White-fronted terns, Cape Palliser Coast
By Cushla McGaughey
Terns belong to the same family as gulls, but have black-capped heads and longer, more pointed wings. Their short legs and small feet make for an inefficient shuffle on land and so terns are more aerial than fleet-footed gulls. They inhabit beaches, harbours, estuaries, reefs and shallow coastal waters all round New Zealand. The search for food ranges from well up tidal rivers to a few kilometres out to sea.
Unlike gulls, they are not scavengers. They feed solely on live food, captured by plunge-diving. It takes time and practice to perfect the skills needed for successful fishing and so the parents continue feeding their young after they fledge, for at least 3 months.
Cape Palliser on the Wairarapa Coast is the southern-most point of the North Island. Exposed to the full force of Cook Strait gales, it is one of New Zealand’s most hazardous stretches of coast. From here there is nothing but open sea all the way to Antarctica. The lumpy rocks consist of lava deposited millions of years ago.