So the end of our Black-headed gulls time at the Oysterbeds is now drawing to a close, with once downy, fluffy chicks now grown into fully fledged and flying adults. This fluffball-to-fledgling process takes a mere 35 days – just think of all the additional time humans would have if it were that easy? But growing up out in the wild inevitably comes with it’s own challenges. First and foremost, predators appear in the form of Mediterranean gulls, as well as other Black-headed gull adults looking for an easy meal. The tiny chicks have little defence against these predators, and so have to rely on mum or dad to fight the good fight and defend their offspring. The gulls must also face adverse weather conditions, as well as high spring tides that can be devastating for flightless chicks.
When you stop to consider all of these things, it really is fantastic that the babies have managed to get so far. But numbers are certainly dwindling, as my counts over the past few days have shown at least a 50% drop in the number of fledglings left – they have well and truly flown the nest! So if you want to see our fledglings, make sure you get down the Oysterbeds soon to catch the last of them.
Farewell Black-headed gulls - go forth and prosper
However, as sad as I am to see our gulls leave the reserve, it does mean our charismatic Common terns get to give their best shot at breeding this season. Numbers of pairs on the islands seem to be going up as the gull fledglings go down, and so I am hoping we will get to see some more babies soon. When we do get some more chicks, you might see me perched on the edge of the lagoon in a camping chair and staring intently through the scope at a nest, for over three hours. I can promise you I won’t have gone mad – I will most likely be conducting a fish provisioning survey. This is where we monitor a particular nest (or set of nests) and record the frequency, species and size of fish that are brought in to the little chicks. This helps to give us an idea of how much food is being brought into the colony, and typical menu choices include herring, sprat, sand eel and goby. Tasty!
A Common tern chick tests out his little wings
Common terns in flight are incredibly elegant, and make for the perfect photography subject. This leads on to the last point in my blog – the Oysterbeds photography competition. If you happen to be down at the Oysterbeds taking a few snaps, why not send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org to be in with the chance of winning an ‘RSPB Handbook of British Birds’ and having your photograph displayed on the boards at each end of the reserve. It’s free to enter and the last date for entries is August 17th 2016. Why not give it a go!
Looking forward to meeting you down there.
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