Chick shelters help to protect Northumberland shorebirds from wind, rain - and balloons

Breeding shorebirds on the Northumberland coast are being given a helping hand as they reach a pivotal point of the season.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 5:20 pm
A little tern and chick. Picture by K Simmonds

Strong winds and heavy rain have made it a tough few weeks for chicks on the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Balloons blown in by north easterly winds which became tangled in protective netting at some sites, have also caused problems. 

A balloon caught up in netting.

However, Natural England wardens remain optimistic that their efforts – together with a bit of sunshine – will help them to fledge.

Katherine Dunsford, lead shorebird warden, admitted: “They have had a tough few weeks with strong winds and heavy rain, but we put out numerous chick shelters in the hope they would have a refuge from the elements. This was hugely successful, and because of that most of our little tern and ringed plover chicks survived the storm! “As the tide recedes, tide pools on the beach are full of trapped sandeels and are the perfect hunting ground for little terns and an ideal place for young birds to learn how to fish. Sandeel stocks have been great this year and chicks are been well fed by adults.” Oystercatcher chicks have also hatched and ringed plover chicks are also doing very well thanks in part to exclusion zones across the reserve being kept free from disturbance. Arctic and common tern chicks are also due to fledge any day now.

“We are at a pivotal point in the shorebird season,” said Katherine in a blog post. “Small chicks are extremely vulnerable to predators, and make a tasty snack for foxes, kestrels and gulls.

“Parent birds have a hard job to protect their young, and the best way we can help them do this is to ensure they go undisturbed and stay close to chicks.”

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.

“We are now hoping for a few weeks of glorious sunshine to give the chicks the best chance of fledging and gain their strength for the long flight back to Africa for the winter,” said Katherine.