Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A quick tern around

The breeding season has now ended for most of our nesting shorebirds. As we say goodbye to lots of the seasonal rangers that monitor and protect the birds both on the islands and the mainland, Kate, one of the coastal rangers reflects on how the 2017 season has been at the Long Nanny Tern Site.
‘Every year the end of season seems to come around too quickly, one day you are busy monitoring chicks and chasing kestrels and the next you realise the site has become eerily quiet. Handfuls of birds spiral high into the air signalling the beginning of their migration south. Handfuls become large groups and slowly the background chatter of the site reduces. The site is now closed and the assistant rangers that lived and worked on site have moved on to other things. It is always a mad rush to get the site collapsed: deconstructing huts, reeling in over a kilometre of fencing and securing the ranger hut for another winter. Suddenly it is all over and I find myself staring at a large pile of sand covered equipment, occupying most of the floor space in our workshop and wandering where on earth to store it over winter. We have been busy brushing sand off the night-shift torches, hosing down rope gunged up with seaweed and packing away the kitchen equipment. A few last trips to site to pick up the last bits are always a strange experience. With the ropes and signage removed, Beadnell bay is full of families enjoying the beach, and I have to check my impulse to run down and intercept beach users standing in the middle of what was the nesting site only a few days before.

Monitoring nests in the spit colony

This time of year is also when we reflect on how successful the season has been. Before the assistant rangers leave, they spend a busy few days writing the site report for the season, analysing all of the data recorded throughout the past three months. This data is also reported to the EU Little Tern LIFE project coordinated by the RSPB and other seabird data sets.   

Arctic terns had a much better season than last year. Just over 1800 pairs nested on site and a minimum of 479 chicks fledged. It is always tricky to reach an exact number as some juveniles will be starting their journey south before others have even started to grow their adult feathers. 479 was the most seen at one time but we believe the actual number of fledglings could be between 600 to 1000. Their success was impacted by high tides, periods of poor weather when chicks were newly hatched and a selection of predators.

Little terns were similarly affected although they receive more ranger intervention to protect them from predators and high tides. A minimum of 38 pairs nested on site but sadly only 4 chicks fledged. Lots of nests survived to hatching, but many chicks were then predated by black headed and lesser black-backed gulls. Although the rangers watched the colony 24 hours a day even their vigilance couldn’t prevent every gull intrusion into the site, with 11 attempts in an hour by one determined individual.

Ringed plover also nest on site and are an important part of the colony. This year a minimum of 9 pairs made sixteen nesting attempts and successfully fledged 3 chicks. They were similarly affected by gulls predating chicks and high spring tides.

Sunset at the Tern Site © Rachelle Regan

Overall a few ups and downs, as is the case every season.  Every year poses different problems and we never know what to expect until it happens. A massive thanks is needed to this years’ assistant rangers  - Ben, Freya, Marco, Marta and Ptolemy, and all the volunteers that worked tirelessly throughout the season to protect and monitor the colony. Also thanks everyone who visited the site and cooperated with the rangers to help make the breeding season as successful as possible.'

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Life as a ranger at the Long Nanny Tern Site

It is nearly the end of season and time has flown by at The Long Nanny Tern Site. As we get ready to pack up the site, Ptolemy one of the assistant rangers reflects on life at the site.

"The role has been a fantastic opportunity and has had some lows but plenty of highs. Every day is different, with speaking to the wide range of people who visit the viewing platform to see the terns, monitoring disturbances, feeding surveys and site management. The best bit has been watching the terns progress throughout the season. Many Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) chicks are now fledging and fingers are crossed for the little terns (Sternula albifrons) that fledglings ready to head to West Africa are seen on site.

An Arctic tern protecting the tern garden  © Ptolemy McKinnon

The job has certainly kept us on our feet. Kestrel and weasels have been on site which has meant lots of running and chasing to ensure the safety of the little terns. Many days have been spent sprinting around through marram and on sand. Unfortunately, there have been casualties as expected, but to see chicks nearing fledging helps keep the rangers smiling.
Monitoring on the Little Terns has been great fun. We carry out feeding surveys when possible, recording the type of fish being brought in by adults and the size. It seems that this year is a good year for sandeels and watching the chicks being fed is rewarding. With a big interest in ornithology, it is a pleasure to watch them and see some of the behaviour of the species. However trying to understand either the little or Arctic terns leaves many a ranger confused.
Sunrise from the viewing platform © Ptolemy McKinnon
To be in a location which is at least a 20 minute walk away from any shop and living on site has made it interesting, but we have all enjoyed the tent life. Waking up on a morning to hear and see the terns is a sight to behold. Putting up fencing, placing tern shelters and other jobs around the site have all been worth it to see the site functioning to protect the little terns, Arctic terns and ringed plovers.

It has been a fantastic season and even though living in a tent for three months sounds horrible for many, it has been a joy and hopefully the rest of the spell on site continues in the same vein."