Thursday, 13 June 2019

Shorebird Season Update - The Story So Far

We are almost two months into shorebird season – what a cracking few weeks we’ve had so far! Ringed Plovers were already on eggs across the Reserve as we were installing anti-predator netting and boundary ropes at various locations, and overhead Little, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns were screeching, making us aware of their return from Africa and, in the case of the Arctic Terns, even as far as Antarctica.

Adult Common Tern (© JDD)

Strong winds at the start of May unfortunately led to a few of the early Ringed Plover nests to be buried by sand. However, as the weather settled more scrapes were appearing up and down the coast, and adults began their 21-23 day incubation of their precious eggs. Ringed Plover pairs form territories which they are fiercely protective of, and because of this they attempt to nest in any viable habitat they can. Regular monitoring by staff and volunteers has given us a better understanding of the places Ringed Plovers are trying to nest, and this feeds into our management plans for shorebird protection in the coming years. Often nesting outside of formal protection zones, they are vulnerable to accidental trampling by people and dogs as the eggs are well camouflaged against sand and shingle. Ringed Plovers will make you aware if you are too close to their nest by alarm calling, so listen out for the worried tones of birds when walking on the beaches. We advise avoiding dry sand and keeping dogs on leads to minimise disturbance to the birds.

Ringed Plover nest, or scrape, on pebbles

Adult Ringed Plover (© JDD) 

Sections of beach are closed off between mid-April and mid-August to give the nesting shorebirds as much protection as possible to successfully nest and rear young. Ringed Plover breeding success has declined by over 50% in the past 25 years, mainly due to the loss of suitable breeding habitat. Similarly Little Tern success has also declined, and according to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, they are Schedule 1 birds which means it is a criminal offence to intentionally and recklessly disturb and/or damage the birds, their eggs and their young. Large areas of beach between their nest site and the sea are used by adults to roost, regain the energy they spent during their migration and to court. Disturbance at this stage could prevent the birds from successfully mating or deter them from nesting. Since introducing the beach closures, we have seen an increase in the number of birds choosing to nest on the Reserve. 

Anti-predator netting protecting suitable nesting habitat at Goswick

Little Tern courtship began early May, involving graceful display flights and a ‘who can catch the biggest fish to impress the ladies’ competition between the male birds. Thankfully fish stocks appear to be strong this year, which we assess through monitoring the feeding activity of the birds.

Adult Little Tern with sandeel (© Kevin Simmonds) 

One pair of Oystercatcher have chosen to nest on the outskirts of the Little Tern colony, almost acting as bodyguards by chasing off potential predators such as crows, gulls and even a Sparrowhawk!

Oystercatcher sitting on scrape 

By mid-May, Little Tern eggs had been laid and the wait began for the first chicks to hatch. During this time wardens were monitoring behaviour and feeding activity and chatting to members of the public about how they can do their part to help protect the vulnerable birds. As well as presence on the beaches, wardens have also been running engagement events at various locations across the Reserve in our Shorebird Van, so if you are visiting in the next few months keep an eye out and come and have a chat!

The first egg to hatch was the fourth Ringed Plover pair to nest on the Reserve, aptly named RP4. Chicks are very small and have been likened to ‘pom-poms on stilts’. Ringed Plover parents have their work cut out, as up to 4 chicks disperse in different directions as soon as they can support their body weight.  RP3 was an interesting case study, as eggs hatched after a staggering 32 days of incubation. This was probably due to cold weather causing embryos to take longer to fully develop inside the egg.

Last weekend, during a day of heavy rain, the first of the Little Tern eggs hatched – LT6 – and we are happy to say all three chicks are still going strong! As chicks age, their parents encourage them to venture close to the sea to start to learn how to feed for themselves, highlighting the need to close sections of the beach to give them the space they need to learn these essential life lessons safely and undisturbed by walkers and dogs.

Spot the Little Tern Chick!

The recent period of strong north easterly winds and heavy rain has hit at an unfortunate time as the majority of eggs were due to hatch this week. Monitoring the birds has been difficult in these conditions, but most adults have been sitting tight, keeping their eggs warm and chicks well fed.

We are now hoping for a few weeks of glorious sunshine to keep conditions favourable for a successful season with plenty of fledglings returning to Africa with their parents.

We’ll keep you posted!

No comments:

Post a Comment