Sandwich tern

31 October 2018

Following an annoying relapse of my almost-better ankle, I’ve been avoiding taking walks, which is hard. In the meantime, I’ve been looking through last month’s photographs from Anglesey.

I was pleased to end up with a couple of nice shots of terns this year. It always seems a bit touch-and-go whether I’ll see any terns in early September. Most of them have gone by then, but there are usually a few still around. Sandwich terns, mostly. Adults, usually accompanied by one or two of this year’s fully fledged, wheezing young. The wheezing seems to be the young terns’ plaintive calls for food. But it’s in both the adults’ and young birds’ interests for the young to learn to catch fish for themselves. They must pick up plenty of tips by following their parents and observing them in action.

Sandwich tern

One thing I’ve noticed watching terns fishing alongside their young is how the adult birds tend to pull out of far more dives than their offspring. I assume it’s an experience thing: the adults must realise the chances of a successful strike have changed for some reason—the target fish changing position, say—whereas the young birds seem far less likely to reassess circumstances and abort their dives. Such considerations no doubt contribute to the adults’ far greater success rate when they do actually strike at their target. Practice and experience make perfect.

I was pleased to see the adult birds occasionally yielding to the youngsters’ plaintive calls, feeding them with freshly caught fish. Building expertise through practice and experience takes time; in the meantime, the youngsters still needed looking after.

Sandwich terns


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