Monday, 25 April 2016

Black-winged Stilts at Manor Farm NR

Agh, it’s another desperately unimaginative blog post title, shamelessly designed to harvest google search hits. Sorry about that. Actually, I’m still recovering the power of speech after yesterday’s leggy lovelies. I have been wanting to see Black-winged Stilts for years. I’ve dipped them once and seen a ringed escape but that’s it. When I heard that a pair had been spotted yesterday morning at the Ouse Valley ParkManor Farm NR, on the north side of Milton Keynes, I had to give it a shot. It took me more than half an hour to figure out how to get there and my master plan was “if I get lost, I just head for the M1 (and home)”. Thankfully, it was surprisingly easing to find and after a brisk walk, I laid eyes on my first ever pair of elegant, wild, wonderful Black-winged Stilts. Cor, they’re striking! All angles and contrasts and flourishes. Just beautiful!




No sooner had I set up my scope than the pair flew together to a distant island and proceeded to go through the intimate behaviours of courtship and mating. I think my chin hit the floor at that moment! I hadn’t even had time to configure my camera properly but I was so pleased that I managed to capture something of the moment, slightly blurry and mildly out of focus but frozen for posterity nonetheless. I particularly loved how the male bird’s final gesture (accidental or otherwise) was his right wing placed around the female, as if offering a little post-coital reassurance.


Context for the mating sequence, hastily digiscoped from approx 150+ metres away



After that, the birds separated and were constantly on the move around the site. Eventually, I decided I’d walk around the southeast edge and see if I could get to one of the new hides. This turned out to be the best decision of the day. As I rounded the corner and approached a narrow inlet, I could see the male bird foraging. He was infinitely closer than before and it gave me the precious opportunity to digiscope some better photographs (the top image and the following 3 images were all taken at this location, photographed right). By this point, I reckon I was probably grinning from ear to ear. I stayed on site for more than an hour, enjoying the birds and what is a superb nature reserve. I wished I lived closer.








I hear today that the birds have not been seen and have likely headed off. Perhaps they’ve realised they overshot their destination and are backtracking to mainland Europe. It’s a shame they’re oblivious to the immense joy they brought to many a birder on a chilly Sunday in April. Here’s hoping they fair well wherever they end up.



The all important Stilt stats
  • The last Buckinghamshire sighting was in 1988 (1st summer pair @ Willen Lake, 7-18th June)
  • The last Hertfordshire sighting was in 1998 (adult @ Park Street Gravel Pit, 27-28th May)
“The birds' 'knees' are actually in their feathers so the middle bit of their legs is actually their ankles. Stilts' legs are so long that when they sit in the nest their ankles are above their heads!” (RSPB website)

Where they should be...

Distribution maps courtesy of HERE and Birdguides, HERE

13 comments:

  1. Great post Lucy of some stunning birds and some nicely captured photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Marc. They really did brighten up a dull, cold day.

      Delete
  2. Great post Lucy, not jealous one little bit................. errr...........well, maybe just a tad....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lol, thanks Steve. It makes a change from my pangs of jealousy for your hauls from Dungeness. You do find some wonderfully obscure species!

      Delete
  3. These are major shots Lucy, mating with those legs is a real ballet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautifully put, Si, and thank you. They live up to their Stilty name!

      Delete
  4. Home from Scotland and have just seen your blog - fantastic images Lucy. I saw my first B-W Stilt at Dunstable SF on 26th April 1991; they are very special birds indeed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome home, Dylan, and thank you! I don't think I know the Dunstable SF. Maybe the nearest I've got is the water treatment works at Houghton Regis, to see a Grey Phalarope. Love the irony of beautiful birds turning up in ugly places ;o)

      Delete
  5. Sorry for lack of comments Lucy have been away - in Majorca, where I also photographed these - and mating, and the draped wing after mating - so looks like thats normal behaviour! Cracking shots to get in the UK, I've not seen any here since Sammy - the long stayer at Titchwell in May 2001.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, no worries, Martin. Glad you've been exploring wildlife and wonders in sunnier climes, and thank you for your kind comments! It's really interesting to hear that you too observed the wing drape at the end of mating. With a sample of one, conclusions were tricky ;o).

      Delete
    2. Yes and have pics too - will post to Flickr when managed to finish processing them all.

      Delete