It's barely six weeks since the very first little tern arrived back in the Solent for 2016 but I'm afraid the prognosis (at least for the little terns) on the Langstone Harbour Islands is already bleak. Numbers returning from Africa have mostly remained under 50% of last years counts with a mixture of other colonies around the UK also reporting smaller numbers returning and late arrivals. The upshot of this is that despite the habitat here being in perfect condition and human disturbance being virtually non existent, the little tern colony only managed to coalesce for a few weeks in late May before the first attempt at breeding faded away, unable to hold their own with their natural colony partners in unsettled weather. Just 11 pairs were monitored forming and starting to settle before gradually disappearing one by one due to a mix of different avian predation. You can appreciate, for us who have been putting in 70+ hour weeks since mid April, this is especially gutting. Nevertheless, I really do feel that there were no if's or buts and that every possible action was taken to give them the best chance to succeed, the only thing we're able to do.
There is a chance, potentially a good one, that once the current northerly winds dissipate, a secondary attempt may take place and we'll be monitoring this very closely from afar. Usually, the second breeding attempt involves a smaller group than the first but sometimes benefits from the lack of competition from other species as their chicks grow. The expected nesting sites have cameras recording the appropriate areas and we should get a good picture of what happens next from these as well as or own personal observations across the harbour and via boat..
Meanwhile, around the Solent, we're currently working with a variety of organisations to increase the chances of smaller little tern colonies elsewhere. This is a critical period for all of them and some are facing very serious issues. Nevertheless, hopefully we'll have a better update for you soon. Sad as a primary failure is for Langstone, the population is and remains Solent wide (and indeed, north east Atlantic wide) and it's only on this basis that they'll be able to make a comeback.
Back in Langstone Harbour, the other species are doing ok so far and entering their busiest period. Nesting birds are sitting out the wind and rain, often with 1, 2 or 3 chicks huddled under their wings. The Sandwich Tern colony is hatching en-masse with its highest population for at least 4 years. Common Terns are now starting to hatch whilst both Black-headed Gulls and Mediterranean Gulls have rapidly growing youngsters.
Above: Out on the Langstone Islands, a young Black-headed Gull takes in the world.
If you've not been down to the West Hayling Local Nature reserve yet this summer, now is a great time to go with chicks busily being fed and Common Terns feeding metres in front of you along the shoreline.
I look forward to giving a better, and hopefully more positive update soon full of chicks and the hectic summer work of science and conservation we're carrying out. Until then, fingers crossed.
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