Sand martins check in for summer

The first sand martins of the season have arrived back at WWT Washington Wetland Centre and have shown early interest in a new nesting bank.

The artificial bank, which has space for one hundred nesting pairs, was built in October last year in anticipation of the migratory birds’ return this spring.

Visitors have already started seeing sand martin flying around the east end of the reserve’s Wader Lake, with some spotted perched around several of the openings. Some birds have even been photographed inside the chambers, with fantastic views being had from the recently opened Vic Robins hide.

Sandmartin checking out sandmartin bank - Ian Hamilton - Sunday 31 March 966x635 3.jpg

Sand martins (Riparia riparia) – the smallest of the European hirundine family, which includes swallows and house martins – typically hunt and feed over the site’s Wader Lake in spring. They’ve previously been noted attempting to dig natural nesting chambers nearby in the sandy banks of the River Wear, but with no success.

It’s hoped that the newly introduced artificial bank - made from cavity blocks fitted with nesting tubes - will provide the perfect conditions for the species to finally settle and breed on the site for the first time in the site’s 49-year history.

Reserve Manager John Gowland said:

“Sand martins are one of the first spring migrants to arrive on our reserve each breeding season and are a favourite with our visitors and members.

“We’ve tried several things to encourage sand martin to nest around Wader Lake in the past, including reshaping a section of the bank to create a naturally vertical wall. However, we now know the soil type wasn’t quite right for them.

“We’re hopeful the introduction of the new artificial bank will see some success for the species, and these early sightings are very encouraging. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that some choose to settle and breed here.”

Sandmartin checking out sandmartin bank - Ian Hamilton - Sunday 31 March 966x635.jpg

The sand martin bank is part of on-going habitat management around Wader Lake, which over the last three years has already benefitted from desilting work, deepened water channels and more effective vegetation management.

This work is to improve the area for a variety of wildlife, whilst creating a more enhanced wildlife viewing experience for visitors to enjoy while at Washington Wetland Centre.

Visitor images: Top © Christopher Bill / Others © Ian Hamilton

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