Over the past few years we’ve had Little Terns nesting at the Outer Harbour. Before it existed they sometimes nested in the Harbour on the ‘binks’ and in blowouts etc but suffered badly from disturbance by dogs, walkers, boat users landing on the binks etc. Little Terns are globally rare birds and there are only 2,000 pairs in the UK – there used to be a lot more before they lost most of their nesting places to disturbance, conversion of the open coastal shingle they need to nest on to caravan parks, car parks etc. They are high priority birds for conservation and have a high degree of legal protection.
Last year the Outer Harbour bank had 71 Little Tern nests, making it a nationally important colony, before they almost all vanished. An immature Mediterranean gull ate most of their chicks.
Recently, one Little Tern was recorded fishing in the channel on the flood. There seemed to be about 16 Common Terns nesting on the Outer Harbour bank. There were 3 Mediterranean gulls nesting and at least two immature Mediterranean Gulls marching about getting chased off by adults – and looking malevolent. There were also 6 Common Gulls at the South end, two or three pairs of oystercatchers but so far, no Little Terns nesting or loafing etc have been seen. Over 250 black headed gulls on the Outer Harbour were counted, quite a lot nesting/with chicks.
Also seen were 106 oystercatchers along the channel, and two spoonbills. It is possible that there may be other Little Terns elsewhere in the Harbour but not many have been seen this year yet.
Little Terns are colonial and easily spooked – if they start losing young to predators they will abandon a site for that year. The Mediterranean Gulls are colonising this area – they are spreading north as the climate warms up. They are also protected, so it’s a case of one protected bird probably eating another. The main problem for the Little Terns is lack of suitable safe nesting sites. The harbour staff have done a very good job keeping the public (especially dogs) off the Outer Harbour bank but as it gets more vegetated, which is good for its functional stability, it becomes more attractive to the gulls as a nest site and less so to the Little Terns. Unfortunately the Outer Harbour bank is the only place in the harbour without dogs and which is high enough to stay above the higher tides.
The bank of course remains an attraction to visitors who can see the birds with telescopes or binoculars from the main N-S EA bank footpath.