An unfortunate “tern” of events…Part 2.
By: Sabrina Cobb
On June 8th, following tropical storm Cristobal’s landfall, Olivia checked on our least tern colony previously mentioned in “Return of the least terns”. From her observations it appeared the colony had successfully weathered the storm. She estimated 46 least terns on site with approximately 23 incubating nests. The chicks previously documented were also seen sheltering from the elements with their parents. Little did we know the colony would face another challenge a few days later. On June 10th, Olivia and I went back to check on the colony when we instantly noticed a decrease in activity. We collected a total count for adults, birds incubating nests, and chicks. To our dismay, we found that less adults were present and only one chick was running around.
Both of us decided to further investigate by doing a perimeter walk of the colony. On the south-western edge of the property we discovered coyote tracks left in the soft sand. A growing concern for our beach-nesting birds is the impact of depredation by non-native species such as coyote and red fox. Coyotes are native to the western region of the United States and started moving east about fifty years ago. Coyotes and red fox have a keen sense of smell and are often drawn to beach-nesting bird locations by food waste, garbage, and other biological smells attributed to nesting birds. Close monitoring and documentation of these predator events allow us to further understand challenges faced by beach-nesting birds such as the least tern. From our observations we can develop strategic methods to help improve survival rates.
Recent checks on the colony after our coyote visitor have been hopeful. We have about forty least terns on site with approximately twenty-two incubating nests. Our lone chick survivor has successfully fledged and was seen flying yesterday, June 22nd!