Breeding gulls and avocets makes this a great time to visit Martin Mere

It's impossible not to see our black-headed gulls at this time of year. There are over 500 pairs currently breeding on islands in the mere and many have already hatched young. The colony makes a lot of noise and you can experience this best at the Discovery Hide, where you should also be able to pick out some of the youngsters.

Nesting in amongst the gulls are around 15 pairs of avocets, some of which have also already produced young. While the black–headed gulls can be seen year-round at Martin Mere, the avocets spend the winter further south, either on the estuaries and wetlands of the south west, or even further south in France and the Iberian Peninsula.

With its contrasting black and white plumage, long legs and upturned bill, the avocet is one of Britain’s most striking and elegant-looking birds. You may see it moving its bill side to side through the water, which it does to filter out small invertebrates on which it feeds.

Avocets frequently nest in and around black-headed gull colonies, as the gulls provide added protection for them against marauding crows, birds of prey and larger gulls. However, the avocets need to be watchful, as the black-headed gulls themselves are not averse to dining out on an unguarded avocet egg. Some predation always occurs but, in the wider scheme of things, the added protection the avocets get from nesting beside the black-headed gulls is worth a few eggs going to them.

Also nesting around the black-headed gulls are three pairs of common terns and a small number of Mediterranean gulls. Keep your eyes peeled when looking through the gulls as you may see these birds too. It’s also always worth checking through all the birds on the reserve at this time of year, as almost anything can turn up. Last week provided a good example of this as two spoonbills arrived. Who knows what else may turn up in the next week or so?

Photo credit: Nick Brooks

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