Thursday, 28 June 2012

Wash Out 2: Return of the Tide

Whilst writing the final report for last year’s project, we joked that in the recommendations section we should suggest that Liam Neeson be hired as a warden in future years (if you’ve seen Taken then you’ll know why...Foxes & crows wouldn’t stand a chance!). In any case, this year I think we’ll be asking for Moses to be employed as Chief High Tide Warden, as we sure could have done with him two weeks ago! 

The aftermath of the June Bank Holiday Spring high tide revealed a beach in very poor condition, at a much lower than before and devoid of the gullies & furrows along the foreshore which would help slow the momentum of any waves trying to make their way up. All this proved fatal for our second clutch re-lays which, as reported in the last update, began appearing on Sunday 10th June. Over the next few days we had recorded up to 24 nests of which one was predated by an Oystercatcher and one was abandoned soon after laying. The rest however were lost from Thursday evening onwards when a measly 3.3m high tide was able to race up the shore towards the Marram dunes once more thanks to the backing of a F6 E-NE wind. I would never have considered that a tide of this height could cause any real damage but such is the state of play this season.   

Erosion along the foreshore, eating away once viable nesting habitat & getting dangerously close to the fence! © Niall Keogh

This latest inundation swept away most of the nests and in subsequent days the remainder were lost to persistent Hooded Crows, once again attracted onto the beach by piles of fresh seaweed for them to pick through. Despite some drastic wardening efforts, they managed to get the better of us and by Sunday morning the colony fell silent once more.

Over the following week it was evident that the terns had suffered enough. Flock counts started to drop dramatically, often with just 20-35 birds present, usually for a few hours in the early morning before heading off to sea for the day, presumably to feed. Small parties would occasionally make their presence known in the afternoon, wheeling over the colony with males in tow carrying fish as if to get the ball rolling on courtship once more.

Courting Little Terns © Ronnie Martin

This activity decreased further still and the whole of Saturday went by without a single sighting of a Little Tern! Thankfully there has been a moderate increase in the past two days with up to 45 birds present in the morning, some of which have EVEN been seen landing on the beach! (amazing how small things like that get you excited when all seems lost). A glimmer of hope may reside in the fact that last year, our latest nest which went on to hatch & fledge successfully was laid as late as the 9th July, but saying that a large breeding colony was in full swing at that stage so a late nester may have felt more comfortable in doing so. 

So the big question now is...are we at too late a stage in the season for the Little Terns to start again from scratch?

Only time will tell. 


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    1. Chin up gang, a truly tough season for terns and wardens alike. They must have been struggling with tides for many years before we (humans) got involved. Always remember..."where there’s fish and shingle...there’s hope!!!"

      Good Luck


  2. Very sad news. Keeping fingers crossed for a third clutch. Let us know if help is needed to build fences or chase off crows.

  3. Thanks for the kind comments guys! We'll keep on truckin'... Niall