Monday, 25 February 2019

February update

It feels as though February has only just begun, but the shortest month is drawing already to an end. It has been a busy month and the team have been working hard to complete habitat management tasks on the Reserve. In the dunes on the Snook we have been tackling scrub – hand pulling and cutting hawthorn to maintain duneland habitats for flora and fauna. Larger hawthorn shrubs are kept due to their importance for passerine birds. We have also been continuing to remove sheep droppings from the grazed dune slacks, in order to create nutrient-poor habitats in which orchids will thrive.

It feels like spring is already upon us. The mild weather has seen amphibians emerge - on the wet slack near the Snook we spotted a large Common Frog with golden rimmed eyes and a palpitating throat. Fluttering skylarks are singing in the dunes. At the Lough, Mallards are pairing up. These distinctive birds are early breeders amongst ducks.

We tested people’s duck knowledge at a ‘Love Birds’ event last week, challenging children and adults alike to pair up images of some of the Reserve’s duck species. Mallards and Eider provided no difficulties, Teal and Shoveller baffled some, whilst the brightly coloured Shelduck surprised those who believed all female ducks to be brown and subdued in colour. The event launched our year’s events programme which seeks to engage the interest of locals and visitors alike in our natural world and the spectacular wildlife and habitats of the Reserve. Events range from rocky shore rambles to recycling events, from beach cleans to bird watches.

Eider Duck © JJD
We have been continuing non-native species monitoring and removal, moving from the terrestrial to the marine environment. We have been surveying the Reserve’s rocky shore, a fascinating and diverse habitat which is currently under threat from small alien invaders, who hitched lifts on ships from the southern hemisphere. These aliens are Orange-Tipped Sea Squirt, small creatures resembling Werther’s Originals or small lumps of orange-tinted jelly. They live on the bottom of rocks and compete with other sessile (non-moving) species for space, a valuable commodity on the rocky shore, and for food. Monitoring and removal of the species is ongoing.

We are busy too preparing for shorebird season – it is not so long until the end of April, when the rare Little Terns will return to breed on Northumberland’s sandy beaches. Charismatic Ringed Plover are already starting to establish breeding territories across the Reserve.

Peak counts of birds on the Reserve include 1000 Bar-tailed Godwits on the high tide roost at St. Cuthbert’s Island, 223 Pintail on Fenham Flats and 1000 light-bellied Brent geese south of Fenham Flats on the 17th Feb, 6500 Pink-footed geese on the Reserve on the 1st and 950 Barnacle geese recorded during a low-tide count on the 10th February.

Bar-tailed Godwit © JJD

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