Posted 3rd Aug 2017
Lead image courtesy of Gillian Day
During the summer months, you will find several species of tern returning to nest on shingle beaches, gravel pits and low lying islands around the coast, and increasingly on islands, rafts on gravel pits and reservoirs inland
All of our terns look superficially similar, akin to a small, elegant gull with a long swallow-like forked tail, slender wings and a black cap which compliments their silvery grey plumage. Of the five species which nest here, the one you are most likely to see, especially if you don't live by the sea, is the Common tern. While it's the most widespread, it's not the most common, despite its name. That title goes to the closely related Arctic tern, which will nest in busy colonies on northern coasts and islands.
A tern colony is a noisy, hectic thing. Birds will be continually coming and going, with adults bringing fish back for their chicks or their sitting mate, while young birds call for their parents, and angry adults prepare to chase off an intruder regardless of shape and size. Their dagger-like bills are quick to turn on any intruders to their summer breeding colonies, so make sure you don't get too close!
How to do it
One of the easiest ways to tell the different tern species apart is to look at their bills. Carrot red with a black tip will make it a common tern; blood red is an Arctic tern; black with a yellow tip (along with a shaggy black crest) is a Sandwich tern; while the tiny yellow tern has a yellow bill tipped with black, and a white forehead.
If you're unable to get to the special places listed below, The Wildlife Trusts have live webcams at the tern colonies, which beam live images during the summer from Brownsea Island in Dorset and Montrose Basin in Scotland.
Cemlyn Bay has one of the UK’s largest nesting populations of Sandwich terns. It is situated on the north coast of Anglesey, about three miles west of Cemaes, and has a large lagoon, separated from the sea by a spectacular, naturally-created shingle ridge. The ridge, known as Esgair Gemlyn, is formed by the process of longshore drift, its profile changing with the action of tide and weather..
In the summer, the lagoon is the backdrop for Cemlyn’s most famous wildlife spectacle. Clustered on islands in the brackish water is a large and internationally important seabird colony, including breeding common and Arctic terns, and one of the UK’s largest nesting populations of Sandwich terns. From the vantage point of the tern viewing area on the ridge, visitors experience these elegant birds close-up: chasing and diving in courtship displays; incubating eggs; preening and bathing in the lagoon, or calling to their hungry chicks as they come winging in with freshly-caught fish. The best time to visit is May to July, when wardens are on site who can give you lots more information.
Cumbria, South Walney
Derbyshire, Willington Gravel Pits
Dorset, Brownsea Island
Lincolnshire, Gibraltar Point,
Lincolnshire, Far Ings
Norfolk, Cley Marshes
Norfolk, Hickling Broad
Norfolk, Holme Dunes
Rutland, Rutland Water
Sussex, Rye Harbour
Information and text courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts