Now that the Black-headed gull chicks are well on their way to fledging, it is time for the Common terns to step up (or should that be fly down) and take their place on the Oysterbed islands, in preparation for the imminent arrival of their own eggs. Standing on one of the bunds on the reserve, these feisty little birds fly back and forth above my head, courting and bringing in fish for their partners who sit in wait on the nest.

A Common tern giving an impressive aerial display

Just like many other tern species, the Common tern is a ground nesting bird. It creates a small depression called a ‘scrape’ within it’s chosen nesting site, and it is into this that the eggs are laid. The nests are quite bare, often with just a scattering of sticks placed around the edge of the depression, and the bird will lay between two and three eggs within the scrape. Nesting sites are often flat expanses with a reasonable degree of shelter that the chicks can use to shield themselves, making the Oysterbed islands a perfect place. But the Common tern is surprisingly flexible in where it may decide to nest, as is proven by the fact that they have managed to breed in unexpected places such as several piers on Governors Island in New York, a former Army and Coastguard base. 

Counts of Common terns on 'Apparently Occupied Nests' (AONs for short) this year have reached 47 at the Oysterbed reserve. This is a little bit down on last years figures, but we do have some time left so let's keep our fingers crossed that these numbers will increase. 

One calling and one nesting Common tern - can you spot the nesting tern?

The Common terns around Langstone Harbour will tend to feed on small fish, such as sand eels and small herring, with the sand eels providing a small and easy to handle meal for tiny beaks! Terns have a fantastic ability to hover above the sea, with the wings almost circling in a kestrel-esque motion, before seemingly falling out of the sky and diving into the water to capture their prey. 

A split second before entering the water

But one particularly special Common tern can be seen to fly along the edges of the Oysterbeds almost on a daily basis, not looking for fish, but instead for crustaceans such as crabs. This little guy flies in very close to shore, providing excellent photo opportunities for keen photographers!

Common tern with a crab (Photo courtesy of Tracy Winkworth)

Anybody with an interest in wildlife will find something to see right now at the Oysterbeds, so why not grab your binoculars and cameras and meet me down there?