First, I’m going to start with a correction from the last blog. The number of barn Owl fledglings is in fact three. This was only found out last Sunday when the Landgard ringing group came onto the island to do their annual ringing of the large gull chicks and as aside ring the Barn owl chicks. All can fly and all are in very good shape, weighting between 325 and 375 grams.
I’m not sure if anyone here as had the pleasure of having Barn Owls in the hand, but words barely do them justice. They are just the most fabulous birds, barely weighing anything considering there size, they have the most wonderful long feathery legs, which are both perfectly adapted to picking prey out of long grass and minimising heat loss and the softness of the feathers is barely believable.
One of our Barn owl fledglings
How time flies? It seems barely a few weeks ago that the rat traps and the canes where being put out amongst the Common gulls but on Sunday not one but two Common gull chicks fledged. As I think I have said before in previous posts this is wonderful news. Common gulls are in decline throughout their breeding sites in England including those at Dungeness and at a more local level the Common gulls have not fledged a chick since 2006 and only two at that. Therefore to have two already fledged is not only greats news but equals the most successful year ever for this species at Havergate (or at least since the colony re-established itself in 2005). Three chicks are still going strong and are rapidly approaching the fledgling stage. This was more than was previously thought as two more emerged from the gorse last weekend, its funny how birds can still have the capacity to surprise. If these birds where to fledge as well, it would mark a remarkable season for this species.
A lucky Common gull chick, getting his or her rings
Talking of remarkable. The island is now playing host to 29 nesting Common Terns, throughout summer it was hoped that Terns would turn up (excuse the unintended pun). What makes this nesting attempt all the more remarkable is the late nature of it. Terns are normally settled and on eggs by the middle of May. With a fledgling date of around early July, obviously some are later but as a rule these are the accepted dates. Too have pairs settling onto Eggs in early July is very unusual. To give it some context, these birds are likely to fledge in mid- August. Of course this assumes they make it, it is extremely likely that all these birds are failed breeders from elsewhere and they face a tough time to be successful. As the season ends, hormones that encouraged breeding will be replaced with an urge to head South, the weather will become increasingly unsettled (as evidenced in the last few days) and of course there is the ever present risk of predation. So far, the large gulls have not been an issue, the gulls on Havergate are approaching the end of their breeding season and from around the third week of the chick’s life, switch from live prey to other sources of food, pignuts are a favourite but Magpies have been recorded taking eggs. At least two eggs have been lost to a Magpie raid and it remains likely that more are being taken that we are'nt seeing. Magpies are not easily discouraged and have no problems finding a way around the densely packed canes that work on the gulls. However, once the Terns get to chick stage, Magpies should become less of a risk.
However, whilst it is tremendously exciting to have Terns back in good numbers at Havergate, last year we only had two pairs and these numbers are comparable to 2008 when the reserve had 43 pairs. One must sound a note of caution, the odds are against a successful year but it won’t be for a lack of trying from the team on Havergate.