Dutch Spoonbills flying the flag

 Dutch Spoonbills flying the flag

In early November 2007, 7 Spoonbills were reported from Wacker Quay, near Torpoint on the River Lynher, a tributary of the River Tamar in Cornwall. This is a regular wintering area for between one and three birds but seven is unprecedented. On 10th November, I led a birdwatching cruise on the Rivers Tamar and Lynher and found 6 of the birds together in Shillingham Creek, but the views were rather distant. However it appeared that two Spoonbills were sporting yellow leg flags and colour rings indicating they were of Dutch origin. If close enough views were obtained, the colour combination would enable the birds origin and life histories to be discovered. The 7th bird, an adult was on its own at Wacker Quay.

On the 25th November 2007 another birdwatching cruise with 70 people on board, obtained excellent views of 6 Spoonbills feeding together on the rising tide near Wacker. On two birds the yellow leg flags could be clearly seen, but the movement of the boat made it difficult to clearly see the other colour rings. Several photos were taken in the hope of fully identifying these birds later.

Then the detective work began. Back at home, I checked the internet and contacted Otto Overdijk of the International Spoonbill Working Group in Holland who confirmed they were Dutch birds. Photos taken by Nick Tomalin and Andy Nicholas were digitally enhanced showing that both birds were juveniles and indicated that Bird 1 carried metal/green/yellow flag on left leg and yellow/blue/red on the right. (Photograph A). Bird 2 showed light green/yellow/metal on the left and yellow flag/light green/red on the right leg. (Photograph B) These were emailed to Otto who was able to confirm the identity of the birds and provide their life histories.

Bird 1 was ringed as a nestling on 21 May 2007, on the island of Schiermonnikoog, the northern most inhabited island in the Dutch Wadden Sea and a National Park. It was seen again 64 days later at Lauwersmeer, another National Park 14 km to the south of Schiermonnikoog. Its next sighting wasn’t until it arrived on the River Lynher having travelled a distance of nearly 800 km.

Bird 2 was ringed, again as a nestling at Onderdijk on the west bank of the IJsselmeer on 6 June 2007. By the end of the month it moved to Den Oever, 21 km to the north west where it was seen on numerous occasions until 2 October. Its next sighting was on the River Lynher, having travelled 694 km.

It is interesting that these birds have come from breeding colonies 100 km apart, yet have homed in on the River Lynher as a wintering site. It is also interesting to speculate the origin of the remaining birds but they are probably of Dutch origin. The majority of the Dutch population winter much further south, in southern Spain or Portugal, many venturing even further, into West Africa. Hopefully, they’ll remain for more people to enjoy on the next bird watching cruise on 9 December (see Cornwall Birding website for details).

Thanks to Otto Overdijk and the International Spoonbill Working Group for their help in preparing this note.


Photograph A – Bird 1 by Andy Nicholas Photograph B – Bird 2. by Andy Nicholas
  Spoonbills on River Lynher, Cornwall on 25th November 2007. Bird 1 is second from the left
and Bird 2 on the right. Photograph by Andy Nicholas