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.
And just like that, they started to leave...
It has been a fast and furious season. With most of the nests hatching first time round, the chicks fledged in what seemed like record time. Barring some sand-blow covering a few nests it has been a remarkably benign season, richly deserved after recent years. Consequently, the birds are leaving promptly having grown to an age where they can fly and follow their parents. It is rare though that any are seen away from Gronant on their migration, so when Robin Sandham and Marc Hughes found a flock of 8 on Colwyn Bay beach on 22nd Jul it was a notable occurrence and they took a closer look. The excellent series of photos below were taken by Marc (@Marcbuzzard on twitter).
Of the 8 birds, 5 were juveniles and the other 3 adults. One each of the juveniles and adults were colour-ringed showing they were from Gronant. Without the colour-ringing programme we could only speculate where they came from. The adult's code was XXX which means it was caught as an adult on a nest in 2018 but we don't know how old it was as it didn't have a metal-ring applied as a chick (there's always some that manage to hide from ringers!). It was DNA analysed for sexing so we know it was a male. The other colour-ringed bird was a juvenile with the code UJE applied just a few weeks ago. It too will be DNA analysed but we haven't heard back yet.
It was fascinating to see that the youngsters still get fed by parents once they have left Gronant. They will likely migrate in family groups all the way to Africa where the youngsters will become more effective at fishing for themselves. For now, if you still haven't seen Little Terns at Gronant this year you don't have long left. The best time is the hour or two before high tide. From Thursday onwards the site will start to be taken down but wardens will still be on site to speak to for a while yet.
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 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.