Sooty Terns return to Bird Island – and so do we

On 9 June Christine and I disembarked from the Twin Otter that brought us on the short flight from Mahe to be welcomed by a very green Bird Island, betraying an unusually wet start to the “dry season”. Our ears and eyes were immediately filled with the sounds and sights of a multitude of Brown and Lesser Noddies, the latter already nesting in large numbers in Cordia trees close to the island’s reception area. Above us we soon picked up the calls of over-flying Sooty Terns.

On 9 June 2017 Sooty Terns had already started to lay but many pairs still do not have eggs (Photo: Chris Feare)

The aim of our visit is to continue our studies of the island’s Sooty Terns, in particular investigating where they feed during the breeding season. After settling in we took an afternoon walk into the colony to set up a study area. This year the south-east trade winds began earlier than usual and Sooty Terns, whose breeding activities are generally linked to the onset of this season, had begun nesting on Bird Island earlier than the long-term norm, with a few eggs appearing by 27 May (generally, they do not begin laying until early to mid June). On our walk we found that laying was now well under way and the colony already looked spectacular. Despite this, however, many parts of the colony nesting grounds were still unoccupied, indicating that many birds have yet to arrive.

The sand on Bird Island’s extensive beaches is highly mobile, with erosion and deposition being natural parts of the annual cycle (Photo: Chris Feare)

Our walk revealed another feature of Bird Island. Its extensive sandy beaches (about five kilometres of white coral sand) are highly mobile and since the breeding season of 2016 there has been considerable erosion around the northern parts of the island. Unfortunately, erosion of the north-west beach has encroached into the Sooty Tern reserve so that this protected area is smaller than intended for this year’s breeding season.

We watched our first Bird Island sunset of 2017 from the north-western beach, with streams of Sooty Terns approaching the colony, and then rounded the north point to be greeted by the rising of a wonderful pink full moon over the western beach. What a welcome to this wonderful island and our fingers are crossed for a successful breeding season with a good haul of data on the Sooty Terns’ foraging areas!

… while on the other side of the island a pink full moon emerges from the eastern horizon (Photo: Chris Feare)
Arriving Sooty Tern stream in from the sea at sunset … (Photo: Chris Feare)
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