Terns, Terms and Turnstones

Image Credit: Ben Andrew, RSPB Images

A huge thank you to all our visitors this week- it’s been fantastic to see so many smiling faces enjoying our brilliant reserve over the February half-term. To be honest (and slightly immodest), we’re not entirely surprised you’ve all had such a good time- we’ve done our best to supply you with family-friendly events and our wonderful wildlife has also been performing! Want to learn more? Read on!

News from the Estate:

Common Terns and Arctic Terns can be hard to tell apart; Common Terns have a black spot on the end of their bill, whereas Arctic Terns do not. Image Credit: David Tipling, RSPB Images. 

This week was a tern-up for the books as the Work Party got to tern and tern about in boats! How the terns have tabled…

As you may have gathered from the previous sentence, the team have been preparing the Main Lake islands for the upcoming Common Tern breeding season. On Tuesday and Thursday, staff and volunteers removed the old layer of cockle shell from these islands and replaced it with a new, fresh layer. This may be labour-intensive but through the years we've found this to be the best management approach for creating bare ground conditions required by nesting terns.

What’s On:

All ages enjoyed our nestbox-building workshops and nearly 40 bird families will be benefitting from your hard work!

This year, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Stockton have different school term dates. This means we have created February half-term activities for not one but two weeks (10-25 February). Here’s what’s been going on:

  • Migration Stations Trail

Have you ever wondered about all the challenges geese face on their migration journey? It’s quite incredible, when you think about it, just how far these brilliant birds fly each year. This half-term, families have helped the geese on their migration journey by completing a series of puzzles on their way around the Main Lake. This trail is available until Sunday 25 February AND completing it earns you a stamp in your Saltholme Passport!

  • Welly dogs

Have you found all 15 Welly Dogs hiding around our Discovery Zone? Ok, one might be in the Visitor Centre but that’s just to get you started. If you fancy an extra challenge, look at the names of the Welly Dogs as and when you find them…most of the names follow a theme but there is an odd one out. Can you correctly identify the outlier?

  • Nest box building

We’ve had great fun making and decorating nest boxes this half-term. Nearly 40 people (children and adults alike) have provided a personalised home for their local wildlife. We have seen a great variety of artistic styles- impressionistic splodges, surrealist ladybirds, arts and crafts plants and modern colour blocks have all featured in various designs.

Don’t worry if you missed out on our nestbox-building workshops this time around…they will be back!

Recent Sightings:

Great Crested Grebes are fantastic divers, using this to escape predators as well as to find food. Image Credit: Ben Andrew, RSPB Images. 

No matter what the calendar says, Spring is definitely on the way! There have been signs of Spring all over the reserve: the first Hawthorn leaves, the first Blackthorn flowers, snowdrops, primroses and even some crocuses in the garden. It’s enough to make anyone smile. And it’s not just been the plants! The first Great Crested Grebes of the year are now back at the Haverton Viewpoint. Make sure to go and see them on your next visit for that reminder of how close Spring is!

More Short-eared Owls visit the UK in winter from Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland. Image Credit: Ben Andrew, RSPB Images. 

Of course, looking forward to the upcoming season should not detract from the incredible winter wildlife you can see at Saltholme. The Short-eared Owls are the perfect example of this. The Short-eared Owl is the most diurnal of UK owl species, meaning it is the one most active during the day. They have been using this attribute to full effect, thrilling visitors by hunting right in front of the Visitor Centre windows nearly every day this week!

The average lifespan of wild Roe Deer is 7 years. Image Credit: Ben Hall, RSPB Images. 

Speaking of ‘in front of the Visitor Centre’, on Thursday morning two Roe Deer proved to our staff and volunteers why it’s so awesome to work on a nature reserve- just after we opened the gates at 9:30am, two of these mammals were seen bounding (‘pronking’, if you want the technical term) along the Main Lake path towards the Visitor Centre. The views of this from the Viewing Gallery were incredible, showing that (a) the windows work and (b) we put them in the right place.

The Turnstone spends most of its time looking for food. It eats insects, molluscs and crustaceans which are often found hiding under rocks. It’s therefore easy to see how this bird got its name! Image Credit: Tom Marshall, RSPB Images. 

Another ‘right place’ is our Saltholme Pools hide. If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed just how many bird sightings come from Saltholme Pools. This week, both Turnstone and Ruff were spotted amongst the flocks of Golden Plover. All three of these species have been hanging around all week, so when (not if) you visit us this weekend, make sure to wander along the Dragonfly Boardwalk towards Saltholme Pools and see if you can spot them for yourself!

As usual, there is not enough space and time for this blog to mention everything that has been seen at Saltholme this week. This video, filmed by Ian Robinson, does give a more complete picture. However, if the blog to the video is like going from a phone screen to a TV, visiting our wonderful reserve is the equivalent to going to a 3D cinema with added popcorn. So with that thought, we shall leave you pondering when your next visit will be…

…we hope to see you soon!

References and Additional Reading

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Common Tern [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/common-tern [last accessed 22/02/2024].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Golden Plover [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/golden-plover [last accessed 23/02/2024].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Great Crested Grebe [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/great-crested-grebe [last accessed 22/02/2024].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Ruff [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/ruff [last accessed 22/02/2024].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Short-eared Owl [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/short-eared-owl [last accessed 22/02/2024].

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2024). Turnstone [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/turnstone [last accessed 22/02/2024].

The Wildlife Trusts (2024). Roe Deer [webpage]. Accessed through https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/mammals/roe-deer [last accessed 22/02/2024].