One of the big success stories from the Isle of May is the increase in breeding Tern numbers. I was amazed how much bigger the tern colony actually is now compared to my last visit two years ago. What was also a surprise was the new visitor centre which offers close up views of the Arctic Terns without the usual disturbance caused by your close proximity.
Overlooking the harbour and landing stage you can just make out the bench seating on the veranda, in front the protective canes around the nest sites in that particular area.
Sitting under the cover of the projecting roof you are not seen as a threat but the minute you move in to the open area at the far end...watch out!
At least there is no danger of you stepping on a chick here but far better to let the Terns expend energy food gathering and protection from true predators rather than from photographers looking for those attractive arial shots.
This is the closest I came to getting one, attacking leaving visitors who have to walk the gauntlet through the nesting sites to get to the landing stage.
My preferences were either to watch the Terns bathing in the calm harbour water
and getting lift off shots
but while I was doing so I discovered that the Terns returning with their catch often seemed to have a preference for dipping them in to the water before taking them to the nest.
Why I'm not sure, possibly to freshen them up after a long flight ?
Another thing I discovered whilst watching from the jetty was that the chicks are not only in danger from their predators but from neighbouring adults too. To my amazement I witnessed an adult dropping a chick in the middle of the deep channel. What it had done to deserve such an action I obviously don't know but the poor chick had no chance of surviving. The water was too deep to go and help it and by the time it had drifted with the tide in to shallow water 15 minutes later it had died of exposure to the cold.
Fortunately that fate is note common, indeed warden David Steel with all his experience had never seen anything like it .
Most were being well looked after and from a safe distance I set about watching the chicks being fed.
There was one pair that were particularly interesting because they had to compete with their sibling for food.
One was quite a lot bigger than the other and used the weight advantage to good effect.
Again, I'm not sure why but the parent bird(s) seemed to favour this chick too. It seemed to get two fish to the others one.
The adult tried to avoid letting the little one get the fish but even on this occasion when the adult accidentally dropped it the big one won the tug-of-war.
The small one had to be consoled with a bit of sympathy !
It was quite a challenge from a photographic point of view, not only trying to follow the action which tended to be over in seconds but also to hope for a clear background without the intrusion of sticks.
Ah well, another reason to return !