FOR sheer elegance and poise, there’s one bird that never fails to impress, and the good news is that this avian star is now gracing Inverclyde’s shores, writes David Carnduff.
The little egret, a type of heron, has gradually been expanding its UK range northwards and now has a foothold in the Clyde area.
This snowy white, long-legged beauty stalks waterside margins with calculated precision and balance, ready to spear unsuspecting prey with its dagger beak.
I first encountered little egrets many moons ago on a trip to Majorca where the species’s dazzling white plumage is beautifully offset by the deep blue of the Mediterranean.
Since then, they have gradually spread north throughout Europe and are now fairly regular sights in shallow bays around the Clyde. However, it was still a surprise to see one at Inverkip beach on a day in mid-November when the weather was more Baltic than Mediterranean.
Then I had another sighting of what was probably the same bird at Lunderston Bay a week later.
Egrets sport extravagant plumes which were eagerly sought as hat decorations for fashionable women in the 19th century.
As a result, the species’ population plummeted until laws were introduced to protect them and this led to the creation of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).
Meanwhile, Inverclyde has witnessed the northward expansion of another charismatic bird, the nuthatch, which inhabits mature woodlands.
It has the uncanny knack of being able to run head first down tree trunks and hang upside down from twigs and branches in its restless quest for food.
A good place to watch for them is the woodland at Ardgowan and they may even make fleeting visits to gardens where bird food is available — so keep a look out for them. About the size of a great tit, they are grey blue above with chestnut flanks.
While we celebrate the arrival of little egrets and nuthatches here in Inverclyde, further afield there was welcome news this summer that white storks had bred successfully in the UK for the first time in 600 years.
These large, charismatic birds, which are common in much of Europe, bred at the Knepp rewilding project in Sussex, fulfilling long held hopes that one day they would return to raise chicks in the UK. The last known breeding in the UK was on the spire of St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1416.
In folklore, of course, the stork is famed for bringing babies to new parents and in many parts of Europe — where they are considered to be good omens — they are encouraged to breed on towers, chimneys and rooftops.
Their return to breed in Britain symbolises a new optimism for nature’s wellbeing which is being driven by an upsurge in ambitious rewilding projects.
One of the aims is to reintroduce birds and animals driven to extinction in the UK through hunting and habitat loss.
All this is especially welcome as connecting with nature is now being widely promoted as an effective antidote to mental health issues, particularly during these difficult months of the pandemic.
So what of the future? Perhaps other species from the south will arrive to make Inverclyde their home, but I guess it will be a long time before we see storks building nests on our roofs, chimneys and church spires.