Roseate Terns at Lady’s Island in southern Ireland

Imagine walking along the tranquil shores of the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean, the rhythmic waves gently touching the sand. Suddenly a delicate bird catches your eye – its slender shape and graceful flight are a testament to nature’s elegance. This is the Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), a very bright, graceful seabird that occasionally displays a slight pale pink tinge on its chest, making it a true avian jewel of the coastal ecosystem.

The beauty of the Roseate Tern is legendary. The Roseate Tern is known for its striking appearance and agile flight. Typically, these birds have a striking white body, a black cap and deeply forked tails, which are rightly described as “swallowtails”.

During the breeding season, however, a subtle transformation occurs – probably depending on the breeding or feeding area. In some individuals, a faint rosy hue appears on the chest, which is probably due to a diet rich in crustaceans.

Roseate Terns are found on coasts and islands and prefer sandy or rocky beaches and salt marshes to breed. In Ireland and thus in the eastern Atlantic, their distribution area in Europe extends primarily to the Azores, the Irish Sea region to the northern coast of Brittany in France. In recent years the number of individuals worldwide has remained the same. In Europe, population has been steadily increasing everywhere except in France. The stronghold of the species in Europe is Ireland. The species is restricted to two main colonies in Ireland, one on Rockabill Island off Skerries, County Dublin, and one on Lady’s Island, near Rosslare, County Wexford. Birds have also been breeding in other locations recently. Rockabill is home to the most important colony in Europe with up to 1,200 pairs of birds. The colony on Lady’s Island is much smaller, with around a hundred pairs.

These terns are very extensive migratory birds. They travel long distances between their breeding and wintering areas. Outside the breeding season they can be found as far south as the coasts of Brazil and Argentina. They demonstrate remarkable endurance and navigation skills.

As with other larids, the roseate tern’s breeding season is a time of busy activity and complex social interactions. They typically nest in colonies and often share spaces with other tern species such as Common Terns (Sterna hirundo), Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) and Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea). Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus) breeding grounds are usually not far either. Parental investments are high; Both male and female terns share the responsibility of incubating eggs and feeding chicks. Their diet consists mainly of small fish, which they catch during sometimes impressive, rapid dives.

The colony on Lady’s Island – located in the middle of a brackish body of water – apparently got its food entirely from the adjacent sea. The dunes, which form the barrier between the brackish water and the sea, are a very good location in general to observe and photograph Terns flying to and from hunting grounds. The flight route is somewhat predictable and manageable. As far as can be seen, it was mainly Roseate Terns and, to a lesser extent, Sandwich Terns that flew out to sea from the colony. Common Terns and Arctic Terns, on the other hand, use the sea as a feeding area much less often. The hunt of Roseate Terns also took place quite close to the beach and some of them could also be followed and photographed.

The images were taken with a Canon EOS R5 and a Canon EF 400mm 1:4 DO IS II USM lens at exposure times of up to 1/1600 sec. The Canon EOS R5’s ability to photograph fast-moving birds in flight was once again impressive be perfectly demonstrated. I took advantage of the camera’s ability to shoot at up to 20 frames per second with an electronic shutter, combined with animal tracking AF.

In order to meet the growing demand for top images of the rarer species of Palaearctic has specifically made trips to remote places. Additionally every chance is used, if a rare bird is around the homeground. This to do everything to ensure excellent photos of the Birds of the Western Palearctic . The yield of pictures also of rare Western Palaearctic birds is very good. There are other nice images of birds, that you will find behind the tab “Picture Shop“. Just give a notice if you need a picture of a bird which is not online.

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