AN exciting discovery among rare little terns nesting on a Dorset beach has revealed that two are 15 and 16 years old and have notched up more than 100,000km each migrating to Africa.

The discovery was made as wildlife conservationists fitted new colour rings to the birds in conjunction with the EU Life Little Tern Project.

Thalassa McMurdo Hamilton, little tern project officer said: “Steve Hales, a local bird ringer, carried out the colour ringing with Luke Phillips of RSPB.

“Steve has had a long association with metal ringing little tern chicks at Chesil in the past. As the ringing got underway we noticed some of the adults were glinting silver on their legs – they already had a metal ring on – and luckily we managed to catch a few of these.”

They wrote the numbers down and when Steve checked the BTO records he was amazed to find that he had ringed the birds in 1999 and 2000 – making them 15 and 16 years old.

Steve Hales said: “Handling a bird which I had ringed as a week-old chick on the same beach 16 years ago was very rewarding. It emphasised what an age some of our smaller seabirds can reach.”

The Chesil Beach project is in its sixth year and the numbers of breeding pairs are increasing at the colony of the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK.

Marc Smith, Dorset Wildlife Trust Chesil Centre officer said: “It is great to know that these little terns are returning to Chesil Beach, even after such a long time. It just goes to show how important this area is for this rare little bird.

“The colony has been very successful over the last three years, with well over 100 fledglings. Hopefully we will be seeing many of these return in the years to come.”