Common Terns have bred successfully in Tower Hamlets for the first time since 2015. After three years in which no young Common Terns even hatched in the borough, one youngster almost certainly fledged at Blackwall Basin.
From the 1990s until 2015, Common Terns nested annually on rafts specially provided for the purpose on a number of docks in Tower Hamlets, with double figures of pairs breeding in some years. 2014 and 2015 were both good years, but since then no chicks have been seen, and there were appeared to be no breeding attempts at all in 2017 or 2018. It seemed that we might have lost this charismatic bird, which is a priority species in the Local Biodiversity Action Plan, as a nesting bird in the borough.
However, two pairs nested this summer, both appearing quite late in the season. The first pair was found nesting on one of the rafts at East India Dock Basin in early June (photos above and left). They remained on and around the raft throughout the month, and were observed bringing fish to at least one fairly small chick in the last week of June. As the raft was so overgrown, it was very difficult to see any chicks. Unfortunately, the terns had abandoned the nest by the first few days of July, and it is clear that no young fledged.
Then, in the middle of July, local birdwatcher Tom Speller found a pair of Common Terns showing territorial behaviour, such as chasing off gulls, on one of the rafts on the southern edge of Blackwall Basin, beside the Wood Wharf development site. It was very difficult to view the raft, as it often drifted behind another raft with tall vegetation, but Tom was surprised a few days later to see the pair of terns with a well-grown chick (photo left). This chick continued to grow and, when last seen on 5 August, it was very close to fledging. It seems almost certain that it successfully fledged, the first tern to do so in Tower Hamlets for four years.
Header photo: Common Tern at East India Dock Basin (John Archer)