Big news in the tern report

As seems to be usual for this time of year it was quiet out on the water at the Country Park.  The gulls were sitting quietly (for the most part) at the far end, the coots seem to have invaded a couple of the tern rafts and the others were occupied by snoozing or preening terns.

The swans and their six cygnets cruised serenely past at one point, and a youngish great crested grebe chick decked out in his stripy best was, as grebe chicks usually are, loudly demanding lunch from its parent.

However, closer inspection, and a lot of waiting, revealed a lot more happening in the elegant world of the terns (imagine a note of sarcasm when reading the word elegant please).  Out on the newer tern raft there seemed to be an almost permanent group of up to five terns sat around the edge.  I saw some bringing of fish and worked out that there are at least three different pairs nesting there.  Most of the time there was just a bit general screeching when a fish carrying tern arrived.  But for some reason, one poor tern carrying what looked like a small perch (well, it had a red tail) was attacked by one of the by-standing terns.  Not only did it stop it from landing, it chased it high into the air, followed it round and round the raft and at one point had it in the water and seemed intent on drowning the poor bird.   I’m not sure if it was the tern that caused such a reaction or a desire to possess a red-tailed fish, but I didn’t see any other tern suffering from such attention.  I also lost the chase and so don’t know what became of the tern or fish.

Another strange piece of behaviour was from a tern that had caught a fine silver fish but which seemed intent on shouting about it.  He flew across the water, calling as he went, then I think he went halfway into Daventry and back, calling all the time, and then did another partial circuit of the reservoir.  I didn’t see him try to land anywhere or offer the fish.  He just seemed to be particularly proud of his catch.

However, I’ve saved the big news until the end of my Tern Report.  There has been a hatching out on one of the rafts.  I thought the adult was just resting, but every now and then I saw a little brown and black head pop up and wander about.  I was beginning to get a little concerned when there had been no attempt to bring in fish by any of the patrolling terns for at least an hour.  Then, suddenly both adult and chick started calling bright orange-red beaks open wide, and, sure enough in came an adult to give a fish to the chick before heading off again.  We saw him make three deliveries in fairly rapid succession before it disappeared for a longer hunt.

We therefore wondered, do the adults feed themselves first before doing some dedicated chick feeding – the adult didn’t seem to have too much trouble finding fish, so there has to be some explanation for the earlier absence?  Answers on a postcard please.

The Tern Report

Forgive me reader for it has been two weeks since I visited my terns.  Fortunately not much has changed and the tern rafts are still afloat.  At first I was worried as it was very quiet out on the water, but I soon saw a tern patrolling the edge along the dam.  When I got the telescope out I discovered that there were a few birds out hunting, but the majority were quietly sat on the tern rafts.  I think there must have been around a dozen birds scattered across the rafts.

The only noise seemed to occurred when another tern came near.  The rest of the time they were either snoozing, preening or wandering about on the raft, I assumed checking out their territory or displaying to their mate.  I did see one exchange of fish, but this was away from the tern raft.  I also  witnessed tern sex so I am hopeful that some egg laying might be on the cards.

It then occurred to me that I know nothing about terns and have no idea how long eggs would take to hatch so some research was in order.  Terns lay up to four eggs in the space of about four days, but continue to mate during this time.  Although both sexes will incubate the egg this is apparently sometimes a bit sporadic – this could explain why there was a fair amount of standing about – the terns often stand next to the egg.  After the third or fourth egg is laid they then settle down to some more sustained incubation.

I’ll have to wait for somewhere between about 23 and 28 days for the eggs to hatch – so hopefully I will see some changes in behaviour around the middle of July.  Then there will be a lot more hunting for fish by the parents for the next month until the young fledge.  I’m hopeful that as the terns seem to come back each year (terns can live up to about 25 years) then they must have successfully bred at some point.  This time I’ll hopefully be watching.

Of damselflies and demoiselles

During my bioblitz I noticed a couple of types of damselfly in my garden – strangely none emerging from the pond.  I’d also noticed some at the Country Park during Tern watch.  I shouldn’t really have been surprised when I found some during my lunchtime sojourn to the River Nene.  I did notice quite a few darting about, thin electric blue insects, nervously settling, but moving as soon as I made even the slightest move in their direction. I gave up trying to photograph them, they weren’t playing.  So I wandered off to look for hoverflies and warblers.

It was then that I spotted the demoiselle – the most beautiful insect created.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about then Google it.  I couldn’t take a photograph because it was off in the reed beds, but I did look at it through my binoculars.  They are breathtakingly lovely.

Whilst I was making my way back looking for bees and bugs I stumbled across some mating damselflies – I almost missed them.  They were sufficiently distracted to stay still long enough for a photo.




I then found a female ovipositing on a leaf further along the path.  She was also obliging to a would-be insect identifier.

IMG_1743I thought that these were probably the same as the other blue damsels I had seen, but when I got out my excellent field guide I discovered these were blue-tailed damselflies.  Just as common as the azure and blue-tailed varieties, not as beautiful as the demoiselle, but they are the only ones I caught on camera and properly ID’d today!


Nothing to add to the Tern report

I swapped a Sunday morning run for an earlier trip to the country park – the warm sunshine and the remains of a bad cold were the only excuses I needed.

However, it was very quiet; even though I got there about 4 hours after the alleged sunrise (not something I am interested in seeing at this time of year) the birds seemed quite sleepy and subdued.  The usual flock of mixed larger gulls were absent, a few turned up about 30 minutes after I got there, and the terns had much of the water to themselves.

There was the usual jostling on some of the rafts (I think one had been abandoned as it was full of coots and not terns) when a tern arrived, some fish changed beaks and some of the terns seemed to be settled in and hunkered down quite low – sitting on eggs?  I hope so.  I did see one unsuccessful attempt to bring in a fish – after much noise and flapping and trying to hand over the fish to a member of the opposite sex he gave up and ate the fish himself!

As well as the terns, the grebe chick and cygnets were still in evidence and I noted that there were now about 8 greylag geese on the water – I wonder if these will become permanent?