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Wed 26th June 2013 17:35 by Graham Smith
Little Tern
Mary - it is quite possible that you saw a Little Tern there although, unlike Common Terns, they are scarce away from the coast (I must here shamefully admit that I only have a vague idea where Belhus Woods is, although the name is familiar!). Common Terns are almost the size of a Black-headed Gull, but slimmer and more streamlined, whereas the Little Tern lives up to its name and is much smaller. The wing beats are much faster than in other terns and it often flies and hovers closer to the water but the main diagnostic feature is the yellow bill with a black tip. Common Terns have red bills with a narrow black tip.

They used to breed commonly on the Essex coast, including the shellbeaches at Bradwell St Peter's, but the era of 'have car will travel' means that there are very few areas inaccessible to holidaymakers nowadays and they have declined drastically in recent years. There are now only two or three sites where they try to nest in Essex, one of which is a small shell island off Tollesbury Wick/Old Hall. There are signs up asking people tlo keep off during the breeding season but some weekend sailors always ignore them. They caught one family group a couple of years ago who were having a barbecue in the middle of the colony. The warden pointed out the eggs nestling among the shell close to where they were sitting but they still refused to move, claiming that they were not harming the birds! One despairs!  One of the biggest colonies in the country is probably at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, where they are well protected fortunately.

PS : I have just looked up Belhus Woods CP on the good old internet. And there was I thinking it was near Southend. May I be condemned as an out and out yokel! You seem to be close to the Thames there Mary so Little Tern is a very real possibility.

link
 

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