We never get to see Little Terns during the winter period in the UK, as they've all gone on their holibobs to seek a perpetual summer. They undergo a moult on migration and wintering grounds which sees them look quite different for much of this time. A recent trip to Thailand provided an opportunity to study the birds in this alternate plumage, at a site called Pak Thale. Now the main reason people visit this site, a set of salt-pans fronting on to the Bay of Bangkok, is to see the very rare and unique Spoon-billed Sandpiper (imagine a Dunlin with a kitchen utensil for a beak!) but I got slightly distracted by the presence of a whopping 1200 Little Terns roosting on the bunds. Thankfully a few flew closer and allowed photographs to be taken.
The main differences were in the beak, legs and head-pattern. The beak was completely black (mostly yellow in summer), the legs were dull orange (bright orange in summer) and the black on the head was restricted to a mask which stretched from the eyes to the back of the head with the rest of the cap white (all black in summer). These features combined make the birds look quite different to what we are used to seeing at Gronant and indeed initially it took me a moment to realise these were in fact Little Terns, the light-bulb eventually went off in my head due to them being tiny!
We are pleased to announce that since launching the programme in September we have had a total of 10 trackers sponsored which will go a long way to getting the project off the ground. Along with grant funding from The Seabird Group and the Merseyside Ringing Group we are hopeful of getting plenty more birds tracked next year!
In a flurry of other news, we received some information back on a Gronant colour-ringed bird - a 2-year-old, XLB, was seen at Hayling Island on 30/07. A rare case of one of our birds being spotted elsewhere. Interestingly it wasn't seen at Gronant this summer so may have bred on the south coast...
Tony Waller, the group's meetings secretary, gave a talk to the Colwyn Bay rotary club on 19/11 about the Little Terns at Gronant and the efforts to support them. It was good to tell a new audience about the work done to protect the terns.
A talk on the evening of 22/11 at Prestatyn Cricket Club resulted in £100 of donations to the group which we are very grateful for. It was a well-attended talk given by a Professor at Bangor University called Tom Rippeth and was on the topic of climate change which is of particular interest to us at the Little Tern Group as rises in sea level and more frequent storms threaten the safety of the nesting birds.
Finally, there was a national conference held in Norwich a few weeks back to mark the end of the EU LIFE+ project which has given so much assistance to colonies around the UK, including the Gronant colony, managed by Denbighshire Countryside Services (DCS). Little Tern stalwart, Adrian Hibbert, delivered a fantastic speech about the successes achieved at Gronant over the last 5 years which have included becoming the largest colony in the UK in 2017 and the launch and rapid growth of North Wales Little Tern Group. It is with sadness that Adrian has moved on from DCS but will remain chairman of the group and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
A novel opportunity has arisen for supporters of Little Terns to be part of a ground-breaking study to track the bird's migration down to Africa and back. The technology has recently become miniaturised enough to apply trackers to the legs of the terns. The trackers now weigh less than a gram!
We are raising funds to support the purchase of more tracking devices and thereby increase the amount that is learnt about where the birds go when not in the UK through a sponsorship programme. This project is in association with the Merseyside Ringing Group (who will take the lead in attaching the devices), Denbighshire Countryside Services and the Seabird Group.
A bit of background for why we are doing this - The birds are only in the UK for 4 months of the year, where they are well protected. Outside of this time no one really knows what threats they face, so learning where they go is the first and most important step to finding more about the issues they face when away from the UK.
This will be the first time tracking of Little Terns has been conducted in Western Europe. For £100 you can sponsor a tag and get information back when it is found and also the right to name the bird in question. Should your bird not return you will be offered a full set of information from another bird. For £50 you can part sponsor a bird and receive the same information on your bird but only be able to part name the bird (it will have a double-barrelled name!).
For further information please download the file below and register your interest at the e-mail address provided in the file.
The following is from facebook following the end of season event, a run-down of what went on!
"Finally found time to check in again to let you know the NWLTG AGM was well attended on Friday, with 28 members in all. Thank you everyone for making the effort to be there. It was an interesting meeting, with a lots of enthusiasm, as to be expected! ;) Main topics, 'life after Life +' and the 'loss' of the Life+ Officer post and fundraising options. We gained 5 new members too!
The End of Season event also went well, with more folk coming along. This year's three wardens Sasha T, Frances Mac and Marie D talked about the events of the season, though Marie didn't mention her 'shark attack'! ;) Even when you've been 'following' events throughout the year it's good to hear it all in chronological order as a presentation.
Henry C (Life+ Public Engagement Officer) spoke about colour ringing and re-sightings. Lots of interesting findings this year, as he managed to devote a lot of hours to this activity (as did Jack S our previous Life+ Officer). Having GoPro cameras on nests was beneficial in this aspect too. Let's hope all the effort can be reciprocated in the future, to improve our understanding of these wee birds.
