On the wing

So I set off last weekend to see how my tern chick was getting along – although secretly I was a little worried that it might still have been small enough to make a tasty meal for the herring gulls that periodically flew over the rafts.

But, worry not.  I think the chick was still alive and well, but it was difficult to tell.  In fact, I counted 5 juvenile terns – chicks seems an inappropriate term now as they were not at all fluffy and looked very similar to the adults.  There were some differences in appearance and behaviour though to help me out.  Although they were mainly grey and white, there were some noticeable brown feathers on the wings, the tails seemed a bit short and the beaks had a bit of a yellow-orange look compared to the bright red of their parents.  They spent most of their time perched on the edge of the tern rafts – with the occasional foray into flight.  However, the landings looked a bit on the clumsy side and I was convinced that one of them was sooner or later going to miss.

When I watch an adult tern they seem almost effortless, with languid wing strokes; in comparison the youngsters seem almost panicky: flap, flap, flap in case they crash into the water.  They were also still reliant on their parents for food, with loud shouts every time one came near with fish.

Two days later and it was all change again.  Lots of terns were out above the water, resting in the rafts or just perching on the fence posts at the edge of the water.  The youngsters were out and about as well.  We watched one following or being followed by an adult.  It seemed that it was learning how to fish.  It wasn’t very successful, but was definitely persistent.  At first it was patient, trying the occasional dive and then flying off a little further.  After a while though I think it was getting a little more desperate – it would hover above, dive, then come back up and quickly dive back down again.  Eventually the parent shadowing it showed how it was done and gave the youngster a fishy reward for its efforts.

Whilst I am really pleased to see that at least 5 chicks have been successfully reared by the terns, watching them made me a little sad as I realised that before long they will be on their way again.

The black-headed gulls are now drifting back to the country park to fill in the gap the terns will leave.  Does that mean summer is nearly over?

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