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Successful breeding year for terns at Norfolk nature reserve

Newly fledged juvenile Sandwich Terns. Picture: National Trust - Ian Ward

Newly fledged juvenile Sandwich Terns. Picture: National Trust - Ian Ward

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The National Trust is celebrating a successful breeding year for three tern species at Blakeney nature reserve in north Norfolk.

Flock of Sandwich terns. Picture: National Trust - Ian WardFlock of Sandwich terns. Picture: National Trust - Ian Ward

Terns first arrive at Blakeney Point in the spring, as these dainty seabirds, which weigh about the same as a tennis ball, complete their journey from their winter home in Africa.

As well as Sandwich and common terns, the rarest and smallest seabird, the little tern, also breeds on the reserve.

By the end of July, 403 Sandwich tern chicks had been recorded in 788 nests, the highest productivity recorded since 2012.

The common terns arrived next and had 124 nests by the end of June. About 70 chicks fledged this year, the second highest productivity since 2011.

Feeding Sandwich tern. Picture:  National Trust - Ian WardFeeding Sandwich tern. Picture: National Trust - Ian Ward

Little terns were next, with 74 chicks from 108 nests, the most chicks fledged since 2011.

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National Trust ranger Leighton Newman said: "This year's success is probably down to good food supply, minimal predation of chicks by other animals and low disturbance throughout the season.

"We also saw large amounts of rain in June, which would normally be a critical time for tern chicks.

Little Tern. Picture:  National Trust - Ian WardLittle Tern. Picture: National Trust - Ian Ward

"The fact that Sandwich terns were slightly later to arrive this year meant these birds were still sitting on eggs and were able to weather the conditions, with the first chick hatching three days after the heavy rain.

"Sandwich terns also nested in a completely new location. Initial roosts were all focused on Far Point but then a secondary and bigger roost established in dunes with a colony of black-headed gulls. This meant the colony saw fewer disturbances from predators and were better situated for our team to keep watch."

He added: "Seeing the new chicks take their first flight is a great reward for everyone involved in looking after these plucky little seabirds.

"As the breeding season comes to an end, we're gradually watching them begin their migration back to Africa and we look forward to seeing them back here again next year."

Productivity is defined by the number of fledged chicks divided by the number of nests, which determines how successful the breeding year has been.

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