Professor David Norman (Bird Ringer extraordinaire!) talked about the planned Gronant Little Tern Tracking Project, and how the tracking worked, which should also enhance our knowledge about Little Terns. We are hoping to commence Geolocator tracking next year.
Patrick K (Treasurer) spoke about the achievements of the group this year, and mentioned our Geolocator sponsorship programme, and we gained our very first Geolocator sponsor! Thank you Brian I!
Sue Rendell-Reid (Manager of the Life+ Little Tern Recovery Project) spoke about the project. It's amazing the diversity of 'obstacles' affecting the birds up and down the country - from different types of predation to coastal erosion. It's good to know successful tactical information is shared between the colonies.
Photo of the new Little Tern mural by Sasha T (image courtesy of @penrhynbirder)
Sash T 'unveiled' her Little Tern mural which you will see on the side of the Visitor Centre next year. Thank you very much Sasha, a brilliant achievement! The time and effort you put into this is much appreciated and I'm sure the mural will be enjoyed by the visitors to Gronant for years to come!
Sadly our much anticipated surprise 'scoop' didn't go according to plan (does any meeting ever go smoothly?) and the voice-over, by Iolo Williams, and recorded by Marie D, was a silent affair. :( I spoke to him last night (at Theatr Colwyn) and he said he'd heard the meeting was a "very quiet do"! I thought he knew about the 'malfunction' but he went on to say "no dancing on the tables" etc. Don't know who told him that, lol! Anyway, all is not lost and we are hoping to find a way to share the voice-over with members at a future date.
I wanted to recognize the fact that it was the first season that we'd ever had three female wardens, and presented them each with a bouquet of flowers, in a vase, as a memento. I didn't manage to find vases with Little Terns etched onto them, but they did have flowers and Dragonflies! ;) Henry C received a Birds of Thailand book (he's off there on holiday soon) to recognize the fact he's the last EU Life+ officer. :( Adrian H received a framed photo of a Little Tern, to remind him of his years' as a 'Countryside Range' with DCS. He's going to continue as Chairman of the group though, thank goodness! :)
So that's my summary of the evening! :) Thanks to everyone that attended the AGM and the End of Season event. I hope you all enjoyed the evening, as much I did."
The other news is that the video mentioned above has now been completed and is on view on the homepage! That's all for this season but check in occasionally as there may be the odd update on progress towards next year.
We were pleased to welcome 'Derek the weatherman' aka Derek Brockway to the site yesterday (15/08) to help us take down the remaining fencing and film for his new series, Weatherman Walking, which will be aired next spring. He and the team got some nice shots for the programme (despite the weather being a bit iffy!) and it was lucky that there were c160 Little Terns still on the beach, mostly fledglings. Below is a group shot showing Derek in the middle with his certificate marking him becoming the 200th member of the group! Shown from left to right are: Hannah Arndt, Henry Cook, Christine Maresma Pares, Derek Brockway, Patrick Kelly, Sasha Taylor, Adrian Hibbert, Marie Dipple and Frances MacCormack.
This event marks a great end to the group's time at Gronant this season and now attention turns to the end of season event. All members of the group will have had an invite by e-mail or post and we look forward to welcoming plenty of you an interesting evening of talks all about Little Terns. Hope to see you there.
The pens have now fallen silent at Gronant for the first time since April. There is an eerie silence around the site but all the remaining 'ternlets' have now fledged. There are still small numbers to be seen down on the beach at high tide but most have moved away. Indeed 74 were seen off Hilbre Island today; a classic area they move to post-breeding to continue growing and feeding up in preparation for their mammoth migration. It's hard to believe that at only a month old, many of the youngsters will be starting their journey to the African wintering grounds. Best of luck to them!
The tern group and wardens have been busy taking down the equipment on site this week, before high tides hit at the weekend. Most of it is now down but there is an event outstanding to take kit off site on Friday 10th. Any help gratefully received, and in return there will be a picnic. Please bring something towards it if you can. In the coming few weeks the wardens will write the season report which will reveal how many chicks made it to fledglings this year, so I won't spoil the surprise here! All members of the group will be entitled to receive the report if they wish, just ask at the group's email address - firstname.lastname@example.org.
It has been a busy week down at Gronant and not for the reasons you might imagine. The birds have been looking after themselves a lot more, with the chicks growing up quickly and with little interest from Kestrels now the feeding station is working so well. Instead we were inundated with the media following a press release circulated about the new visitor centre and hide. A crew from BBC Wales came down to film a piece for their 6.30pm 'today' news programme. A clip of the interview is posted below.
