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.'


  1. Nice to see a blog about the site now. When I was a warden there, the idea was strongly opposed.

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