Sunday, 4 June 2017
It's not often you get the chance to see something really special- let alone in such an intimate setting. I was one of the lucky volunteers and staff at Welney to watch over a pair of Black-winged Stilts, as they settled down to nest on the reserve. I spent three evenings sitting in a truck studying the birds, and held my breath every time they left the nest, fearing that one of the nearby gulls would take advantage of an easy meal.
In fact the stilts seemed most alarmed by Coots, and would crane forward, bill towards the threat, every time a Coot blundered too close.
The prospective parents swapped brooding duties every hour or so, and while one bird sat, the other would feed and preen on a small splash nearby.
Neither bird ever truly relaxed when I was watching, there was always something to shake them from their ease, despite the warm sleep-inducing evening sun. A hare or Pheasant would pass by, and the sitting bird would stretch up and look intently on until danger receded, and then a quick preen of the chest, perhaps a turn of the eggs or just a change of alignment on the nest- sometimes facing east, sometimes north, south or west, I documented how long the stilts sat in each position to see if I could see a pattern. I had wondered if the Sun's position in the sky might be the factor determining how the stilts sat- but one study of one nest does not a paradigm make.
It seems that all the eggs hatched over the last weekend, but none of the chicks made it through the week. After a brief period where the adults shepherded their brood among the rushes and bugle, something happened, and the pair flew off onto the main reserve with nothing to show for their efforts.
At least they tried, and with the occurrence of this elegant species becoming more frequent, and breeding attempts from all over the country in recent years, we may yet see the stilt become a regular British bird. Brexit means nothing to them.