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When is a spotted redshank not red?

spotted redshank /  Ferran Pestańa
spotted redshank / Ferran Pestańa
Author Sue Curnock

Nature Tots Officer, leafing bemusedly through our field guides, as our bird watching tour of Sussex reached Pagham Harbour nature reserve. It looks like a redshank... moves like a redshank… but its shanks are black? Course leader Mike Russell ‘Bird Brain of Britain’ to the rescue: Did you know that the’s legs turn from red to black with its dark summer plumage? No, but we do now; one more birding nugget inwardly digested and stored away in the memory banks. Mystery solved.

As we watched the black tailed godwits sunning themselves on the river bank, suddenly one was spooked and the whole group went up, brilliant white flashes revealing as one, as they wheeled back and forth in a seemingly choreographed display. A mesmerising sight, just stunning!

Next we spotted some highly comical coot chicks which look nothing like their parents – all red fluffy feathers and, I’m sorry to say, strong contenders for the ‘ugly duckling’ crown.

By the reed bed we had a go at differentiating the song of the reed warbler (bouncy and rhythmic) from the sedge warbler (rasping, urgent and erratic). My bird song knowledge is woefully inadequate, but I enjoyed a brief moment of triumph when I got the reed warbler right. I also heard my first Cetti’s warbler, now a UK resident (stays here all year round) with an unusually loud barking song for such a small bird. We heard a well hidden cuckoo and just as we were bemoaning never actually seeing one, it flew up right across our path – Yesss!

Down to the tidal salt marsh with the telescope to see 18 cormorants gathered on the bank. A little tern was fishing low over the water, making the most of the incoming tide’s ‘fly through’ restaurant. And to cap it all a pair of great crested grebes was displaying right on cue. Tick.Tick.Tick!

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coot / dave-kilbey

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