Monday, 4 July 2016

Common Tern Uncommon Breeding Attempt

This spring there has been a fantastic passage of terns through most of  Cheshire's waters, including my patch Winsford Flash. Cheshire has one of the biggest densities of individual inland waters in Britain; some resulting from mining subsidence, some man-made from extraction of sand and gravel and some naturally formed after the ice-age. One thing is common to all though, and that is the underlying clay deposits.

I've spent plenty of time watching all the areas around the Flash and managed great views of Black Tern, Arctic Tern and Common Tern, the latter being the most numerous. Sadly however, the passage of Terns died off quite quickly, and just 2 Common Terns remained (a possible pair I thought at the time).

Common Terns breed inland throughout most counties in England, but sadly Cheshire is one of the few that don't really get inland breeders, so I was delighted (and totally surprised) to find on a visit one morning a pair nurturing 1 egg (Common Terns normally lay 2-3 eggs but occasionally just 1 and rarely 4) on a jetty of the Winsford Flash Sailing Club.

The sight was amazing. This pair is the first to attempt to breed at the Flash and in inland Cheshire since 2004 I believe.  As you can see from the images, the single egg was balanced precariously close to the edge of the pier. Whilst watching these terns I could see that they (as both sexes incubate) appeared to be struggling to incubate the egg at times because of the possibility of knocking the egg off and being able to balance on the edge of the jetty. Occasionally one bird would spend time very carefully attempting to nudge it into a better position.  

I think the Flash is/would be an ideal place for Common Terns to breed; water quality is okay and there is a good supply of small fish and invertebrates which the Terns can adapt to quite easily. As mentioned before, Cheshire is filled with water bodies very similar and the use of floating rafts could/ would be beneficial to all our inland lakes and meres to encourage breeding. This has proven to be very successful outside of Cheshire.  You can't of course guarantee or control which species may use the floating rafts but it's a start!

 I have to say a huge well done and thank you to the sailing club for working with me to give these Terns the best chance of survival. They did fantastic work by fencing off that particular pier and restricting people from using the area around it.

In the end though, I am truly gutted to say that this Tern pair's breeding attempt didn't make it this time round.  Shortly after we discovered the egg, there was a prolonged torrential and squally rain shower.  After the weather system had passed, the egg had sadly disappeared. I was gutted of course, but there is hope that these birds will occupy a nest next year at the Flash and be more successful.  We watched the site for a good few weeks to see if the Terns tried again, but they have not been seen at the Flash since.

The breeding attempt has been reported to the county recorder and my next plan is to explore the possibility of getting rafts in place in time for next year's breeding season.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday


  1. Beautiful Common Terns, and, terrible what happened lost without egg.

  2. Good idea if rafts coulcbe put there but sad about the shower that washed the egg away Finlay

  3. Such a good record Findlay. We recently had similar success in my local area where terns came back after many years absence.

    Maybe the boating club could now help financially to introduce some nesting pontoons to help the terns in future years?

  4. Hello, I love Terns. They are cool birds with some attitude. Great post and photos, Findlay. Happy Tuesday, enjoy your day and week ahead!

  5. awww. sorry their attempt was unsuccessful.

    i understand busy. i'm hardly around these days, too. life has a way of swallowing one whole. :)

  6. Great to know of this beautiful bird.

  7. Tern rafts are a good idea and they work on a few sites in my area. Downside is they become quickly populated by Black Headed gills.

  8. Hey! You did what you could and that's wonderful! They may try again. They may return to the area again. But for them to stay and nest is a great sign. Keep hope and thanks for looking out for our birds!

  9. a wonderful story with a sad ending :( But it gives hope for the future :)