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…

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!

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.

Little Owl

Skomer is home to a couple of pairs of Little Owl this season so I thought I’d take some time to point out how cuddly little birds can actually be quite “evil”.  Now obviously animals aren’t really good or evil but looking at the picture below it is quite hard to think of a more sinister looking bird.  The expressive face with its beady yellow eyes and prominent brows don’t help with the Little Owl’s image…

Out on Skomer the picture doesn’t get much better.  The island is home to a good population of Storm Petrels, small sea birds that come to land for the breeding season, but the population is under considerable predation pressure from these owls.  And as an introduced species, many people think that isn’t right.  But control of predator species is always a sticky point in conservation so for now the Stormies will have to take their chances.

Death

A cheery topic this time… cheery picture too…

Fox carcass in local woodland

An Ex-Fox

(more…)

Guillemot

image

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.