There will also be a radio interview on the season coming out on the BBC Wales country focus programme some time in August. An article was also published today (30/07) in the Daily Telegraph about the season. Great that the colony is getting the media attention it deserves and for all the right reasons too!
Tern-wise the chicks are growing up fast and in the next week we'll see how many have made it to fledging. Of slight concern has been the regular presence of a Weasel which was cheeky enough to peek its head in to the visitor centre the other day and stared eye-to-eye with a surprised warden!
If you would like to come and help us take down the site, there is an event on 10th August at Gronant beach from 10am and your help would be very welcome.
Since the last update, everything has been going rather well down at Gronant. There have been up to 190 chicks hatch out with the last nest hatching yesterday (22/07). We are definitely in the last phase of the season with chicks starting to move away from breeding pens and certain parts of the colony falling quiet for the first time since May. Saying that, there is still a fantastic amount of activity around most of the site and it is good to see no shortage of food being brought in for the growing chicks. The photo below shows a rapidly growing chick hiding amongst the rocky terrain on the seaward facing shingle bank.
It was nice to see the NWLTG mentioned in a recent news article about the new visitor centre on the BirdGuides website. To read the article please click the following link - https://www.birdguides.com/news/denbighshire-council-opens-little-tern-visitor-centre/
There is an event on 10th Aug at Gronant from 10am to take down fencing at Gronant and a BBQ lunch. Please attend if you would like and bring something towards the BBQ. Taking down the site is always more relaxing than putting it up (no post thumping required!) and it should be a fun day so long as the weather holds.
A month after devastating tides down at Gronant wiped out 2/3 of all nests, it was with bated breath to see what this month would bring and kept a close eye on the daily forecasts hoping that the settled weather would continue. This time it seems, the terns have been lucky and the tides have barely reached the protective fencing. There will be a little work to clear debris in some areas but nothing significant. Phew! Just in case the tides were bad the wardens prepared nests in the usual way, by moving them slowly up the beach or by carefully placing the nest on a plant pot or bucket (as shown below).
In the last few days there has been a mass-hatching of eggs with the majority of re-laid nests successfully reaching this stage (including the two nests being beamed in to the visitor center). The photo below shows an egg with a pipping youngster inside pecking its way out. You may notice the little white speck on the end of the bill of the chick. This is known as the 'egg-tooth' and it is a temporary calcium deposit which helps the chick break through the egg. Isn't nature clever!
More of a concern is the continued predation from Kestrels. Despite the best efforts of everyone on site the Kestrels are persistent and occasionally succeed in taking chicks and fledglings. Many of the successful tern families have moved away now as there is nothing keeping them at the site and remaining here is endangering themselves and their offspring. For the remaining birds, we need help from volunteers to station themselves around the site and scare off the Kestrel when it approaches. It doesn't always work, but every successful occasion for us is one more chick to make it to fledging. Any help gratefully received!
Thanks to everyone who came down for the official opening ceremony of the Visitor Center and Hide at Gronant on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon. We are grateful to Tony Thomas, lead for the environment in the council, for presenting a speech and cutting the ribbon. A group shot of the event is displayed below. It was a bit hot but refreshing drinks were flowing.
For something a little different, the following is a write-up by Maddalena, an Italian student doing a placement down at the tern colony a few weeks ago:
"I started my experience as a volunteer in the tern colony yesterday (19\06) and I was fascinated by all the work that’s put in the welfare of the birds. Being a foreigner I had never heard of the Little Terns before but I quickly recognised the beauty and importance of these shy sea birds and why they need our help to keep their nests safe and undisturbed. As a new and inexperienced volunteer my first day was spent mostly observing, listening and learning from the wardens that were fixing the damage done by the storm, but also helping actively by cleaning debris and carrying equipment, always careful not to step on the little chicks! A lot of work is put in to prevent predator attacks, checking the electric fences and making stone barriers to keep out the foxes and looking out for air predators such as the kestrel, but its noticeable these little birds are not defenceless, scaring away seagulls and dropping near your head to try to distance you from their nests. I really enjoyed my time there and the wardens have been nice and willing to tell me all about the colony and included me in their work whenever possible, even showing me one of the little chicks, but most importantly encouraging me to go look for a more naturalistic-oriented path for my future. I highly recommend trying the experience of volunteering in the colony, not only for its beauty but most importantly for what it can teach everyone."
In the next week most of the re-laid nests will hatch, but there will be high tides over the weekend. With the fairly benign weather there shouldn't be a repeat of a month ago but there may be debris to clear from fencing. Kestrels are around and taking some chicks but we are doing everything we can to reduce their damage to the colony. An update on that will be forthcoming once we know how successful the attempts at distracting them from tern chicks have been.