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A few good terns deserve others, so avoid sandbar nests

By Steve Vantreese

Least terns are intent upon making the most of limited nesting habitat in Kentucky.

Wildlife managers hope you'll give the terns a break and stay away from those few places. Conversely, run roughshod over that habitat and it could earn you a fine of up to $100,000. Really.

Trashing a least tern's nest nowadays is an infraction officially deemed more severe than killing a bald eagle. That's because least terns are categorized as endangered, while eagles have been delisted as such. Indeed, least terns are the only endangered species that still nests in Kentucky.

The least tern is a small shorebird, 8-10 inches long. It is gray on the upper body and wings, white on undersides and neck, and a black crown adorns the head. Its tail is forked and the longish, slender beak is black-tipped.

You've probably never seen one â “ or it you did, you likely didn't recognize it as a least tern and a rare species.

The terns are ground-nesting birds, and their chosen habitat for egg-laying and chick-rearing is bare river sandbars. In Kentucky, least terns nest on sandbars on the Mississippi River along the far western part of the state, and likewise on bars in the lowermost Ohio River from Paducah downstream.

The tern's nest is merely a depression in a barren sandbar where it lays tiny, camouflaged eggs.

A nesting tern shades the eggs with its own body. A tern incubates the eggs for just over three weeks, then tends to hatched chicks that are ground-bound for up to three more weeks before they fledge.

Human disturbance on the sandbars they're using will cause the terns to abandon their nests, and the eggs bake in the sun and die. Time off the nests also raises the odds of predation and the smothering of the jellybean-size eggs by blown sand and sediment.

Managers say human recreational use on sandbars that also serve as Mississippi and Ohio river beaches has outright killed baby birds and squashed eggs when they were stepped on or run over by off-road vehicles.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife officers have been marking sandbars that are being used by least terns, posting yellow signs alerting potential human sandbar users to steer clear. Boaters, picnickers, RV riders â “ any sort of human foot or vehicular traffic is prohibited on a site where seasonal nesting by the terns has been identified.

Managers appeal to lower Ohio and Mississippi users, asking them to avoid unmarked sandbars if they see white birds circling over any bars on which they may go ashore. On a dropping river, some sandbars may be exposed and get nesting activity before managers have a chance to post them with signs.

It is estimated that about 1,000 least tern nests annually appear on far western Kentucky sandbars. That number also is thought to represent about 10 percent of all the least terns in the world.

That's why state and federal wildlife managers are quite picky about how we treat them.

n The crisp days of autumn might seem far away, but deer hunters may want to think ahead: The application period for Land Between the Lakes quota deer hunts opens Tuesday.

Indeed, July 1-31 is the limited window of opportunity to apply for LBL firearms deer hunts in October and November. Applications will be taken online at the www.lbl.org website by clicking on "See and do," recreation and hunting headers. Or applications can be made via telephone by dialing 270-924-2065. The application fee is $5 per hunter online or $7 by telephone.

Scheduled this year in the Kentucky sector of the LBL are a youth hunt for kids under age 16 Oct. 25-26 and a regular hunt Nov. 22-23. In the Tennessee portion of the federal area, a youth hunt will be Oct. 18-19 and regular hunts are set for Nov. 14-15 and Nov. 22-23.

All LBL quota hunt permits will be for deer of either sex. Deer taken on LBL hunts again will be bonus deer, not counting toward statewide harvest limits. Too, there is a limit of one antlered buck per hunting year in the LBL, whether a deer is taken in the Kentucky or Tennessee portion and whether it's taken during a quota hunt or during the archery season.

Quota hunt applicants can check in late August to find out if they were drawn for permits.

n The LBL is asking the public what they care about in terms of scenic beauty â “ so managers can strive to preserve the good looks of the federal recreation area.

Visitors and the public in general are being asked to fill out an online survey on the visual merits of the LBL, a Scenic Viewing and Special Places Inventory, by July 15. The survey is found at www.surveymonkey.com/s/8KPQ8KJ.

Managers want to spell out an inventory of favorite scenic views in the public area in order to form a set of objectives toward protecting the aesthetics of LBL landscapes.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. E-mail outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

SNbS

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