While the beginning of June was a little dreary here on Ship Island, we’re very excited to share that we have an established Common Tern colony! Our first egg was found last week and the number of nests keeps growing. Today, Mark counted 347 terns within the colony. Between now and the next few weeks, we’re hoping to see the colony expand to over 800 terns with more than 400 nests. We still have a little ways to go, but we have plenty of work to do in the meantime!
Our daily tern counts are conducted from our two blinds overlooking the colony: Eider Blind and Gull Blind. When we first approach the blinds, the terns rise up and swarm around, clearly agitated by the presence of a potential predator. We count the number of terns located throughout the colony after they have settled, taking note of the number above the high tide line, nest incubation and any courtship behaviors. The location of the nests is important for the ongoing success of the tern colony; any nests located too close to the high tide line are at risk of being washed away during storm events or extreme high tides. The beach is narrow and the amount of suitable nesting substrate is somewhat limited, so the Refuge has built two beach-imitating restoration plots above the beach. During our time in the blinds, we monitor these restoration plots to see if the terns are taking to them (they have and nests have been seen). Should these plots be successful, the colony will have more space to nest and will hopefully expand in the years to come.
As seabird technicians on the island, our main goal for the summer is to monitor and maintain the colony. We’ve mentioned before that we watch for predators constantly, but we simply can’t have eyes on the colony 24 hours a day. To make up for this, we marked 50 nests with tongue depressors with the date and number of eggs, which we will check again at a later point. Ideally, there will be the same number of eggs or more in each nest. If not, we will know that there are likely predation events and will have ample time to come up with a solution to further protect the colony. Tern chicks are still several weeks away but it’s important to stay on top of monitoring the colony every day. The more we catch potential problems as they arise before the end of the month, the smoother it will be once the madness of chick season arrives.
That’s all from us here on Ship! Until next time!