Sunday, 12 June 2011

Chicks Ahoy!

The first egg hatched (from K6 as predicted) on Friday 3rd June, a full 8 days earlier than last year, but that was to be expected given the early laying this year. Since then we've been busy trying to complete nest checks during what little breaks in the weather we had some days (nest checks aren't undertaken when it's cold or drizzley as the chicks can become exposed & chilled). All chicks have been ringed with metal BTO rings which will allow us to keep track of their survival rates & movements across the colony over the coming weeks. We also measure & weigh the chicks during nest checks as part of an ongoing growth study. 

Little Tern chick, only a couple of hours old © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler 
Niall measuring the wing length of a chick © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler
A couple of nests have single eggs in them which look like they won't hatch but this is normal for a few clutches with three eggs but saying that there are still quite a few broods of three chicks out & about keeping the parents busy. The eggs hatch usually within a day of each other so the difference between the A chick (i.e. the first one to hatch) & the B chick is only a matter of a millimetre or two on the wing & a gram or so in weight. Nest K12 hatched it's three eggs but the third, C chick was found dead in the nest scrape a day later. It was wet when I found it so probably hadn't been brooded that morning during showers. It's two siblings were no longer in the nest scrape so the parents must have started moving them on towards the foreshore pretty quickly. The last time I saw all three of the chicks together it was quite noticeable that the A & B chicks were much bigger than the C chick so I reckon that they were getting the Lion's share of the food & the poor wee fella just wasn't strong enough to survive.

The rest of the chicks are healthy & are being fed some good sized sandeels so it appears that the fish stocks here are in good order (still lots of Gannets diving close offshore these days too which is another positive sign). Quite a lot of the tern broods are already on the move with a lot of the bigger chicks (now up to 9 days old) out beyond the fence & lined up along the foreshore, where the parents leave them whilst they go off fishing.

Chicks are fed on small fish & amphipods for the first couple of days before switching mostly to sandeels. Nest cam footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler
 K4 female being fed by the male. Nest cam footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler
We've been finding lots of new nests recently too, even up to 8 in a day at one stage so it seems that all the nests that were lost to the Rook, Hooded Crows & abandonment have re-laid. Looking at the nest data chart, this would seem to be the case all right as the dates for re-laying & the size of the clutches (usually an egg less than the original clutch) all match up. The nests lost to corvids in the N-colony appear to have moved to the K-colony to re-lay which means they're now afforded better protection from ground predators due to the more extensive fencing there. Quite a few of the latest nests certainly involve recent arrivals as well as re-lays as there are plenty of full clutches with 3 eggs.

So, as it stands we currently have 70 active nests with 56 chicks & 97 eggs which is amazing given the heavy losses a couple of weeks ago. It just goes to show how resilient these birds can be if they're given enough time & space to breed. As an added bonus, we're also 4 nests above last years total of 66 pairs!!! 

The first Ringed Plover young have fledged successfully & can now be seen feeding along the shoreline in The Breaches. We've also had 3 new nests (totalling 4 chicks & 3 eggs) which could well be second broods/clutches? The Oystercatchers in the N-colony (OC1) hatched 2 of their 3 eggs & the chicks are now to be found near the foreshore being fed regularly on polychaete worms brought in from The Breaches by the male. The eggs from the K-colony Oyc nest (OC2) were beginning to hatch yesterday also!

Early on Wednesday morning (8th June) I was sitting in the hide over-looking the K-colony carrying out some incubation checks when all the terns took flight in a dread at 06:55. Some waders which must have been resting on the foreshore with the terns got up too & I noticed an interesting looking bird with 3 Turnstone. Sure enough it was a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER!!! The 'Buff-B' (as they are affectionately referred to by birders) did a lap of the K-colony right in front of the hide & then continued North with the Turnstones before landing on the beach past the Sea Buckthorn bushes. No sign of it afterwards though. I suppose there's a chance that it is the same bird that we saw here on the 11th May making a return journey? Either way, not a bad way to start the day!

The 2 Cuckoos are STILL here, often showing very well in the Sea Buckthorn or along the K-colony fence. The length of their stay & the fact that they show so well has attracted a lot of attention from photographers & apparently they even got a mention on local radio too! A Short-eared Owl was seen hunting around Newcastle Airfield late in the evening of 2nd June (one seen here last year on 1st June!) & two Kingfishers were seen along the western channel of Webb's field earlier that day. Small numbers of Arctic Terns continue to be seen migrating past every now & then with pairs of Mediterranean Gulls heading North on 6th & 7th also.

The first of the Curlew are beginning to migrate back south already and a few Whimbrel have made an appearance here & there. There's still a flock of 10-20 Dunlin about, often seen roosting on the K-colony foreshore where they attract in Turnstones & Sanderling. A single Redshank & 20-30 Black-tailed Godwits can be found in The Breaches, a flock of 8 Lapwing in Webb's field yesterday may be the first of the returning birds for them too whilst two Snipe can still be heard singing & drumming on Stringer's land behind The Breaches.

A Harbour Porpoise travelled north offshore on 2nd June but we've not seen the 3 Bottlenose Dolphins since. Two Otters are still knocking about The Breaches & Webb's field at night time, munching away on crabs & flatfish. Lots of Leisler's Bats & some Pipistrelle sp. around in the evenings & the first lot of Six-spot Burnet moths are also on the wing.

As you may have guessed from some of the pics above, we're using a nest camera this year. Andrew Power & Peter Cutler are making a documentary on the Little Tern project & they've placed a GoPro camera beside several nests to film some chick feeding (under licence from NPWS). They're already getting some great footage & Peter was kind enough to send on a few stills to use here on the blog. The nest cam will also give us the opportunity to monitor the feeding ecology of tern chicks at a young age & with a bit of luck we might be able to read a few ring codes on the adults too! Anyways, here's a few more nest cam stills for you guys...


K6 adult & chicks. Nest cam footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler
OC2 incubating. Nest cam footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler
Niall, Peter & Andrew setting up the nest cam beside K6 © Siobhan McNamara
This male tern (from K13) is most likely one of 3 birds from the Wexford Harbour colony that were fitted with blue colour rings when they were chicks in either 1995 or 1997. We're doing our best to try & read the code on that metal ring! Nest cam footage © Andrew Power & Peter Cutler 

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