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Rare avocet sighted at Montrose Basin in Scotland

Visitors to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve in Angus have gone all twitchy over a new arrival. A rare and highly distinctive bird, a single avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), not normally seen in Scotland, has been spotted on the reserve.

photo credit: John Anderson

Often synonymous with bird conservation, the avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) has been extinct in the UK in the mid 19th Century. But since 1947 it has been colonising areas of wetland on the south and east coast of England. Sightings north of the border are still rare and birders are unsure as to the reason why, firstly this bird has turned up in Angus, and secondly, why it has at this time of year.

Neil Mitchell, SWT’s Montrose Basin Ranger said: “What makes this sighting unusual is not just that the bird is rarely seen here but also this is not the normal time of year you would expect it. You have to wonder why this has happened. Although it would seem that this bird has taken a wrong turn at some point, breeding records are suggesting that the avocet is moving northwards.

“It may be that changing climates will mean that the avocet will continuing to expand its range and sightings could become more frequent in Scotland. The nearest wintering areas for the species are on the most southerly of English coastal estuaries so this is quite a detour.”

The avocet is included on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern due to its localised distribution in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. It is also afforded special protection at all times under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Famous as the emblem for the RSPB, the bird has a unique upturned bill, long blue legs and eye-catching black and white colouring making it familiar even amongst non-birdwatchers. The bird is sometimes known as the “cobbler’s awl” because of its unusually shaped bill which it uses to feed with a busy sweeping action.

As Mitchell continues, the single avocet seems to be thriving amongst the flocks of waders on SWT’s wildlife reserve since its arrival on 8 January and has stayed far longer than expected: “Most avocets that have been sighted in Scotland have only lingered for 1 – 2 days, this bird has been with us for over two weeks so this isn’t a flying visit. Whatever the reason for its arrival, we are delighted to see it here at Montrose Basin and let’s hope this is the first visit of many in the future.”

Also present on the reserve since 10 November 2007, is an American wader, the lesser yellowlegs, which is rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic.

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