Lockdown, what lockdown? By the time you read this, things should be back to some sort of normal, and you can get out and about in the countryside and see how the lack of human disruption has benefitted wildlife over the past few months, with cleaner air and less artificial noise improving conditions at the height of the breeding season. On the other hand, we might be back to square one – my crystal ball is being very vague on this prediction…
Anyway, let’s take a wander into the Clot, and perhaps visit the brand-new hide which was erected just before things went pear-shaped. This one overlooks the large central lagoon, which is bordered with extensive reedbeds, and which holds the slightly shyer species which you might not see very often at the main pool. There is one particular species of bird which has increased in the area over the past few years, as a result of the improved water control measures which have been implemented.
Here we have one of the five regular species of tern which occur in our area (there are also several rarer terns which may occur). Terns are usually thought of as sea-going birds, like smaller and more dainty versions of seagulls, but there are also a group of them known as Marsh Terns, and the one shown in my picture is the fairly common Whiskered Tern. A small breeding group has become established in the Clot, and now you can be fairly sure of seeing them during each visit.
These birds are summer visitors, spending the winter in western Africa south of the Sahara. The species ranges throughout the Mediterranean basin, across central Asia as far as China and south to Australia. They can be easily separated from the oceanic terns such as the Common and Sandwich Terns, by being somewhat smaller and with a shorter tail – the tubby body is also a smoky grey colour unlike the pure white of the sea-going terns.
They have a buoyant, erratic flight pattern, dipping down to the water’s surface to delicately pick up insects, and on occasion splashing a little deeper to catch small surface-feeding fish. They also hawk for flying insects such as dragonflies and mayflies, and sometimes visit drier areas to benefit from local outbreaks of such things as flying ants.
These birds raise one brood of up to three chicks on a floating raft of vegetation; the chicks will leave the nest just one day after hatching, and hide in the reeds until their flight feathers have developed. They nest in loose colonies which they will defend together, and although not quite as fierce as the sea terns in defending the nests, they will attack intruders (including humans!) who stray too close – you have been warned! They have a short scratchy call something like “krekkk” which is one of the defining sounds of our reedbeds.
They are only vagrants to the UK, with just the occasional stray seen each year.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com
See you next month.