set within electrified fences and monitored by the nature reserve staff.  So hopefully these two eggs will hatch and grow up to breeding age, and might even be joined by a third as the female only laid the second egg this morning!


So this year is all about the terns for me (if you haven’t had a look yet watch my latest microfilm about them here).  but every now and then something else comes along out of the blue… and it can be really, really blue!

peacock feathers (1 of 5)

Some of my in-laws have peacocks on their farm and this week one of them parted company with a few feathers.  Now feathers are amazing structures but peacock feathers go a whole step further and I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps and putting them up here.

peacock feathers (2 of 5)

The small vanes up the long quills are pretty sparse but still shine an amazing metallic blue-green

More photos after the break.


Video Trial

Just a trial to see if I can get videos to work on my blog (via the much-more-attractive-than-YouTube site of Vimeo!).  Here is a timelapse of me and Cal building a compost bin on St Agnes as part of the rat removal scheme:

<p><a href=”″>St Agnes Rat Removal Video</a> from <a href=””>Lewis Yates</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I’m quite getting into timelapses and have been playing round with a few whilst I’m out on the Scillies.  If the others pan out I may put a few more up here…  we’ll see…


adult with fish

Over the last couple of years I have really come to appreciate seabirds. I grew up on a coastal reserve filled with gulls, terns and a big view of the English Channel. And yet it took me a trip across the country to work on the Islands of Skomer and Skokholm to work out I love these birds. So returning home to Sussex this year I was really glad there were some late breeding Common Terns hanging around.
ringed adult

In the photo above you can even make out a BTO ring on the leg of the bird. This just adds to the interest and reminds me how much I need to sort out a ringing license!  And the photo below shows one of the remaining young birds.  This one is a bit late in the season and about to fledge, but there are other chicks around which are much fluffier still and will be lucky to survive that long.


adult tern

tern and chick


The adults often sit away from the nest/ chicks when they are not incubating them.  So trying to work out how many chicks there are and who belongs to who is often tricky….  it does help to confuse the predators as much as me though which is nice.


adult feeding chick


This last picture is an interesting one for me.  On the plus side it shows how well camouflaged the chick below the adult is.  It also shows the amazing length of the wings and agility of the adult.  But the long wings make the small bird look a bit “squished” with a body much shorter than it should be.  So for my interest in the bird itself it shows amazing anatomy and behaviour, but I’m still not sure I like it simply because of the aesthetics.  What do you think?