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Many Happy Rye Terns

common tern / Barry Yates
common tern / Barry Yates
Author Barry Yates

This time of year in the Sussex countryside is amazing. There is so much happening and we all have our favourite returning sights – be it the flowering of plants like bluebells or the emergence of the first butterflies or bumblebees.

But for me I look forward to the return of the terns to nest at Rye Harbour. Terns are long winged and elegant seabirds that dive for fish and spend the winter along west coast of Africa, returning to nest in safe places near the coast.

This year our tern season started early with the first sandwich terns on 1st March and by the end of the month there were 800 roosting and displaying on the brand new islands of Ternery Pool (we finished building the islands on the last day of February and thanks go to the Environment Agency for getting the work done just in time). Sandwich are the largest and palest of our terns with a black beak and can go feeding up to 15 kilometres away. Then on 30th March the first common tern was seen, but it was not until 10th April that they became regular. These are medium sized (about the size of a blackbird) with a red beak and greyer plumage than our other two nesting terns. Last year 235 pairs nested. The first little tern here was seen on 15th April but they never get numerous, last year just 8 pairs nested. These are pale birds about the size of a starling with a white forehead and yellow beak and can only go a short distance to feed.

little tern / Barry Yates
little tern / Barry Yates

At Rye Harbour our logo is the little tern and we have worked hard for over 40 years trying to maintain the population… but it is dwindling and I fear for its future here. On the other hand Sandwich terns have been nesting regularly here since 1993 and last year there were 850 pairs (representing about 7% of the UK population). So perhaps we will have to get our black felt tip pen and modify our logo!

At Rye Harbour you can get great views of these birds especially around high tide, but the rarer tern species often come in to roost at dusk to the suitably named Ternery Pool - Rye Harbour has recorded 14 tern species in total and I wonder if there is any other UK site that can equal this.


  • Anne Yates:

    19 Apr 2012 11:19:35

    I loved the video – it was like I was actually there!

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