Spoonbills

Author Ronnie Reed

spoonbill / Sophie May Lewis

spoonbill / Sophie May Lewis

To the bemusement of some of the children out with us down here at the Seven Sisters last week, the small group from the education team who were leading them got rather excited at the sight of two small unidentified white blobs just discernable as birds across the river valley. We were on our way down to the beach with a group of eleven year olds, when Colin, one of my eagle eyed, keen birder volunteers, spotted two white birds coming into land at the far end of the salt water lagoon that lies just behind the scrape that runs the length of our shingle beach.

We knew that a pair of spoonbills had been identified in this area a few days earlier and cameras had joined lunch boxes and flasks as essential equipment in everyone’s rucksack. Some of the team here had turned up enthusiastically during their free time to walk down to the coast in the hope of seeing them.

The nearest looking thing in flight to a spoonbill is an egret and we have an impressive number of little egrets on the park. However, unlike a heron or egret the spoonbill flies with its neck stretched forward which makes its wings look stiff and as these two birds came into land with almost flat wings they definitely looked different from an egret gliding in with bowed wings.

Once on the ground these beautiful, ridiculous looking birds are unmistakeable with their huge spoon-shaped bills sweeping through the water looking for small fish, crustaceans, worms and molluscs. Numerous nerve endings in the beak enable the spoonbill to detect the slightest vibrations in the water and it probably detects its prey this way rather than by sight. The brackish water of our lagoon provides a perfect restaurant for these rare but welcome visitors.

spoonbills in flight / Sergey Yeliseev

spoonbills in flight / Sergey Yeliseev

Spoonbills are recorded along coastal sites in the northwest and southwest of England and in East Anglia. Monitoring of these birds in Norfolk has shown that some are coloured ringed and they can be traced from Holland, Germany and Spain. In 2010 the first British breeding colony in three hundred years was established at Holkham National Nature Reserve in Norfolk and they returned again last year to successfully fledge 14 young.

Now there’s a thought; we did spot two. A pair!!!??

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