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…

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.



I’ve been saying for quite a while that I would write about my job this year so I thought I would actually get round to it!  This year I am the Field Assistant on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire.  This means that I am responsible for quite a bit of seabird monitoring on this amazing seabird colony- mostly Great Blacked Gulls, Guillemot, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmar.  And as the Guillies take up the majority of my time I thought I’d start with them and follow up with posts about the others over the next couple of weeks.

guilly swimming

A bridled Guillemot – a plumage variation of a white line behind the eye which occurs roughly once in every 40 birds in this area.

Guillemot are Auks, a type of seabird that is quite stocky and specialises in diving underwater and catching small fish as they go.  To do this they have short stubby wings which are very good for swimming whilst still just about letting them fly- although when they do it does look like quite an effort!  This lifestyle means they can spend most of the time at sea, and only come to land to breed (because eggs don’t do very well in the sea…).  This is where I come in!

guilly ledgeGuillemot breed at very high densities on sea cliffs where they are free from land predators and their sharp beaks (and those of their neighbours) help to deter flying predators such as gulls.  I have five study plots scattered around Skomer which contain some breeding pairs and I spend many, many hours watching them to determine which ones have eggs, which ones have chicks and which ones have nothing!  From this I can work out how successful the breeding attempts are and how many new guillemots are fledged each year.  Unfortunately, the birds are very close together (each territory being as small as 15cm of ledge!) and look identical so it is a bit tricky to tell them apart at times…  But hopefully at the end of the year my numbers will make sense and I will be able to report back that the Guillemots have had a good year.


Flighty Puffins: Falling with Style!

After a post a while back saying flying puffins were impossible to photograph, I’ll swiftly contradict myself by showing some shots where I’m actually pretty happy with my results.  It might also get the Puffin photos out of my system, and then I can get on with my season of looking at other seabirds!

Puffin Flying

This guy above was gliding slowly down to his burrow, hanging on the strong updraught from the onshore winds, obviously with enough time to take a look at me and wonder what I was doing there.


Little Egret

These are pretty flighty birds that are easy to see, bright white against the often dull background, but harder to get up close to.  And its only when up really close that you can see the fine detail of that stunning white plumage.  This one was feeding right in front of the Denny Hide at Rye Harbour so I could get some nice shots.  The fine feathers down the breast, colouring of the eye and nice yellow feet break up what from a distance can seem a rather plain bird.  Not to say that something that is plain white wouldn’t catch your eye as it flaps slowly across a reedbed!

little egret

These birds stalk the shallow waters of fresh and brackish water bodies and strike down rapidly with their long beaks to catch the small fish swimming by.  They can stay motionless for long periods of time so even though they stand out to us, they can remain unnoticed by their fishy prey.

Re-Terning to Terns…

Back to the Common Tern, these smart birds deserve more than just a cursory mention- especially as they now nest so close to one of the birding hides at Rye Harbour that a good shot is guaranteed this time of year!

staring very hard at something... probably a stone.


I just liked this shot because it looks like the bird is extremely suspicious of a stone.  It’s surrounded by them the whole summer but that one must be dodgy, or maybe its that little bit of Stonecrop growing next to it…

Anyway, these birds always look good.  Their matching red beak and legs combined with the bold black cap and pointed wings and tail give the impression of a very smart bird, their dainty features suggest a fragility that simply doesn’t exist.  These birds travel huge distances over open sea, fish in the frigid saltiness of the open ocean and will mob birds much larger than themselves to protect their young.  Hopefully I’ll ctach a few passing by Pembrokeshire before I make it home for winter this year.


Another shot from my recent trip home to Rye Harbour, and one of a bird I see plenty of on Skomer but can never get as close to as at home- the Cormorant.  These scaly looking birds always look a bit more reptilian than most and can look a bit ugly at times but do have their more attractive moments… hopefully this is one of them!  I was playing with another borrowed lens, a 400mm one this time and even without a tripod it let me get some nice shots.

From a distance these birds often look plain black but do in fact have significant highlights, that give them their scaly look.  They also have the yellow around their beaks which can look a bit like a young birds gape.  And when it comes to the breeding season they can sport bright white patches down their flanks which make them look much more impressive.  Although not quite as adept at diving as the auks of Skomer, these birds can swim strongly underwater and can catch much larger fish.


Many Happy Re-Terns

Well it was my birthday last week, I am now in my second quarter century, hence the very bad bird pun for a title (I can’t even remember which family member to blame it on…).  So I escaped the island for a week and “re-terned” to Sussex for a week of R&R intermingled with long motorway journeys.  One of the special things for me was being able to see home in its summery state.  I rarely see it now, just spending my down time in winters there when it is altogether more grey and muddy and missing my favourite component- Terns!

with a glint in its eye




So last time it was those fancy Razorbills, this post is all about Guillemot (and plurals of birds is a topic for another day…).

This bird was another of my Skokholm friends and was one of the hundreds of birds in colonies on the island cliffs. Guillemot lay their eggs on narrow cliff ledges away from any possible land predator and cluster together to fend off aerial attacks. When the chicks hatch they are fed small fish by the adults, this one is showing how they hold them head first and actually start to digest it first! This softens the bony head and makes it easier for the chick to finish off.