Yesterday afternoon Abdulla and I went to Ras Al-Mamtalah to check for White-cheeked tern chicks. He had observed nesting there last month. There was good and bad news. The high tide now covers all but the tips of the sandbar and eggs were scattered far and wide having been washed away by the tide. The colony is broken into three sections, two of which were devoid of chicks. However the middle section which is ever so slightly higher than the rest, had good numbers. We managed to ring 62 chicks. It has been almost 30 years since Trevor Hallam ringed terns here ably assisted by Tom Nightingale. We poised to enjoy the sense of occasion as we watched the sunset.
The birds in the two sections which had no chicks had relaid. We counted 120 nests in the most northern section and a further 43 nests in the southern section. It was a little difficult to establish whether or not some nests were still viable as so many eggs were scattered about. The total conservative count was 163 occupied nests and 62 chicks ringed giving an estimated 225 - 250 pairs. This is confirmed by the rough count of adults roosting as we left.
White-cheeked tern chick
On Saturday last we took our second trip to Al Jarrim islands to ring bridled terns. The team comprised Ali, the Boat man, his friend Bassam, Douglas McGarvey, a new ringing recruit and myself. It was the first outing for Douglas who responded very well to some on the hoof training. Himself and Ali plucked 76 chicks from the thorns. Ali did the plucking and Doug did the ringing!
Bassam took over as photographer and parttime plucker with me. We managed to ring 67 birds. The photographs below were taken by Bassam.
Doug getting a crash course in fitting C2 rings
The numbers of chicks are up this year compared to last year confirming the estimate of breeding pairs on the 1st visit in June this year.
Bridled tern chick
Ali and Doug busy at work
Ali has been with us for three years now and is a key part of the operation. No bush is too big or too thorny for him!
With the passerine migration over we are now turning our attention to tern ringing. This morning I spent a couple of hours at Askar on the east coast, which has had a colony of mixed White-cheeked and Saunders's little terns for years. Unfortunately, disturbance over the past few years has taken its toll. I only managed to find 4 White-cheeked nests and 3 Saunders's nests in the area that had dozens of nests two years ago.
These Saunders's chicks were really feeling the heat as it rose to 42 degrees. What little shade they could get from this rock was a god send.
The parents fly out to sea and dip their bellies in the water returning to the nest eggs and chicks to cool them with the damp feathers.
The White-cheeked terns start to breed a little later than the little terns. This bird is on eggs.
On Saturday, Major Abdulla and I took a two hour hike down to the sandbar known as Ras Mattala (Ras Al Mamtalah). This site is now off limits to the general public and access requires a special permit. It is many years since the site was surveyed, previous information dating back to the late seventies when Trevor Hallam ringed hundreds of White-cheeked terns there over several years.
We recorded 200+ Socotra Cormorants (approximately 50% juveniles), 19 Kentish plover (no chicks seen), 2 Slender-billed gulls, a single Osprey and only 26 White-cheeked terns (no nests).
It would appear that this population of terns has all but disappeared. Most of the sandbar is at the hightide line and little or no vegetation was found. It may now become completely innundated during the lunar hightide, though we have no precise evidence to support this.
I was given access to Trevor Hallam's ringing data by the BTO and we cannot see how these numbers can be achieved nowadays based on our recent survey. The decline in the population is unlikely to be due to disturbance as the area is still off limits to the public. We can only conclude that natural phenomena are responsible for the changes. A second visit is planned in late June.
On Sunday evening as the temperature was dropping, Abdulla and I gained acces to the 'Northern New Town', a vast area of reclaimed land on the northwest side of Bahrain. Building hasn't started yet so the area is virtually undisturbed. Breeding Terns, including Saunder's little tern and White-cheeked terns are nesting there and Kentish plover chicks are also on the ground.
We ringed 10 Kentish Plover and 5 Saunders's little tern chicks and recorded nesting White-cheeked terns with eggs and empty nests freshly started. We managed to cover the western and northern shores before the sun set and hope to complete the ringing and survey work along the remainder this weekend.