Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Egg-cellent Camouflage!!

Today we want to introduce you to some of our breeding pairs of Little Terns and their nests. Each pair will lay between one and three eggs over the course of four days, which they incubate for around 25 days. They won’t start this properly until the last egg is laid. Usually eggs are laid in a small hole or ‘scrape’ which their parents have dug out with their legs. Often a pair will have made several of these scrapes, and then decide which they will move into. They can be seen early in the season walking together from one scrape to the next, quite clearly house hunting.

Like many seabirds, Little Terns don’t put much effort into their nest. They lay their eggs straight onto the beach, either on sand or shingle. 

A nest in shingle Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
A nest on sand Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
This may seem careless but Tern eggs are perfectly camouflaged to blend into their surroundings, so they are very difficult for predators (or Wardens!) to find. Their camouflage is so good that adults will occasionally end up incubating a pebble by mistake!

 Accidental rock adoption... Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

One of our pairs this year has laid a very strange egg. It is white all over and has no markings or speckles. Most eggs are either brown or grey and are covered in mottles. It will be interesting to see what happens!
A completely white egg, very unusual Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

One peculiar habit of some Little Terns is that they will ornament their nests. They decorate their scrapes, usually by carrying in pale coloured pebbles and surrounding their eggs with them. Sometimes they will also drag in nearby twigs or seaweed.  

A nest decorated with pebbles Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
A nest decorated with twigs and grass Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

The colony is doing well, with 68 chicks and 231 eggs still left to hatch! June is the perfect time of year to come and see them. We are always around to answer any questions you have.

Welcome to the world! Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

- Paddy and Em

Friday, 10 June 2016

Proud Parents

Our first chicks have hatched!!! Little Terns incubate their eggs for just 21 days before they hatch, so we knew that our first babies were due yesterday. Sure enough, when we went out into the colony to carry out our daily nest checks, we found three nests with tiny chicks hatched just a few hours previously.

So cute! Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

Some of them were so freshly hatched that they were not yet dry. This little guy still had bits of his egg shell attached.
Just escaped the egg Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)

We were lucky enough to come across one chick in the midst of battling from his shell. His younger sibling had also just managed to break a hole in his shell with the egg tooth on the end of his bill. This falls away after about a day.

Making slow progress.... Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)
As soon as the chicks have grown enough, we fit them with a metal ring with has a unique identifying number on it. This helps with our research, as it means that individual birds can be tracked, which gives us information about their foraging movements and migration as they get older.

Applying a metal ring Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Throughout the summer we will also take measurements of their wing length and weight so we can understand more about their growth rates and development. When first hatched Little Terns weigh around 7 grams and have wings just 11 or 12 millimetres long. So tiny!!!
Getting his tiny wing measured Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)

Newly hatched chicks weigh just a few grams Taken under NPWS licence (E Witcutt)
-Paddy and Em

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Suprise Visitor...

Today we had another dramatic rescue situation! We were carrying out our daily monitoring of the Little Tern colony when we spotted a Razorbill in trouble a little way offshore. It was soaking wet and struggling to swim. It managed to get to the safety of the shore but immediately came under attack from the Little Terns, who were protecting their nests from this harmless intruder.
How did I end up here?? (P.Manley)

We dashed down to the shore and walked towards the bird from opposite directions. We were able to walk straight up to it and pick it up without it struggling or trying to get away; always a bad sign. We dried it off and left it to rest in a dark box. 
Much happier after a rest (P. Manley)

After an hour it was much more energetic; we got some pretty painful bites trying to catch it in the box! 

Ready to be released! (E. Witcutt)
We took it down to the shore, this time away from the Little Terns and released him back into the water.
Eager to go (P. Manley)

After a few seconds he dived down and started fishing. Then off he went out to sea to live out the rest of his life. Another happy ending!

