I’m back with another fun story down here in San Diego. Let’s jump right into it!
Everyone meet the Gull-billed Tern. Gull-billed Tern meet everyone. These terns reside within the Salt Works portion of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Adults are medium sized and possess a black cap, typical of most breeding terns. They also possess a black bill and black legs, that help differentiate them from other terns, especially at Salt Works where there are thousands upon thousands of Elegant Terns buzzing around. Gull-billed Terns are incredibly smart, which makes flagging them a challenge. They have also been known to prey upon the chicks of Least Terns. Now that you have become acquainted with one another, let’s continue with the story.
Our goal is to capture chicks to be measured and flagged, so that their progress and movements can be tracked. The first step is sitting with a scope to spot the adults with chicks, preferably with reduced visibility. In this case, we used the car as a blind and mounted the scope on the window. As I mentioned, they are pretty intelligent birds so if you are out in the open, parents will have their chicks flee or hide to evade you.
Once adults and chicks have been spotted, it’s time to kayak out onto the water. This is the hardest part as you want to kayak out to the chicks as fast as possible while also staying out of sight. This entails paddling out in the middle of the salt pond, dragging your kayak over berms and back into the water, and landing in potentially soft mud. The soft mud isn’t a joke as it likes to suck you and your boot down as soon as you hop out of your kayak. I would recommend avoiding these spots, as it is often a struggle to wrestle your way out of the muds clutches. (I know from personal experience, where I nearly lost my boot to the salt pond.)
Once on shore and out of the kayak, the scavenger hunt for chicks is on. They can blend in really well with the silty substrate at Salt Works, so keeping your eyes open is key. They can also scoot through their way through dense vegetation, so extra precaution is taken when searching in vegetation. When you do spot them, some will likely already be off and running and that is when the chick chase (as I like to call it) is on.
Once in hand, you can measure and flag them and let them be on their merry way.
I hope you all liked this weeks edition of Janne’s Kayak Chronicles. See y’all next week!