Sunday, 12 June 2016

12th of June: Lizzie and the Little Terns


This week, we have had Lizzie Hibberd, a student from the University of Southampton, staying with us in the Lifeboat House. She has been carrying out research on Little Terns for her dissertation next academic year. She has written a short piece explaining her research and what she has been up to this week…

"I have been observing the Little Terns around Blakeney Point, focusing on their foraging behaviour, particularly mapping where different groups are foraging and what they are eating. I have been spending eight hours a day watching the birds and have seen some fascinating courtship behaviour over the week. It all looked pretty worrying at the start of the week as the terns had not settled anywhere on the Point, except from a few scrapes on Far Point. This is strange because most years by now there would be many more pairs well into the incubation stage of breeding season.

Little Terns in flight

I believe that the relatively cold weather we had over the last two weeks, with the northerly winds, are to blame for the late nesting of the birds. With no obvious colony position to study, I spent my first few days based at different spots around the Point trying to suss out where all the birds were feeding and if any looked to be settling down. By the second half of my week, I had found a group of birds were reliably returning day on day down near the Watch House; so I decided to stick with them. 

Observing the terns

Over the last few days I have been monitoring their feeding activity and have found that feeding appears to be very dependent on the tides. The birds down at the Watch House colony are feeding both out to sea and in the harbour. The feeding intensity out to sea increased when the sea state improved, owing to the wind direction change we had from northerly to south westerly in the last few days. The terns, which feed predominantly on small fish, need good water visibility for successful diving and so low wind speeds are great for feeding offshore. The harbour is a great alternative due to its sheltered nature, which means the birds can feed there regardless of the weather and still appear to be finding and catching lots of fish! Yesterday morning, when I was out for my last observation session this week, I noticed that at least five pairs appeared to be going down and sitting on scrapes in the shingle, this is fabulous news for me because hopefully it means that there will be some eggs being laid over the next few days.

For the next part of my research project, I will be based down in the Solent near Southampton where I am studying another colony of Little Terns. My project is comparing the colonies to see whether inshore vs. offshore feeding patterns are consistent in two locations in the country. I will be back to Blakeney Point in just over a week to continue observations there again. Hopefully there will be lots of pairs incubating eggs by then and I can see whether feeding habits change during different stages of the breeding season.

I thought it would be great to show you all this scene I witnessed yesterday - and caught on camera - of a pair of Little Terns. The male (left) is waggling a fish for the female, this is a common sight during courtship as the males try to win the attention of females for mating. The female on this occasion doesn't look overly impressed!"
video 

In other news, if you missed Ajay on Springwatch Unsprung, you can watch it here.

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