Happy as Larry! (P. Manley)
- Em and Paddy

Saturday, 28 May 2016

100th egg

 We've reached our next milestone down here on the beach, our hundredth egg was laid yesterday! So far the colony has 52 active nests, and they're still going strong. Last year was a record, with 155 nests, but there's still plenty of time to catch up.

Incubating Little Tern Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Little Terns are good parents, and our colony are looking after the eggs well, although we are having some trouble with Hooded Crows. When the eggs are first laid, the female will stay with them for the first few days while her mate brings in food, then the male will take his share of incubation. They are very attentive and will sit on the nest for hours at a time, so when it's time to swap places they usually stand around for a while and have a good stretch before heading off to feed.

Having a stretch Taken under NPWS licence (P Manley)
Feel free to pop down for a visit. The wardens are always around and are always happy to chat about the Little Terns and the other wildlife at the beach.

-Paddy & Em

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Beach Babies!

So sweet... Ringed Plover chicks Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
We have our first chicks!! Not Little Terns, it’s a little too early for that… but Ringed Plover. We were carrying out our daily nest checks of the Little Tern colony and spotted three tiny balls of fluff. 

Ringed Plover nests are amazingly camouflaged Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
And their chicks are very good at hiding too! Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)

Ringed Plovers leave their nest very soon after hatching so these guys were probably less than a day old, and already running around the beach on their long spindly legs. We have plenty more nests around so hopefully lots more chicks will be popping up in the next few days.

These birds are excellent parents. If the adults think something might be threatening the young, they perform a ‘broken-wing dance’. They stumble away from the nest, holding their wings at an awkward angle. The idea is that any predator will think the adult is injured so will be an easy meal, and will attack it rather than finding the nest. Parents literally sacrifice themselves so that their chicks stand a chance of surviving!

A proud parent with a youngster Taken under NPWS licence (Em Witcutt)
Elsewhere, our Little Terns are well on their way to becoming parents too. We’re up to 40 nests now, with plenty more expected over the coming days. Feel free to come down to the beach for a visit, there will always be a warden around to give you a view of the birds and answer any questions you have.

Paddy and Em

Saturday, 21 May 2016

We have eggs!!

The season is now in full swing... we found our first Little Tern nest on Thursday! The pair had 2 eggs and were sat tight protecting their clutch against the wind and rain. Since then there has been plenty more activity despite the poor weather. We're up to 15 nests already, with plenty more expected over the next few days. The adults will sit on their eggs for around 20 days to keep them warm and dry before they hatch.
Well camouflaged! A Little Tern nest with 2 eggs (Taken under NPWS licence) P. Manley

The Little Terns will be getting more and more settled in the coming days. so now is a great time to come for a visit. The wardens will be happy to show you a Little Tern and answer any questions you may have.
 Little Tern (Taken under NPWS licence) P. Manley

-Em and Paddy

Monday, 16 May 2016

Dunlin Rescue

Yesterday, the wardens were enjoying watching all the waders in the lagoon over dinner. A Hooded Crow appeared from the farm and flushed all the waders off their feeding patches, he then swooped into the middle of a tight flock of Dunlin and managed to knock one out of the sky into the lagoon. As waders are not suited to swimming, he began to struggle in the water and attempting to make his way slowly to the shore, the Hooded Crow  began to fly up to him and push him under the water in an attempt to drown him.
Luckily for this Dunlin, the wardens were around to intervene and scare the Hooded Crow away. Once the Dunlin had made in into the shallower section of the lagoon the wardens waded into the water to rescue it from the cold water.
Dunlin trying to learn how to swim (P. Manley)

By the time he was rescued out of the water he was very wet and cold, so the wardens put him in a box of tissue in the caravan in an attempt to dry him off and heat him up. After an hour or so in the box, he became much more lively and was jumping around the box. Now, the wardens knew he was ready to be released again!
The Dunlin was feeling very sorry for himself. (P. Manley)

Once he was released back at the shore of the lagoon, he ran down along the mud and started feeding again.
Dunlin ready to be released (P. Manley)

-Paddy and Em