And just like that we find ourselves springing toward mid-April! Like us, over the last weeks the plovers have endured a mind-boggling array of weather including a few tantalising glimpses of glorious summer sun (even if accompanied in most parts by a bitter Norfolk wind!). With some warmer days on the forecast it looks like at last things might be hotting up, and I’m not strictly talking about the weather…. Ooh la la!

Many of the ringed plovers will have by now secured both a territory and a mate. Those skirmishes will still be ongoing as males guard their females and the pair defend their territories from rival males keen to plunder their loot. So, if you’ve not seen a skirmish yet, get out with those binoculars and find yourself a nice spot to watch them undisturbed as they battle it out on the tideline.

Two ringed plovers on Snettisham beach

Ringed plovers by Phill Gwilliam

Ringed plovers are reported to be seasonally monogamous – which in short means that they have the exhausting task of finding, wooing and keeping a new mate every year! It also means that usually, once committed, these loyal little birds will rough out the highs and lows of the season together whatever the tides may bring. Some pairs have been known to rekindle their love in following years and take up a favourite territory– who says romance is dead!

Courtship for ringed plovers is a long game. The male will work hard to keep close to the female even when feeding out on the mudflats away from the nesting sites. Between aggressive encounters with other pairs, they will engage in copulatory displays and mating ceremonies.

We have all heard of the thrill of the chase, well plovers take this quite literally. Most pair bonds are formed by bouts of chasing, with the male approaching the female in a crouched run. If the female is suitably impressed, she will move into the path of the male, bow and fan her tail. Once pairs have formed a bond the female will also initiate these chases which will often lead to mating.

Ringed plover mating ceremonies are an intricate exchange of posturing and some seriously fancy footwork! Fired up by the heat haze, the male will break out into a run, in hasty approach of his partner. When he reaches her, he will stand proud, flexing himself to look incredibly tall and alluring. In full breeding plumage with that sharp black face mask, snappy chest band and glowing orange legs who could possibly resist!? Only then will he break out the big guns; and by guns, I mean those luminous orange legs; as he begins “goose stepping” – marching with each outstretched leg lifting high like a soldier on parade. I think it’s fair to say that with these smooth moves, he’s all but sealed the deal!

Many pairs at this stage will be spending a lot more time on the upper shore, on sand and shingle above the high tide mark, prospecting for the right place to lay their eggs. Eggs can be laid any time from mid-April onward – so potentially any day now!

It’s an incredibly exciting time knowing that the season for these birds is just around the corner, but it does also begin to highlight just how many obstacles they face here on our beaches. Each year the landscape of the beach is different, having been sculpted by wind and waves. The birds must navigate these often-dramatic changes each year to ensure their nest is in a safe place. The best spot last year is not necessarily the best spot this year!

Heavy people traffic shapes the bird’s success too – the ringed plover will usually nest away from areas with greater numbers of people. The space that is left for them is often not as expansive as first meets the eye.

Every visitor can help ringed plovers to thrive at Snettisham Beach. By simply keeping to the top path or walking along the lower shoreline you will avoid disturbance to nesting sites on the upper beach. Ringed plovers perceive dogs as a threat however friendly their nature. By keeping dogs on leads on the beach you can drastically lessen disturbance to beach nesting birds at these crucial times in the year.

Ringed plovers by Phill Gwilliam

It’s a sensitive time for beach nesting birds, lets #EnjoyRespectProtect

All the best,

Wynona.

Plovers in Peril Project Officer

wynona.legg@rspb.org.uk 

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