Every species of tern that breeds in the harbour has produced chicks that have successfully flegded, it's such great news and we breathe a huge sigh of relief. The raft at the oyster beds has been a great success, I watched as the first common tern chick took to the air for several wing beats before unceremoniously plunging into the water, and as if that wasn't bad enough being set upon by two grumpy black-headed gulls. Fortunately a bit of ducking and diving saved the day and the rather soggy fledgeling made it onto the platform to recover from it's ordeal.
The dishevelled fledgeling being comforted by a parent
It is astounding how quickly the chicks grow, infront of your very eyes it seems sometimes! I live next to a small colony of herring gulls, when I go home at night I swear someone has come along and swapped the chicks because it doesn't seem possible that they could be the same birds that I left in the morning. That said, watching seabird parents and the demands made on them by the chicks is interesting when compared to that of say the passerines (perching birds). We're all familiar with those shabby looking blue-tits who at the end of the breeding season look fit to drop. With their large broods and seemingly insatiable offspring, enormous demands are made on the parents. A brood of 10 chicks each requiring 100 caterpillars per day means the parents over a 12 hour period are having to bring back a grub more than once a minute to provide that amount of food, exhausting! Compare that with the seabirds and it's quite a different story. I often see tern parents returning with food to completely satiated chicks who couldn't squeeze another thing in, and gulls who seem to have an awful lot of leisure time, with both parents languishing around the nest quite regularly. This must somehow correlate with the very different demography of the two orders of birds, long-lived vs short-lived, deferred breeding maturity, long chick rearing periods etc. I intend to find out more.
bringing in crab
Despite the fact that the fish surveys have produced poor findings this year, enough food is being bought in by the terns, in fact I've seen such frenzied feeding at the raft that the parents are having to queue to land. One pair of common terns seem to favour feeding crustaceans and whilst I'm not sure of the calorific value compared to fish, they have 2 big healthy chicks about ready to fledge. It's interesting (in a macabre way) watching the adults quickly and efficiently dispatch the crabs with a flick in the air and a well aimed prod of that spear like beak, what a weapon that is! But it's a dog eat dog world out there and no matter who you are, you're food for someone else, I don't like to anthropomorphize, birds don't rationalize feelings as we do of course, but imagine living your whole life in constant fear of predation. I caught this peregrine checking out the colony last week, it seemed to me it was doing little more than beating it's chest, ruffling a few feathers so to speak, but nevertheless the gulls and terns lifted in a frenzy of fear (though I noticed no-one challenged the peregrine as they would other avian threats). The irony was, a Mediterranean gull seized the opportunity, amidst all the panic, to nip in and snatch a chick - I tell you, you need eyes in the back of your head!
just having a look!
It is hard to believe that terns belong to the same family of birds as gulls. Their fine, elegant, streamlined physique seems a million miles away from that of your average chunky gull and their aerial agility in a different league altogether, but gulls are amazing birds too . Talking to people about gulls almost always engenders a negative response. They have such a bad press and my enthusiasm for their versatility and adaptability often falls on deaf ears. It's easy to sell a pretty face (ask any publicist) and easy to vilify those deemed to be the least attractive (ask Mary Shelley) but I think gulls are great and should be applauded. Here's just a few facts and anecdotes to ponder over .......... they learn and remember and pass on behaviour such as stamping on the ground to attract earth worms, using breadcrumbs to attract fish and conserving energy by hovering over bridges to absorb the rising heat. They are amazingly attentive and caring parents, they mate for life and live a long time, up to 32 years for a herring gull. Colonies seem to have 'divorce stigma' and a previously mated bird may be seen as less desirable for several years after splitting from a partner! They have complex communication skills with a large variety of vocal calls and body postures. In many cultures gulls are a symbol of versatility and freedom.
I'm sure you can name these 3 species
It seems we have an overlap of production this year, with both little terns and common terns breeding later in the season. The reasons could be varied, but we are still seeing mating even now. As far as numbers go as a whole for the harbour, we shall wait until the season is finally over before we give you the figures. To put you in the picture check out this final film clip. I think you'll agree the little guy on top of the shelter is significantly younger than the other chicks on the raft, what an hilarious come down he has, but nonetheless is no worse for the experience! So watch this space, 2017 may not be a vintage year but it will certainly be a good one.
thank-you Wez Smith for two great video's
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