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Fond farewell as little tern chicks set off on African migration

PUBLISHED: 15:40 09 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:17 09 July 2018

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Fabienne Fossez/RSPB

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Fabienne Fossez/RSPB

Fabienne Fossez/RSPB

It is a 3,100 mile annual migration that sees one of the rarest seabirds in the land leave their nests in the Great Yarmouth area and head to Africa.

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPBLittle tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPB

As these pictures show, little tern chicks are starting to leave their nests and make their way to their West African wintering grounds.

The chicks can be found at the dunes at Winterton and several other beaches in the area and they make up about 20pc of the country’s population of the bird.

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPBLittle tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPB

Lyn Ibbitson-Elk, a RSPB little tern volunteer who caught some of the birds on camera along with fellow volunteer Kevin Simmonds, said: “I have had the privilege to volunteer on the RSPB Little Tern Project for several years and it is a very special experience.

“These precious little seabirds honour us in Norfolk with their presence for only a few months every year, having flown an astonishing 5,000km.

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Lyn Ibbitson-Elk/RSPBLittle tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Lyn Ibbitson-Elk/RSPB

“It is wonderful to hear their haunting calls, see their aerial displays and if you are lucky, see them plunge dive into the sea for sand eel.

“We need to do everything we can to preserve our colonies of ‘Little Pickies’ to safeguard their future. They really are a cracking little Norfolk bird.”

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPBLittle tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Kevin Simmonds/RSPB

Little tern chicks take their first flight at between 18-21 days old as fledglings.

Emma Witcutt, little tern project officer at the RSPB, said: “Like many of us who choose to live near, or holiday by our beautiful beaches, little terns have too realised that east Norfolk is the perfect summer spot.

Little tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Lyn Ibbitson-Elk/RSPBLittle tern chicks are preparing to make their journey to West Africa. Picture: Lyn Ibbitson-Elk/RSPB

“However, nesting little terns face lots of challenges on our beaches. High tides, predators, human disturbance, and freak weather can all impact on this specie’s breeding success.

“That’s why it’s so fantastic that we are starting to see this year’s chicks taking their first flight, preparing for the long journey back to West Africa on their own.”

Little terns do not breed until they are at least two years old, spending their first summer in their West African wintering grounds.

They weigh about the same as a tennis ball and are known in Norfolk as ‘Little Pickies’ for the way they catch their prey of sand eels and young herring.

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