The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 728/The Roseate Tern on the Farne Islands, Blathwayt
THE ROSEATE TERN ON THE FARNE ISLANDS.
By the Rev. F.L. Blathwayt.
The Roseate Tern (Sterna dougalli) was discovered in July, 1812, on some small islands in the Firth of Clyde, by Dr. McDougall. The species was probably first observed on the Farne Islands not long after this date. Selby, in an article on the Birds of the Fame Islands ('The Zoological Journal,' vol. ii.), stated that the birds were first noticed there about the year 1811 as a new species. The date is apparently not quite correct, but it tends to show that the species was noticed on the Farne Islands very soon after it was discovered in Scotland. In the same article Selby continued:—"They now (1825) having greatly increased, form a numerous colony, which occupies a large space of ground near to that occupied by the Arctic species, and a second station upon one of the Wamseys." From this time they appear to have steadily decreased in numbers on the islands, though it is just as likely that they were driven away by the stronger species as that they were shot down and robbed by visitors.
Hewitson, in his 'British Oology,' edit. i. wrote concerning the Roseate Tern:—"Upon the Farne and Coquet Islands... they are very limited in number, consisting of a few pairs only, mixed and associating with the numerous flocks of Arctic and Sandwich Terns."
The species still inhabited the islands in 1856, for in the 'Proceedings' of the Berwick Naturalists' Club for that year a contributor, who had visited the islands, wrote, referring to Brownsman Island:—"The sea-fowl are here very numerous, especially ... the Sea-swallow or Common Tern; the Sandwich Tern and the Roseate Tern are less abundant." After this the islands seem to have been nearly abandoned by this species, though it is probable that a few pairs nested on them every year. Gould, in his 'Birds of Great Britain' (1862-73), stated that he thought a few pairs still bred on the Farnes, and that eggs had been obtained there within the last five years.
In the year 1880 several pairs arrived in May, and they would probably have again established a colony had not many of them been most unfortunately shot. For the next seven years they were very scarce, but had evidently not quite deserted the islands, as in most of the numerous articles in natural history periodicals, describing visits to the islands during these years, the writers state that they have either seen one or two specimens, or have heard from the fishermen that a pair or two might always be noticed during the nesting season. The favourite islands seem to have been the Wideopens and the Knoxes.
In 1888 an association was formed for the purpose of protecting the sea-birds and their eggs on the Farne Islands, and during the breeding season watchers were placed on some of the islands to prevent visitors from molesting the birds. Reports were also issued showing the increase or decrease of the various species, and so from this time it is comparatively easy to trace the history of the Roseate Terns. In spite, however, of the efficient protection, these birds, unlike the other sea-fowl, did not increase in numbers. In nearly every report of the Society for the next ten years it is stated that two pairs only were seen on the islands, and surprise was expressed that their numbers did not increase. In 1898 it was hoped that this happy result might be attained, for five or six pairs of birds appeared in the spring of that year. In the next year, however, only two pairs were reported, and in 1900 it was thought that only one pair inhabited the islands.
When the large increase of the Eider Duck and Sandwich Tern upon the islands during late years is considered, it is somewhat disappointing to find that the Roseate Tern is only just able to hold its own. The latter, however, does not appear to be a very sociable species, and is liable to be persecuted by its larger congeners; and among the thousands of sea-fowl which haunt the Farnes there can scarcely be many quiet spots where the Roseate Terns could establish a colony without coming into contact with other birds.
- I state this on the authority of a remark in Mr. Howard Saunders's 'Manual of British Birds,' edit. ii. p. 645. For an opposite opinion, however, of the habits of this species, cf. 'The Zoologist,' 1899, p. 83.—F.L.B.