Posted 21st Feb 2018
One of the earliest signs of spring will be provided by the sight of the delicate sand martin
One of our first summer migrants to return to our shores, these tiny fliers have spent the winter in the Sahel region, just south of the Sahara, and head north across the desert to arrive back with us by early March.
The sight of a sand martin flying low over the water of a gravel pit of river and the sound of their buzzing calls is one of the first signs of spring for many of us.
Unlike both their house martin and swallow cousins, sand martins nest in burrows which they excavate in sandy banks and cliffs, forming dense colonies. Throughout the spring, these colonies will be buzzing with the comings and goings of sand martins, as they raise their young, feeding them on tin flying insects such as gnats and mosquitoes which the adults catch on the wing, hawking back and forth over the water.
By the end of the summer, the young birds have fledged, and sand martins gather together with other swallows and martin, ready to make the great journey back south again for the winter.
How to do it
Sand martins will be easily recognised by the combination of pale brown upperparts with white underparts and an obvious brown chest band. House martins and swallows are glossy blue-black above and don't have the chest band.
If you are unable to get to the places listed below...sand martins will be a common sight throughout the country. Look for them around gravel pits, reservoirs and large rivers.
Several Wildlife Trusts have built artificial nesting cliffs on their reserves to encourage sand martins to nest. The excavated sand mountain at Wood Lane, Shropshire is a fantastic nesting place for sand martins, with up to 500 pairs nesting each year.
Cambridgeshire, Grafham Water
Denbighshire, Gors Maen Llwyd (Llyn Brenig
Kent, Reculver Country Park
Lincolnshire, Deeping Lakes
Lincolnshire, Far Ings
Lincolnshire, Whisby Nature Park
Rutland, Rutland Water Egleton Reserve
Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of Barry Dean