Rainbows over terns

Rainbows over terns

Little terns (c) Mandy Bell

A mid-season update from our little tern warden, Derek Wood.

Welcome to the second Durham Wildlife Trust little tern blog of 2023. It’s a little later than intended but the delay is entirely due to positive reasons and events, not least the fantastic progress we and our little tern visitors have made since the first arrivals from Africa in May. The Seaton Carew little tern site is one of a number of SeaScapes projects in 2023, spanning the Tyne to Tees coastline. It has been funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund and planned/coordinated by Seascapes, Durham Wildlife Trust and Hartlepool District Council.

In this blog I will share the key achievements and activity to-date and will include some of the amazing photographs captured by visitors to the site and of course by our team of volunteers and wardens. Our team has grown significantly since the last blog and I’d like to welcome and show appreciation to Amy, Kelsey, Jade, Nicole, Rachel, Shirley and Aaron. The successes I’m about to describe could not have been achieved without the commitment of time and energy given freely by them together with our core team of Tony, Mike, Sheila and Keith and also by Durham Wildlife Trust wardens Alex, Dobrawa, Shona, Dave and Chris.

If, after reading this, you would like to know more or even visit the site we will be delighted to see you there. You’ll find us on the promenade, conveniently adjacent to the Seaton Beach car and coach park – TS25 1DD in your sat nav.


Rainbow over the little terns at Seaton Carew

A double rainbow over the site – a pot of gold can take many forms! [Derek Wood 15/05/2023]

Let’s begin with a factual summary of activity and results –

19 April – boundary fence and internal matrix posts erected

30 April – arrival of the first group of 12 little terns (what took so long to cover 3000 miles?)

1 May – two pairs of ringed plover settle into site

7 May – our little tern count has double to reach 24

9 May – they’re arriving in numbers now – 62 little terns today

21 May – 33 little tern nests counted across the site

22 May – our night shifts begin, 10pm to 5am, to outfox the foxes

23 May – first clutch of little terns eggs observed

29 May – our highest count of little terns – 134 in site

31 May – our first new arrival – 2 ringed plover chicks

8 June – our first little tern chicks emerge

28 June – little tern chick numbers have leapt to 66 – some already taking flight

29 June – a total of 29 little tern chicks and 1 ringed plover chick have been ringed

OK – that’s all of the factual and statistical stuff dealt with, but they do say a picture – or in this case sequence of pictures – is worth a thousand words!!


As I write, we have 66 confirmed little tern chicks ranging from hatchlings, like the bird in the hand above, to around 25 much more mature birds, some of which are already taking the first experimental flights. On that basis we would expect those 25 to fully fledge and take flight to and from the water's edge, feeding and building up strength in preparation for their first flight to Africa in August. Imagine, just a few weeks old and, measuring only 5 inches in length and weighing the same as a tennis ball, they take a 3000 mile flight from Seaton Carew to The Gambia.  But hopefully, given that they can live up to 25 years, they’ll be back to see us and raise their own young in years to come.

This year, we are also paying special attention to the ringed plovers which share the site with the little terns, although not as bosom pals – as you may well witness should you visit the site, they are tolerated provided they don’t venture too close to a little tern scrape or chick. Capturing statistics for the ringed plovers is also particularly difficult as within hours of being hatched, they are off across the site like Mo Farrah. But we did manage to capture a few photographs – although the ringed plovers are much more discrete than the little terns when mating. We have no pictures you may be pleased to hear….I guess they ‘got a room’.


So, things are really shaping up nicely and providing we and the birds can keep predators at bay – including gulls, crows, birds of prey and foxes - working together with continued public support, once again we can hope to add significant numbers to this endangered species.

But let’s not count our chick(ens) yet………we’ll leave that for Blog 3.

SeaScapes and National Lottery Heritage Fund logo