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Eggs-ploring the Norfolk coast

PUBLISHED: 08:05 05 May 2014 | UPDATED: 09:01 06 May 2014

A colourful shingle beach at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, there are some birds eggs in the foreground.

A colourful shingle beach at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, there are some birds eggs in the foreground.

©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Eggs are synonymous with Easter. These days it's all about the chocolate variety. But, like so many things, inspiration came from nature.

Two birds pictured on a grassy area at Blakeney Point. They have grey feathers, white necks, a black head and an orange beak.Two birds pictured on a grassy area at Blakeney Point. They have grey feathers, white necks, a black head and an orange beak.

As spring gets underway the birds of Blakeney Point will be getting ready to lay their eggs. Throughout April our signature birds, the sandwich terns arrive, having migrated from western Africa. After courtship displaying, they settle down and lay their eggs on the shingle. By early May, several thousand sandwich terns will be incubating their clutches of one or two eggs. Last year saw a bumper year of 4,100 nesting pairs and 2,000 fledglings. Typically over the past 10 years there have been about 3,000 nesting pairs every year, with the numbers building gradually year-on-year. Sometimes the number of fledglings is nearer to the number of breeding pairs, such as 2006 when there were 950 pairs and 820 fledglings.

On Blakeney Point there are never more chicks than parents. There are various reasons – other birds such as black headed gulls will steal fish from the sandwich terns and take them to feed their own chicks. You can see them snatching the fish out of the bills of the sandwich terns.

The birds live in west Africa (around Senegal) during our winter and then come to Blakeney Point for our summer. In June last year the rangers at Blakeney carried out a ringing project and hope to monitor those birds this summer. Last winter there were sightings in Holland, Denmark, France and Germany as the birds left for Africa. They will be ringing more this year too. Each chick has a unique three letter code to identify it. The findings so far indicate that some of the terns head east before going south, which is not what the rangers were expecting to find. They are still following their movements to see exactly how they return back to the Point.

You’re most likely to encounter oystercatchers if you visit at this time of year. The large black-and white wading birds with distinctive long, orange bills and pink legs also lay their eggs on the shingle. They lay two to four large speckled brown eggs, perfectly camouflaged from large gulls flying overhead that are partial to eggs for breakfast. Throughout May and June, visitors landing by boat will encounter these birds and their eggs as they walk towards the Lifeboat House, carefully roped off by the rangers to prevent them being trampled on. Oystercatchers benefit from nesting in busy areas as people will scare off large gulls, reducing the chances of losing their eggs to them. But if they are kept off their nests too long they will abandon them, so if visiting please have a quick look and then move on.

A wide panoramic view across a sandy beach area towards the sea where boats are anchored at Blakeney Point, NorfolkA wide panoramic view across a sandy beach area towards the sea where boats are anchored at Blakeney Point, Norfolk

Eggs less likely to be encountered by visitors and even the rangers, are those of grey partridges. In the past there would be one or two pairs on the Point, but over the past few years, numbers have increased to nine and their chicks seem to be enjoying a good survival rate. Grey partridges can lay more than 20 eggs in their well-hidden nests among the undergrowth.

Up in the eaves of the Old Lifeboat House, and indeed many places on the mainland, swallows make their nests out of mud and grass. Having migrated from Africa, they lay four to five eggs. In a good year they can raise three broods of young. Once hatched, the parents can be seen busily feeding insects to their hungry chicks. A good place to see this is at the Information Centre on Morston Quay where the seal trips leave from.

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