Saturday, 8 July 2017

One good tern deserves another (article prepared for Sunday Independent column)

The last couple weeks of June has seen some variable and extreme weather.  High temperatures reached that of the famous '76 summer peak of 35 degrees.  The latter part of the month saw heavy rain.  A change of weather usually means a change of birds.  And June didn't disappoint.

The highlight of the month goes to the Elegant Tern, first appearing in a tern colony in Hampshire at Hayling Island on the 7th June.  The bird was wearing colour rings which proved it to be the same bird as seen on the French Atlantic coast since 2002.  It was trapped and ringed in Gironde in July 2003.  The first British record was at Dawlish Warren in May 2002.  The records quite likely to refer to the same bird, which has also been seen in southern Spain and twice in South Africa!  To the delight of Dorset birders, it was relocated at Brownsea Island on the 21st June. (There are three other yet to be accepted records in the UK).

Remaining with the seabird theme, Cornish sea watchers have been rewarded with early sightings of some of the rarer shearwaters including Cory's Shearwater (breeds in the Mediterranean and Canary Islands), Sooty Shearwater and Great Shearwater  (both breed in the South Atlantic).  Several Wilson's Petrels have been seen from specialist pelagic trips from Scilly and SW Ireland.  The latter three species have already bred during the south Atlantic summer and are now migrating north on circum-polar route covering eastern North America and then south via the Western Approaches.  Cornwall and Scilly are thus perfectly geographically positioned to see these birds.  Depending on wind direction and strength, Porthgwarra, Cape Cornwall, Pendeen and St Ives are ideal sites to see them.

Disappointing news has been announced by the RSPB this week. The rare and protected Hen Harrier has declined considerably and is on the brink of extinction in England.  Just four pairs bred in 2016. The reasons are habitat destruction and persecution by game keepers on grouse moors.  Hen Harrier retains a foothold in Scotland Ireland but even here, numbers are in decline.  The last pair to breed in Cornwall was way back in 2002 when three young fledged.  How things can turn.


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