Tall and elegant versus short and squat

A study in black-and-white: a black-winged stilt, with an avocet and black-headed gulls.

A study in black-and-white: a black-winged stilt, with an avocet and black-headed gulls.

When it comes to graceful elegance, black-winged stilts take some beating. They’re unusual visitors to the UK, but there has been an abnormal influx this spring. As I’d been unable to go to see any of them, I thought I’d missed an opportunity.

Last week the news broke that two pairs had nested and were nursing eggs, and the RSPB was mounting 24-hour watches to guard both of them. Having missed a break in Norfolk owing to ill health, I determined to use an extra day off to go and see one of the pairs – so on Friday morning I was at Cliffe Pools, near Rochester in Kent.

Not always elegant...

Just occasionally, the line between ‘elegance’ and ‘awkwardness’ seemed a bit thin, especially when coming on or off the nest.

They are, indeed, stunning birds – even if they were on an island that was just a little too distant for good photography! I had wondered how easy it is for a bird to live on top of such disproportionately long legs – and the answer seemed to be, ‘sometimes with difficulty’… getting either on or off the nest seemed a rather awkward operation!

They’ve nested among some avocets which probably gives them some protection against gulls and other potential predators.

Black-winged stilts at Cliffe Pools

Black-winged stilts at Cliffe Pools

Update 15 June: the stilt chicks have now hatched! Go here.

As seems to happen quite often on birding trips, the best photographs were not of the target species… this time there was an obliging whitethroat which was very showy.

Whitethroat at Cliffe Pools

Whitethroat at Cliffe Pools

A totally unexpected treat, though, was an astonishingly beautiful song that emerged from deep within a nearby bush. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t recognise that it belonged to a nightingale until the RSPB warden referred to it later… but a little while later, as I was leaving, it gave another rousing performance – before nipping across the path in front of me.

A local birding friend, Angie Hill, has recently been posting some impressive photos of marsh frogs, which are frequenting a pool in Grimley. I therefore had a go myself on Sunday evening. They were generally very alert to any approach that was too close, but one frog in particular sat close enough for a decent portrait.

Marsh frog in Grimley: you could say he's handsome in a froggy way, but elegant he's not.

Marsh frog in Grimley: you could say he’s handsome in a froggy way, but elegant he’s not.

Update on the stilts here: sad news about the stilt chicks at Cliffe, but good news about those breeding elsewhere in the UK.

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