Country diary: dive-bombing avocets see off a hungry gull


Common whitethroats chatter from the tops of the yellow-tipped gorse bushes along the flood bank. A cuckoo calls in the distance. I raise my binoculars in the direction of the sound to see the long-tailed silhouette of the bird, quickly flapping its pointed wings, fly across the marsh. I pass parties of linnets – adult and young birds – flitting over the bramble bushes. Below the bank, in waterlogged ditches, I can hear the loud “squelch” sounds of common frogs.

I clamber down the bank and watch one particularly noisy ditch. At the base of the tall, green reeds, a large-eyed frog squats in the water. With each call, its cheek membranes swell out in shimmering, pale blue diaphanous bubbles. Another frog charges towards it and the two splash away among the reeds.

I walk on towards the glistening sea and reach the inland area of water known as the Stilt Pools. This is where gulls, wildfowl and waders gather throughout the year, and where, during the spring and summer, some waders breed – including black-winged stilts in 2014, hence the pools’ name. Avocets have also bred here every year since then, when the newly created wetland habitat started to attract them.

On a small, grassy island, I count nine of the slender black and white birds hunkered down on the ground on shallow nests. One avocet stands up, unfolding its long grey legs carefully, to reveal two fluffy chicks with grey backs and white underparts. The chicks wander round on their ungainly legs, but they quickly disappear back underneath the adult, which tenderly uses its slim, black upturned bill to prod them back into position before settling down again. Around the island, in the water, more avocets are preening or feeding using sweeping movements of their bills.

Suddenly, the air is filled with sharp piping calls. The avocets in the water fly up and join another already harassing a herring gull, which circles the island in hungry curiosity, but the gull soon flies off in the face of the dive-bombing onslaught. While I watch, the dainty birds tirelessly repel the unwanted attentions of more gulls and crows. One avocet even decides to noisily bombard a pair of innocent mute swans that happen to swim too close.


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