Big Bird Is Back in Britain – Twice Over! – ShukerNature

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Big Bird Is Back in Britain – Twice Over! – ShukerNature

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Exquisite
1860s illustrations of the common crane (left) and the white stork (right), two
spectacular species making very welcome returns to Britain as re-establishing breeding
birds (public domain)

There hasn’t been a great deal to be
thankful for in 2020, but on the ornithological front Great Britain has two
very notable reasons to consider this year a favourably memorable one. This is due to the very welcome return as potentially re-establishing
UK breeding birds of two very sizeable, spectacular species. Veritable Big
Birds of Sesame Street stature, in fact, at least when compared to most other feathered members of the British fauna, they were both formerly native here, but until now have been conspicuous only by their continued absence from our
shores for several centuries, except as non-breeding vagrant visitors.

So what better way to end this dismal
year than on an avian high, by documenting these two very significant success
stories here as my final blog article for 2020 on ShukerNature.

 

CRANING FOR ATTENTION

A bird
that commands attention for the simple fact that, at over 4 ft tall and
sporting a wingspan of up to 8 ft across, it is difficult to overlook is the
common crane Grus grus – and for
especially good reason lately.

This
is because, after having been exterminated in Britain by hunting and habitat
destruction several centuries ago, during the 1600s, this stately long-necked
species has recently made a dramatic comeback here, and for two wholly separate reasons.

 
Common
cranes, painted by Edward Neale, 1890s (public domain)

Firstly,
in 1979 a few individuals from mainland Europe returned to their former wetland
homeland in Norfolk in eastern England and began to breed, gradually increasing
their numbers during the next 40 years.

Secondly,
conservation work to improve wetlands elsewhere in England eventually
encouraged this greatly-welcomed prodigal bird to spread further afield too.

 

In
April 2020, the UK Crane Working Group was pleased to announce that crane
numbers in Britain have reached their highest number for more than 400 years,
with 56 breeding pairs here last year and 26 chicks successfully reared.

So if
this very positive trend continues, with crane numbers increasing still further
and its geographical range continuing to expand, it seems likely that before
very much longer, wildlife enthusiasts in the UK may not have to crane their
own necks too hard in order to catch sight of this elegant bird here once
again.

 

STORKING A PLACE IN HISTORY

With
the common crane gradually re-establishing itself in Britain after having previously
died out here back in the 1600s, I’m delighted to say that another tall, equally
spectacular bird is seeking to do the same after an even longer absence.

Standing
up to 4 ft tall and boasting a wingspan of up to 7 ft, the white stork Ciconia ciconia is last known to have successfully
nested in the UK way back in 1416, when a pair did so at St Giles’ Cathedral in
Edinburgh. Since then, this famous species has been but a rare non-breeding visitor to
Britain from continental Europe – until last year, that is.

 
Adult
male (left) and juvenile (right) white storks, painted by M.A. Koekkoek, from Ornithologia Neerlandica, Vol. 1, by
E.D. van Oort, 1868 (public domain)

Founded
in 2016 by a partnership of private landowners and nature conservation
charities, the White Stork Project operates in three localities in Surrey and
West Sussex, southern England, and using a series of injured storks from Poland that cannot fly
far it hopes to re-establish the species as a breeding bird here.

In
2019, one of its females plus an unringed, possibly wild stork visiting from
the continent paired up, built a nest in a tree within the Knepp Castle Estate,
West Sussex, and laid some eggs, but tragically they failed to hatch.

 

As all
storks do, this pair then spent the winter in warmer, African climes, but they
returned to the same estate this spring, built a nest in a tree near to the one
that they used last year, the female laid some eggs again – and this time, in
early May, they hatched!

The
White Stork Project is naturally delighted, and hopes that this
much-anticipated event will herald the beginning of the breeding pair’s stately
species staking its much-deserved place in Britain’s natural history once more. The Project’s aim is to restore a population of at least 50 breeding pairs
of white storks in southern England by 2030.

 
A
gorgeous painting of white storks from Richard Crossley’s The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland (© Richard
Crossley/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

 

Today, 31 December 2020, marks the 126th
anniversary of the birth of my maternal grandmother, Gertrude Timmins, who
passed away at the age of 99 in April 1994. I can still vividly remember Nan
telling me when I was a youngster that once, while on a guided tour somewhere
in Great Britain during the early 1900s, she saw an unusual bird that the guide
identified as a crane. From her description of it, the bird seemed too small
for such a species, but she stressed that the guide had insisted that it was
indeed a crane. So who knows, maybe it was – a juvenile straggler, perhaps, a
lonely stranger on the shore, like so many of us are.

 
Nan
with my Jack Russell terrier Patch during the mid/late 1970s (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Happy birthday, Nan – how I wish that
you, Mom, and all of my family were here with me to celebrate your big day
today, and to greet the New Year all together tomorrow.

 

Wishing all of my ShukerNature readers a
very happy, healthy 2021, and hoping that it will inspire me to prepare and post many exciting new blog articles here on ShukerNature!

 
Common
cranes portrayed in another breathtakingly beautiful painting from Richard
Crossley’s The Crossley ID Guide Britain
and Ireland
(© Richard Crossley/Wikipedia –
CC BY-SA 3.0 licence)

 

  Source: The Anomalist

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