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