It's been a while since our last blog. The 2020 season had it's major struggles, as did everyone across the land due to the pandemic. It was a tough time for Little Terns alike with only 31 fledglings from 89 pairs. This belies the monumental efforts of Denbighshire County Council to warden the site without volunteers however. They did a great job in difficult circumstances and without their hard work there would have undoubtedly been no fledglings otherwise.
Moving on to this season, things are gathering pace. On Tuesday 20th, the first Little Terns were seen back at Gronant whilst fencing was being erected. By the end of the first week a total of 8 pens had been installed with staff from DCC, Keep Wales Tidy and volunteers from the NWLTG all being involved. This is a herculean effort and is crucial for giving the terns a fighting chance. DCC have hired three new wardens for this season and their names are Alex, Alex and Ollie. We're going to need to find a better way to differentiate between two of them!
The other news is the group held our AGM on Weds 21st April. It had been postponed from late last season due to the pandemic. It was our first AGM on zoom and was attended by 16 people. To make it more fun we received varied talks from Jim Kilpatrick at DCC on the progress towards this season, Chantal Macleod-Nolan from the RSPB on past and future projects for Little Terns in England and finally Professor David Norman who gave a summary of all the recoveries of Little Terns from the UK and particularly the role ringing at Gronant has played in this.
We are needing volunteers to help this season as we are expecting a busy summer on the beach. There is lots to do at the site to help ensure a successful breeding season. Fence maintenance, predator control, minimising disturbance and chatting to visitors to name but a few. This will all be done with covid protocols in force to keep ourselves safe and the public safe.
One extra target for the 2021 season is to find the Little Terns tagged with geolocators in 2019, retrieve the devices and download the data. To this end, cameras will be placed on nests. Volunteers will then be needed to view the images to identify the colour rings on the birds, so that the tagged birds can be trapped and the geolocators recovered.
If you can help please e-mail us at email@example.com and we will update you accordingly.
This week has seen numbers of fledglings surge every day. From counts in single figures last week there are now at a total of 110 fledglings as of today (9th Jul).
If you would like to join in the counts please head down to the Gronant visitor center and ask the warden a few hours before high tide. A few pairs of eyes makes the counts more accurate as the fledglings can be hard to spot from a distance along the beach. It is a fun challenge but also a very important one as this is the main measure of how successful the breeding season has been!
On a different note please take a look at the new UK Little Tern Project website, a legacy of the Life project which finished earlier this year - www.littleternproject.org.uk
The weather has improved lately and this is good timing for the chicks which now roam the beach and dunes at Gronant. Around 250 chicks have been metal-ringed this season, by far the highest ever, hopefully a sign of good things to come. A lesser number have also been colour-ringed for future resightings. At present the chicks are anything but easy to spot, sensible really. See the photo below for one hiding in the prickly Sea Holly for safety. The next couple of weeks will be crucial for those chicks to make it to fledging without being predated or affected by bad weather. There was hushed rumors today that the first chick had fledged, when it was seen to take a short flight down the beach. Great news!
There is always a flip side and that is that the Kestrel was seen to take a chick to feed on in the dunes. We are putting out food on the diversionary feeding station for the Kestrel which is working to some extent but not always and we need volunteers to come and do a predator watch in case it comes back. Please please please consider popping down for an hour or two to help out over the next couple of weeks.
Finally, the dunes are a riot of colour at the moment, largely thanks to the thousands of Pyramidal Orchids which have spring up from the sand. This makes the walk down to the colony all the more enjoyable, we've had just as many comments about the plants as the birds lately!
The update from today's (29/05) clutch count was that there are now 148 nests and 393 eggs. We are nearly at the peak and it is only eight days since the first nest was found. The average clutch size is also looking healthy at 2.67, the second highest on record! With this many nests to care for if you feel like spending a few hours down at the colony please come down and help keep watch over this ever-growing population. Now's a great time to see them with constant bird activity around the beach.
We are hoping numbers rise this year thanks to productive breeding over the last few seasons and high numbers of fledglings being produced. Last year's pair total was 171, so things are looking promising for an even higher total this year. Fingers and toes crossed.
The tern group attended the RSPB Conwy Bioblitz last weekend which went down well. Thanks to everyone who came and chatted about Little Terns, we even had a few new people join the group, welcome to you all! The group will also be attending the Nant Clwyd-y-dre Nature Day at Ruthin on Saturday June 8th so if you are in the area please do pop in! There will be a multitude of conservation organisations there including Cofnod, BTO, Denbighshire Countryside Services and the Clwydian AONB team. The grounds of Nant Clwyd-y-dre are beautiful and deserving of a wander around in their own right.
With the site now fully installed and the wardens starting, it is exciting to see so many Little Terns back in the area. In the glorious weather over the weekend 138 adults were counted roosting on the beach, flying over the mirror-like seas and around the breeding pens. Courtship has been observed with some scraping following. Look out for the courtship flights in which the pair fly closely in tandem in an impressive arc through the sky. Occasionally they forget people are watching and fly right past, transfixed on each other!
With the onset of wardening, this is a great time to get involved, at the start of the season. Any members of the group and public are invited to assist the wardens with their duties. Any help is gratefully received and will continue to support this, the last (and therefore most important!) colony in Wales.
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.
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.
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.