• A fledgling fairy tern on Point Walter tests out its wings while mum and dad look on; despite an optimistic jump, it’ll be a week or before this one can take to the skies. An eagle-eyed Herald reader noticed the vulnerable terns had disappeared from a sanctuary at Rous Head this year, but it turns out the savvy sardine-lovers have a good reason to take a holiday in Melville. Read the full story on page five. Photos by Murdoch University ecologistClair Greenwell
FREMANTLE’S endangered fairy terns haven’t done a bunk to Melville after being over-scrutinised by scientists.
Eagle-eyed North Fremantle reader John Showell pondered the fate of the smallest species of tern in our letters last week after noticing a large flock flying over a well-surveyed Rous Head sanctuary before deciding to travel elsewhere. He feared scientists’ pegs marking nests might have frightened the birds off.
At the same time, Melville council was crowing about the boom in tern numbers out on the spit at Point Walter.
It turns out that wasn’t a coincidence and Murdoch University researcher Claire Greenwell says it’s all about a savvy survival technique.
“They move around so the locations of colonies are not predictable to predators,” Ms Greenwell said.
She said other contributing factors could include food availability, habitat availability elsewhere or the social attraction of other birds nesting in a particular location.
Ms Greenwell said the six years in a row the birds spent at Rous Head was something of a record.
The fairy tern numbers at the Point Walter spit have been booming this year. “In what has been the been the best season yet, an estimated 130 pairs of birds have nested on the spit and have produced over 100 chicks,” Melville council’s comms advisor Joanna Arbel told the Herald.
“This is up from 70 pairs producing about 18 fledglings last year.
“The Australian fairy tern is listed as vulnerable under both state and federal legislation, so this result is great news.”
Port Environmental Advisor Adam van der Beeke said even though Fremantle Ports looked forward to Fairy Tern breeding season at Rous Head, the success of the breeding season as a whole was important. Populations at Mandurah and Rottnest are also inter-connected.