In the last couple of weeks since the relaxing of travel restrictions we have been able to look for colour-ringed birds on the beach at Gronant. A bird with a combination of rings we hadn't seen before piqued our interest and we have since found out it was ringed near Lisbon, in Portugal, in Sept 2018 as a juvenile on migration. As far as we can tell, this is the first ever Portuguese-ringed Little Tern to be seen in the UK!
This fills in another piece of the puzzle as to the route Little Terns take to get to Africa for the winter. At over 1000 miles away it is an impressive flight but a fraction of the total journey these tough birds make. The North Wales Little Tern Group are really pleased to discover this first and by working with Denbighshire Council and the Merseyside Ringing Group we hope to make more discoveries in the future.
In terms of the season at Gronant, rather like the year for humans, it has been a very tricky one for the terns. Following most of the first round of nests being lost in a storm in early June, about 80 pairs relaid. Since these eggs hatched, the ringers have confirmed over 50 chicks in the colony but a lot of these are being lost to sand-blow and intense Kestrel predation. We know some have made it as there are now fledglings on the beach. Up to a dozen young ones so far. We think that the numbers will continue to rise over the next week or two. We'll let you know the final totals when we have them.
Well what a year it is turning in to. First off, we hope all our readers and members are well and are coping with the reduced freedoms and countless other issues. With the covid-19 virus lockdown, thoughts of helping the Little Terns have been tempered somewhat. For a while it looked like there wouldn't be any fencing, any wardens and a free-for-all for the local Foxes. Luckily, thanks to the tremendous work of the Denbighshire Countryside Service team, they have managed to erect the majority of the fencing whilst social distancing and taking all necessary precautions. Bear in mind it takes a full team of countryside rangers, many volunteers from the North Wales Little Tern Group and assistance from the RSPB and NWWT to install the 2.5 km of electric fencing in a typical year. This season we were told just three staff managed to put up all the fencing! The committee were made up to hear that the fencing had gone up, as we are sure you are.
The news was released in a press release which is replicated here -
"Denbighshire Countryside Service staff have been working at Gronant Dunes to protect the Little Tern colony. Gronant is Wales’ only breeding colony of Little Terns, which have faced recent threats through quad bikes driving over vital shingle nesting habitat. A small staff team from the Countryside Service have been working hard to install electric fenced pens, whilst adhering to social distancing measures. The Little Tern colony will continue to be monitored with a staff presence throughout the season, which runs from May to late July. Denbighshire Countryside Service are working with North Wales Police to prevent further quad bike damage to the Little Tern colony."
A couple of articles have also been written in the local press and online.
The tern group are not able to assist the conservation efforts here or the satellite sites around North Wales until we are released from lockdown. Although we are saddened by this, on the flip side there should be far fewer people down on the beach to have to keep away from the pens anyway. The main risk will be from the age-old suspects - predators and tides.
Prior to the fencing story, a series of quad-bike tracks had been seen within the area that the colony occupies. This was during lockdown so was not only illegal for that reason, it was also illegal due to all the formal protections the Gronant dunes have. The rural crime team were informed and have stepped up patrols. This story also made the local news.
After all the drama so far, we are keeping our hopes up that the season will progress smoothly for the terns and in a safe manner for staff. The tern group will be ready to get back to work once it is safe to do so and we hope to have your support, it is needed and welcomed as much as ever.
The terns were seen back on 18th April, one of the earliest sightings ever and are now becoming more frequently seen in the run up to the first nesting attempt.
Stay tuned for updates during the season.