An exciting update from Plovers in Peril project officers Wynona and Ben...

Phew! It has been a busy few weeks for the Plovers in Peril team! While the nation was fully embracing that super long jubilee weekend as a chance for some well-deserved rest and to enjoy some Norfolk sunshine, our staff and volunteers from the local community were out on the beach giving beach nesting birds like ringed plover and oystercatcher a helping hand at their most vulnerable time of year. Beach nesting birds don’t take a day off from protecting their families, so neither do we!

We are excited to say that we were all rewarded with sightings of our very first ringed plover chicks of 2022 – and we can confirm that these dinky fluffballs never fail to spark joy!

 

A ringed plover chick with a keen sense of adventure just a few days old. Image by Phill Gwilliam. (taken with a long lens to avoid disturbance)

Read on for our tips on how watch ringed plover and oystercatcher chicks safely and to find out what the local community have been up to, to help safeguard their future here at Snettisham.

Once hatched from the safety of the egg, it takes only a few hours for these tiny chicks to find their feet and work out just what their oversized legs can do! Next thing you know, they are tumbling about all over the beaches like matchstick sized Indiana jones’ – these chicks might be tiny, but they adventure BIG! In fact, the first sign that there are chicks about is usually the sound of parent birds alarm calling in a frenzy to keep them out of trouble!

A parent broods her chicks. Image by Les Bunyan (taken with a long lens to avoid disturbance)

How can I watch ringed plover and oystercatcher chicks without disturbing them?

  1. Always watch birds from a distance – This way, you will get to watch them behave naturally and enjoy seeing their best beach gymnastics as they tumble about on unsteady legs. When chicks panic, they sit tight to the ground (a little like a stop, drop and roll type situation!) and getting good views of them becomes impossible. If we can hear birds alarm calling, it tells us that we are too close – step back until the alarm calls stop and if you watch carefully, you’ll see the adult birds regroup the chicks and take them to safety.
  2. Give young chicks and their parents a wide berth- once hatched, they don’t stay inside the fenced areas! If you can see chicks with adults ahead on the beach, give them a wide berth as you pass so they don’t become separated from mum and dad - this can make them vulnerable to predators like gulls. As the tide drops, parent birds will take their young down to the soft mud to feed on nutritious worms, then as the tide rises again, they will move them up the beach to feed on insects on the upper shore. Ringed plovers and oystercatchers are exceptional parents and never take their eye off their tiny families, steering them away from danger when they need. By giving chicks space, we can help them to keep their chicks safe until their wing feathers catch up with their sense of adventure!
  3. Put your fur friends on a lead – dogs have a natural instinct to chase, even if just for play and at this stage, the flightless chicks are unable to get out of the way. Chicks can die from shock if chased, even if our dogs mean no harm. If you have a dog with you on your walk, please keep them on short leads during nesting season (March to end of August) to help these chicks make it to adulthood. If you are lucky enough to have a calmer dog that doesn’t chase, please help us by putting them on a lead to encourage others to do the same. By supporting us with this, we can all help to make these beaches a safe place for growing chicks, and you’ll enjoy seeing these special birds on these beaches for years to come!
  4. Struggling to see them? Our volunteer beach rangers are out on the beach every day and love to be asked about the birds, to point out tiny chicks or lend some binoculars to get you a better look. So, give our volunteers a wave when you’re out and about, tell us your stories and if you have questions -ask away!

 

A young chick camouflaged against the shingle - watch your step! Image by Les Bunyan (taken with a long lens to avoid disturbance)

A little help from our friends:

We were delighted to join the Snettisham Sailing Club on Friday 3rd June as part of their jubilee celebrations. We were joined by over 30 sailing club members of all ages on a short walk down to the beach where we were able to share why beach nesting birds are so important, what threats are facing them and some simple things we can all do to protect them. The ringed plovers even surprised us on the day with some newly hatched chicks which we were able to watch safely through our scopes and binoculars!

Inspired by what they had learnt about the beach nesting birds and as a special legacy to mark the jubilee, the Junior sailors have made some thank you signs that we will be putting up across the site to thank the community for helping to keep birds, their eggs and chicks safe.  Keep an eye out for these signs going up on the beach - we have been blown away by their beautiful drawings and inspiring action to protect the wildlife on their doorstep.

  

    Junior members share their love of beach nesting birds over the jubilee. Images by Wynona Legg 

Some junior members were so inspired by beach nesting birds that they chose to create a unique castle for the sandcastle competition later that afternoon. If you look closely you can see a handmade ringed plover nest with pebble eggs, fortified by the castle around it and complete with jubilee flags – if only our real nests could get a castle for protection!

It is clear to us that beach nesting birds here are much loved by the sailing club members and I lost count of the interesting questions asked by so many who are keen to be part of their recovery by taking steps to ensure they have space to breed here long into the future. It is testament to how communities can help save species and shows us that all it takes is awareness, knowledge and a desire to protect what is special around us to build a safer future for wildlife. By sharing our shores, we can help make these beaches a special place that both wildlife and people can enjoy.

Please think about supporting us with our work for Plovers in Peril.

Come and say hello to us if you see us whilst out and about on Snettisham or Heacham South beach! We look forward to chatting with lots of you and getting to know what this place and its special wildlife means to you.

 

You can help these birds have a successful year and ensure they return to nest here for years to come. Help us protect beach nesting birds by:

  • Following requests on signage
  • Keeping dogs on leads
  • Keeping your distance from fenced areas
  • Watching your step! Be mindful of eggs and chicks on your beach walk

Follow us on our journey to protect these amazing birds. Join in the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages, share your stories and photos and help us speak out about how we can help vulnerable beach nesting species like the Ringed Plover.

Tag us: #PloversinPeril #RSPBSnettisham #WatchYourStep

 

Got a question or want to get in touch? Chat to us and have your say about the protection of these birds – your voice matters! Email Wynona.Legg@rspb.org.uk. We would love to hear from you

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