And so it begins…

Although I know seabirds exist year round, sometimes it’s hard to stay excited about them over winter when they’re mostly out to sea (and my work keeps me preoccupied in woodlands away from shore).  But it is that time of year again when colonies all around Britain start springing to life again.

So over the Easter weekend I returned to my old patch in Rye Bay to see the Sandwich Terns starting to grow in numbers on the migration roosts.  This is an important staging post for many terns on their way through, and some of the birds will of course stay for this years breeding season.

Can you spot the odd one out?

It was so nice to hear the chorus of tern calls again, even if it was just the Sandwich Terns so far.  A call that is so harsh and piercing when heard on its own can become almost soothing when heard on mass against the backdrop of a windy coast (thanks storm Katie!).  And it is a sure sign that many more birds are on their way back to our coasts.  A few Med Gulls and hundreds of Black Headed Gulls were already in residence but still looking a little lonely without all the others, including hundreds of Common Terns and a handful of noisy Little Terns.  Then the sound of summer will be in full force- a very different sound to the auk colonies I’ve worked on but just as comforting.

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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…

…Terns!

splash!

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

splash!

…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.

beach

Swift

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.

 

Hungry Chicks

It’s a hard life bringing up hungry balls of fluff.  They might look like they have tiny mouths but if you don’t feed them enough then everything starts to look like food to them!  This adult returned to the nest but didn’t feed its young so one of them started to find its own food- unfortunately it was the foot of the adult but it didn’t seem to matter…  It gave up after about ten minutes but still didn’t get any supper.hungry chick

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.

(more…)

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!

Terns starting to settle…

The terns at Rye Harbour are starting to settle down properly for the season.  The Sandwich Terns have been for a while and many of them have eggs in their “nests” (which are barely more than scrapes in the shingle except for a few birds which have managed to steal nests from Black Headed Gulls).  The Common Terns are far behind this though with birds still pairing up and fighting over territories on the nesting islands.  The Little Terns are further behind still, behind hindered by the recent high winds, but will hopefully get down to business fairly soon!  Anyway, take a look at this minifilm of the tern activity going on right now:

Little Terns

Summer has finally begun!  I base this on the fact that I’ve seen Little Terns preparing to make their nests on the shingle at Rye Harbour.

real terns

These two happy campers were looking like they were setting up right by the roadside, a perfect viewing spot for anyone interested in these diminutive birds.   But of course this isn’t just by chance, the reserve have put a lot of effort into protecting these birds as they aren’t doing too well at the moment.  They choose to nest on very open, exposed beaches where they can get flooded out by high tides, eaten by mammals on the ground or hunted by birds of prey in the air.  Combine that with having to feed hungry little chicks by carrying back small fish from the sea one at a time and parenthood for a Little Tern sounds like a tough job.  But at Rye Harbour the terns are coaxed into nesting a bit further inland safe from the sea, inside a nice big electric fence that should protect them from dogs, foxes and badgers.

fake terns

This is done with the help of some fake terns sitting out on the shingle ridges looking like they’re enjoying themselves.  And to really sell it the inanimate objects are given a voice with a tape playing Little Tern calls in the background.  Combine this with a second electric fence to block really determined predators and you get the perfect summer location for a tiny tern.  And now that a few terns have been drawn in by the decoys and tape playback, the whole process should snowball as the real terns sit there, calling away like the two in the top picture, and attract other breeding pairs.

So look forward to more pictures of these guys as they one of my favourite seabirds and look like they should be around in numbers for yet another summer in Rye Bay.