The Little Tern colony continued to be managed by Spurn Bird Observatory with a steering group including representatives from partner organisations Environment Agency, Natural England, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and SHCS. The Little Tern Protection Scheme received funding from the EU Life + Little Tern Recovery Project, in its fifth and final year, and from the Environment Agency. This allowed the employment of wardens Ben Harrington and Mick Turton in addition to covering ongoing costs such as electric fence maintenance. Practical support was provided by RSPB (staff and volunteers from RSPB Old Moor who helped erect the electric fence) and YWT (transporting heavy batteries using their 4×4 truck). Practical wardening support was given by at least eight volunteers, two more than in 2017, each staying for at least a week. This allowed more comprehensive 24 hour wardening. The available breeding area was reduced this year due to the further encroachment of sand dunes. This made observation of the colony more difficult.
The first Little Tern returned on 26 April and numbers gradually built up to seventy by the end of May. The season’s maximum count was 105 on 18 June. A careful walk through the colony on 19 June revealed 28 nests with eggs and another three were discovered in subsequent days. Chicks started to hatch on 23 June but during the night of 26 June most eggs and all but three chicks were predated by a fox which had managed to enter the colony through or over the electric fence. The three surviving chicks fledged successfully. Despite much courtship behaviour being observed in early July, only one pair relaid, successfully fledging one chick.
The total number of Little Tern chicks that fledged in 2018 was four which represented 0.12 chicks per pair. This is low when compared with the rolling five year average of 0.66 chicks per pair. However, the rolling five year number of pairs was 34.0, the second highest since 2006.
Numbers of Little Terns declined rapidly through July to just two at the end of the month and none were seen after 19 August.
Only one Little Tern chick was ringed – the final one to fledge. The value of ringing was shown by reports of a bird which was originally ringed at Beacon Lagoons and which was subsequently seen at Little Tern colonies in North Wales and Cumbria. This highlights the scale of movements of these birds between colonies and emphasises the importance of protecting colonies.
The tern rafts were left in place during the 2017-18 winter due to the weather preventing their removal. They were, again, occupied by Avocets. All twelve local pairs bred on the rafts and fledged five young. A pair of Black-headed Gulls nested on a raft but the nest failed. The rafts have been brought ashore for the winter.
The reserve is important for two other breeding wader species. Ringed Plovers had another successful year with a minimum of twelve chicks fledging from up to ten pairs. Five pairs of Oystercatchers on the reserve only managed to fledge five chicks.
Throughout the breeding season there were a number of incidents of disturbance to the colony involving members of the public. These ranged from dog walkers and ‘photographers’ walking near the fence to motorbikes, a quad bike and a Range Rover being driven near the outer fence. The importance of a warden presence was therefore emphasised by allowing potentially more serious problems to be avoided through vigilance and tactical intervention. For example, the riders of motorbikes on the beach were spoken to by the warden, after which they left the area. Walkers, sometimes with dogs, were happy to retreat when the warden explained the risk of the potential effect of disturbance.
We are fast approaching the next breeding season when it is hoped that predation will be kept under closer control. One measure will be the implementation of overnight wardening several days before the first eggs are due to hatch – foxes seem to know that they can make a maximum gain if they can get in to the colony at night soon after hatching begins!
Beacon Lagoons is not just about breeding Little Terns. From July to September the reserve hosts large numbers of migratory waders in high tide roosts, sometimes numbering over 10,000 birds. These include Dunlin, Knot, Grey Plover, Redshank, Curlew and Black and Bar-tailed Godwit, often with small numbers of Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. The sight of these flocks commuting between this site and the Humber Estuary is always worth seeing. During the winter, large numbers of wildfowl can be seen on the main pond. These can include several hundred each of Brent Goose, Wigeon and Teal with small numbers of Shoveler, Pintail, Gadwall and Goldeneye.
A visit to Beacon Lagoons at any time of year is sure to be rewarded with plenty of birds to see and maybe something a bit more unusual – there have been a few sightings of otter in the area in the recent past.