Oysterbeds Update 31 May 2014 – Chris Cockburn

Hello folks

Headline is that there are a lot of gull chicks to be seen at present.

The black-headed gull eggs started hatching on 13th May and there is now a wide variety of chick sizes from the very cute recent hatchlings to the somewhat-less-than-beautiful 18-day old chicks. There will soon be chicks of the partially-feathered variety; whilst  the majority of the nests seem to be producing broods of three.

Some Mediterranean gull chicks have recently hatched

Med Gulls with chick Image Steve Cook

Med Gull with chick  surrounded by Black-headed Gulls Image Steve Cook

The Mediterranean gull hatchlings cannot truly be described as being cute and they are much darker than the black-headed gull chicks However, as time progresses the Med gull youngsters will be easily winning the beauty contest. Although 11 Med gull nests were initially counted, it seems that only nine are still active (8 on the curved eastern island and 1 on the straight western island).

Common terns seem to be having problems with nesting on the two islands. A few birds have been seen apparently starting to nest (in hunkered-down fashion – but not with the characteristic tail-up pose) and have not been seen at the same location again. It is possible that there is insufficient safe-from-tidal-flooding nesting habitat on the islands, which have been significantly reduced in size by the erosion during the winter storms and tidal surges. So, tidal flooding might be the cause for the lack of success, so far and certainly “failures” do seem to have happened over high tide periods. However, the cause might be attributable to the intensely aggressive territorial behaviour of the black-headed gulls (and their chicks, which are just as aggressively territorial). This territorial behaviour is noticeably more evident during high tide periods when the nesting habitat is much reduced in area.  Unlike last year, it is highly unlikely that the whole-harbour common tern population will try nesting at the Oysterbeds as there are many suitable habitats on the harbour islands this year.

Local crows and itinerant large gulls have been and are being “escorted off the premises” by angry black-headed gulls (the Mediterranean gulls tend to sit tighter & longer – thereby not exposing their eggs/young to potential avian predators). Recently, noisy pairs of Mediterranean gulls have been flying over the site; this suggests that some of the Med gull nests have failed (probably due to tidal flooding); after nest failure, these gulls change their feeding habits from only earthworms & other terrestrial invertebrates to, well, anything else – small chicks much relished!!

One of the three pairs of oystercatchers that would like to nest at the lagoon site are having similar problems to the common terns, but the other two pairs have been securely ensconced for several days on the curved eastern island.

There have been no indications that Sandwich & little terns will nest at the site (they are using the harbour islands in reportedly good numbers) nor have potentially nesting ringed plovers been seen in the near vicinity (but a family of ringed plovers was noted by Tom Bickerton last Sunday – perhaps, they might have nested on SW Hayling). During recent high tide roosts at Stoke bay, c17 ringed plovers and c20 dunlins have been seen – they will be on their way to places north to nest; hopefully, they will soon get more helpful winds!

Plants that enjoy mild, wet winters are doing very well this year – especially Spotted Medick (Medicago Arabica) that seems to have gone completely mad and is outgrowing everything –  thistles etc – goodness knows how many people, dogs, rabbits etc have got lost in the Medick jungles.

So far, insect numbers have been a bit disappointing on the site (nothing to do with grey skies, of course!) but Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas, Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites have been seen and today, on the Billy Trail, Common Blues were seen – unfortunately, none of the recent butterflies have cooperated in photography.


Chris C

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