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Environment

June 05, 1988

TERNS: There is good news and bad news about several species of tern, a gull-like sea bird nesting in the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

The good news is that elegant terns have returned to nest on the reserve's north island for the second consecutive year. Biologists counted 450 elegant terns on the island Wednesday, although an exact nest count won't be undertaken until Monday. There were 30 elegant tern nests last season.

Also, for the first time, royal terns appear to be nesting in the wetlands. Two pairs were seen on the north island and appeared to be sitting on nests. All together, an estimated 110 black skimmers, 140 Caspian terns and four Forster's terns were spotted Wednesday. Black skimmers (a species of tern) and Caspian terns have returned in numbers that appear to equal last season's, although the number of Forster's terns is down (there were 17 Forster's tern nests in 1987).

The Caspian terns and black skimmers, like the elegant and royal terns, are relative newcomers to Bolsa Chica and are not historically found this far north. "These birds are apparently expanding their range," said Esther Burkett, biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game.

The bad news at Bolsa Chica, Burkett said, is that predation is taking a disastrous toll on the endangered California least terns that nest on the reserve's south island, which is easily accessible to such land-based predators as non-native red foxes. At one time this season, there were 38 least tern nests on the island. One week later, there were 12, and the next week there were just five.

Foxes appear to be the culprits, Burkett said. She declined to say whether Fish and Game has any plans to trap foxes, citing a lawsuit that has dogged trapping efforts at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. Terns lay their eggs in small depressions on exposed stretches of sand.

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