Wednesday 11 September 2013

The audacity of hope. And some sand.

If you don't know the history of the Ferrybridge Little Tern colony in Dorset, it's a long and chequered one, which lurches between tragedy and triumph - but mostly tragedy. Cared for by diligent wardens, committed volunteers and dogged conservation bodies since the 1970s, the colony looked on its last legs at the end of the last decade, plummeting from 100 breeding pairs in 1999 to 10 in 2009.
Adult Little Tern in flight - often heard before seen
Adult Little Tern
Bad weather, predation and disturbance all contributed to the decline, and substantial amounts of time and money were thrown at the problem to the extent that the price per productive egg in some years would have made a FabergĂ© one look a bargain.
Juvenile Little Tern
The parent bird was constantly back and forth with fish for this one, so good to see that food didn't appear in short supply either 
I had the pleasure of sitting on a grant-giving panel locally, and every year an application would come in for more cash to ensure the sustainability of the colony. It didn't seem to be helping, so much so that some less bird-friendly members of the panel started wondering aloud if these avian scroungers weren't just a bit too welfare dependent. But at the risk of sounding like Barack Obama, (or, to raise the piety level a notch further, the RSPB), you can't put a price on hope, and the years of investment, dedication and experimentation seem to be paying off: breeding pairs were up this year to 25.
Juvenile Little Tern having a scratch
This young Little Tern was rapidly heading for 1st winter plumage
Better still, over 30 chicks got away this summer, as many as in all of the last three years put together. The success has been attributed in large part to the strategic placement of little piles of sand in hanging basket liners for the birds to nest on. This keeps the eggs a bit warmer than they otherwise would be on the chilly pebbles of Chesil Beach. Simple, but effective.
Adult Little Tern in flight
Ringing recoveries show that 'our' Little Terns winter in West Africa.
So with this jolly post as my tribute to the Terns and their guardians I think I've pretty much cleared the backlog from a trigger happy August. These pictures, taken one sunny evening last month, are now so old that their subjects are probably half way to west Africa by now. They should be there by October. Let's hope they arrive safely, and come back next year.

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