Mhairi, Northumberland Little Tern Project co-ordinator, has an update on what the shorebirds are up to now that the breeding season is over:
Well on the coast here we have had a brilliant breeding season for our shorebirds! New fences have meant that new areas have allowed ringed plovers to thrive where there was high disturbance from humans and dogs in the past. All along the Northumberland coast, we have also had good numbers of breeding terns, which have translated into a great year for fledglings.
Collecting fencing from one shorebird area
Rolling in the fencing
So that’s it, 31st of July the fences come down, give ourselves and the birds a pat on the back - and relax knowing we have done our bit until April next year?
Well yes and no! The birds have finished the hard part having successfully negotiated high tides, threat of being eaten and the odd stray balloon which looks surprisingly like a bird of prey from the ground. However, the chicks are facing new threats now they have turned into fledglings (a word for those in the know to describe those chicks which are taking their wobbly, haphazard first flights), now having to flop and flap their way down to the water’s edge to follow their parents. They then hang around the shore waiting to be fed until the penny drops and they attempt to feed themselves (again rather haphazardly). All this time on the beach opens them up to new challenges. They are about to start their first ever migration to their wintering grounds. There is no dress rehearsal - once they leave the safety of Northumberland’s beaches they have to fly thousands of miles to find favourable areas for them to winter. Take the Little Tern, just one of the birds you will find on our beaches: the furthest a Little Tern from the UK has been found to migrate is Guinea-Bissau. A quick google search tells me Guinea Bissau is in West Africa on the sticky out bit - a massive 4000 miles.
The Little Tern
Guinea Bissau, Africa
The distance and the timing of this migration means that our beaches play one last role in the lives of our young terns before we see them in two years time when they return. And we can all help – if you see large roosts of terns or other birds on the beach keep dogs under control try to avoid walking through them and most of all enjoy watching this spectacle. Help by giving them the time they need to take some food from our North Sea larder, gain strength and get ready for their epic journey.
I’ll be giving an update from the breeding season when we get all our reports together and also give you an idea of how the EU Life project has helped nationally.