So an update on the gulls: We got 5 bodies in total to the government vet lab, 4 chicks and one adult, and they were all killed by a physical injury. The really helpful government vet, who is very interested and came out to have a look at the site himself, believes that in all cases it was another bird which caused death. So it is looking very much like the colony is being wiped out from within. Why this is happening, and what can be done about it, is a complete mystery, and although unusual, I have found another gull colony in the Channel Isles with a similar problem, so there might be a chance to pool information there. Hopefully next year we can all get some answers.
In slightly better news, our terns (family Sternidae) are doing much better than expected. From a high of 240 pairs in the mid-70s, the common tern colony has dropped to the 6 pairs who are believed to have nested on the site last year. Last week, we sat out in the mobile hide (aka the landrover) and spotted a grand total of 12 sitting birds (so twice as many as last year) – this is wonderful!
But will they raise any chicks? With the focus on the gulls, I hadn’t had a chance to fence off this area, and the cattle and sheep who graze the marsh wander through here pretty much daily. This means the terns are at risk from nest trampling.
As well as this, monitoring is difficult, with the scrapes (very simple depressions in the ground scraped out by the terns as a nest) are hard to find, and the chicks are mobile from an early age, makes them both difficult to find and monitor. We had located a few eggs and small chicks, but been unable to find them again. Until today, when we found some very healthy looking, big fat chicks – about 10 days old. This was really great to see!
The next step will be to watch for the parents sitting out with the fledglings on the sands at high tide to try and estimate how many have fledged, but it was absolutely brilliant to see good sized tern chicks. Terns have to be my favourite bird, nothing beats watching the crisp white adults soaring in a clear blue sky!
And afterwards we went to ring some sparrowhawk chicks in the forest, what a privilege to see these deadly young predators up close!
Other good news from the nature reserve? Well we also found a yellow wagtail nest, the first proof of this species breeding on the marsh since 2001.
So even though no gulls fledged, it looks like everyone else on the marsh has had a good year.