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…

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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.

Terns

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.

juvenile

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?

Chough

I wrote this post a few days ago when it was a bit nicer out here, but the winds and rain have hit Skomer so I’m inside planning my season full of seabird observations.  But  hopefully the wind will die down fairly soon and ‘ll see some of these guys too:

choughThe Chough on Skomer are busy confusing the wardens yet again.  They are notoriously secretive and it takes weeks of spying on them to work out which birds are building nests (and where they are) and which birds are simply hanging out and enjoying the summer.  This bird was accompanied by a partner and they were looking for food in the short turf.  It’s an important time for pair bonding- during this time of year the female will often beg for food from the male to test his skills and providing for a family.  If she starts quivering her wings at him he has a short time to provide her with a tasty morsel or else she might just fly off and find a better hunter gatherer to breed with!

Razorbill

Another smart seabird this time, the Razorbill.  A masterpiece of black and white that shows you don’t need colour to look impressive, their stout beaks with flashes of white do that for them.

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Curlew

Not a rare bird this time, and not a particularly showy or exciting one either.  But a bird that I still enjoy watching and has some fairly interesting bits about it.

not a Whimbrel

Out on Skomer the Curlew used to be a pretty common breeding bird, now they are regular in attendance but decreasing in numbers and failing to get any chicks to any significant age.  The sheer numbers of raptors, gulls and crows makes it a dangerous place for a young fluffy curlew and I can see there being a time in the not too distant future when these birds are nothing but visitors to the island. This year I have been aware of just the one nest on Skomer, located far from public paths and defended loudly from passing people, gulls and pheasants!  But this nest has gone quiet recently so unless the defending bird has become suddenly shy (not unheard of as many birds try to pretend they don’t actually have a nest), there may not be a viable nest there any more…

For those who haven’t seen too many, or aren’t paying close enough attention, the Curlew is almost identical to the Whimbrel.  These birds have VERY similar plumages but can be told apart by a slight difference in size (Curlew are larger) and different head (Whimbrel tend to have a darker mask and shorter beak).  This takes a bit of practice however so learning their calls is very useful.  The Whimbrel is known as the seven whistler as its common call is seven short notes in succession, whereas the Curlew call is much more musical and bubbly- but trying to describe calls in text is always a bit dodgy so if there are any near where you are go and listen for yourself.

I will :)

Ravens

I’m trying not to repeat subjects too much but I keep coming across the Ravens when I’ve got my camera on me and they do look amazing, so here’s another shot of a big, black bird!

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Death

A cheery topic this time… cheery picture too…

Fox carcass in local woodland

An Ex-Fox

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