Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica): 2014 record in the Rhine-Main area near Frankfurt

LachseeschwalbeA Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) was reported end of May 2014 in the Offenbach district. During an inspection in the Nature Reserve Gehspitzweiher in Neu-Isenburg a warden suddenly observed a predominantly white, gull-sized bird. Looking for food the bird circled over the water surface and finally rested on the island in the lake. It quickly became clear that it was a tern. Already the first observer, Ernst Böhm, suspected that it was a rare Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica). Also on the two following days the rare guest was in the area and could be documented by filming. As it turned out later, the gull is dead, unfortunately. The warden found the remains of the bird during maintenance work on the island at the end of July.

The Nature Reserve Gehspitzweiher, located in the forest between Zeppelinheim and Grafenbruch, is only 8 km away from Frankfurt AP, terminal 2. The distance to the well-known Langener Waldseen is only 4 km via nice forest trails. The reserve covers an area of approximately 25 ha. It is a gravel pit that was created initially by exploitation of clay deposits, later of sand and gravel The Gehspitzweiher has a great importance as a breeding and resting place for water birds as well as habitat for dragonflies and amphibians.

This species was never detected previously in the Offenbach district. Only a historical indication that a young bird was shot at Offenbach in September 1864, was noticed. From Hesse, in the middle of Germany, until May 2014, only eight documented observations are reported. The last observations date back to the years 2009, 1995 and 1978.

About 100 years ago, the Gull-billed Tern was widespread in Central Europe . Breeding population consisted of semi-natural, dynamic rivers in the Alpine foothills of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and on the Danube in Austria. There were colonies of up to 200 pairs on non-vegetated gravel banks. Human activities have led to the populations decline. The channeling of rivers destroyed the former breeding grounds. Changes and destruction of food-rich wet meadows, heathland and farm land near the breeding colonies, intensification of agriculture, obstruction and over-fertilization led to the loss of habitats. Today, the Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) is very rare, and the breeding areas are almost exclusively in south-eastern and southern Europe, as in the Camargue in France and in the Ebro Delta in Spain. Since 1995 a breeding colony of 30-40 pairs at the mouth of the Elbe in Schleswig-Holstein is established.

To ensure the survival of this colony, the Artenhilfsprojekt Lachseeschwalbe (Species conservation project Gull-billed Tern) was founded in 2010. It is coordinated by several nature conservation associations. The Schleswig-Holstein Ministry of Environment and the county Dithmarschen finance the project. A support team monitors the colony of Gull-billed Tern around the clock.

In addition to direct observations webcam also provide live images from the colony, so that the wardens can respond quickly to any disturbance. Disturbance ranges from harassment against nest robbers and other predators to the fencing of the colony site with electric wires. The young birds are ringed after breeding. They get color rings that make them individually identified. The intensive conservation efforts are successful. In the sole colony in North Western Europe, in Schleswig-Holstein on the Dithmarsch Elbe estuary in the Neufeld polder Gelochelidon nilotica had a good breeding success in 2014. In 2014 roughly 30 pairs have raised a total of 40 chicks.

This image of a Gull-billed Tern is just a taste of what you will find in the gallery “Picture-Shop“. Just enter know if you can serve with an additional image. Not only traveling to remote places but also detailed knowledge of the nearby home was very helpful to take pictures of the birds of the Western Palearctic.

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