Nature has its way of surprising us, casting its spell with moments of rare beauty that leave us in awe. And this is exactly how I felt the moment I met a majestic Spoonbill, a bird rarely seen in the United Kingdom. There was much excitement in my RSPB group locally that this elegant visitor chose Joss Bay, Kent as its temporary abode. In this article, we delve into the rarity of Spoonbill sightings, explore fascinating facts about these birds, and celebrate the extraordinary event that unfolded at Joss Bay.
The Rarity of Spoonbill Sightings in the UK
Spoonbills are iconic birds known for their distinctive spoon-shaped bills and graceful presence. While they are more commonly found in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, spotting them in the UK is a truly extraordinary occurrence. These birds are such a rarity in the UK, with just 29 known breeding pairs in summer and sightings of 105 individuals over winter. This rarity sees them listed on Schedule 1 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act. Their appearances are sporadic and often associated with unusual weather patterns or navigation errors during migration.
Fascinating Facts about Spoonbills
- Unique Bill: The Spoonbill's bill is its most defining feature. Shaped like a spoon, it is an adaptive tool used for capturing small aquatic creatures by sweeping it through the water. As you can see in some of the photos, they were catching shrimps and then flicking them with the spoon of their bill into their gullet!
- Varying Colours: Due to their varied diet across the world, some spoonbills are pink, because a type of shrimp they eat has a carotenoid pigment called canthaxanthin, which turns their feathers pink just like flamingos and pelicans.
- Group Dynamics: Spoonbills are social birds that often gather in small colonies for breeding and feeding. Their synchronised movements while foraging create a captivating spectacle. I first saw Spoonbills on Texel, an island chain in North Holland and it was amazing to see this coordinated swooshing!
- Diverse Diet: These birds have a diverse diet that includes fish, crustaceans, insects, and aquatic plants. Their foraging behaviour involves wading in shallow waters and using their specialised bills to sift through mud and water to spoon their food and flick it down to feast on! This is why we've seen this bird at Joss Bay, as either side of the low tide there are plentiful pools on the chalk reef full of shrimps!
Joss Bay's Extraordinary Treat
The north coast of Thanet has become an unexpected place for an enchanting encounter with a Spoonbill. I'd seen someone mention a sighting in our RSBP local group on Thursday. I rushed over as soon as I’d seen the message, though 1.5 hours had passed since the person had shared they’d seen it, so I wasn't sure if I'd be there in time to see it.
At first, I stopped at Stone Bay and couldn't see it there and so carried on towards Joss Bay. I looked from the top, but I'd forgotten my binoculars and I couldn't see anything that looked like it.
And then, as luck would have it, as soon as I walked down to the chalk reef at Joss Bay I saw it! I couldn't believe it, it was right there so near the beach! I spent about half an hour watching it and within moments the rain started pouring down.
It was so liberating to enjoy the warm rain falling, such free range fun! As I was driving home, the dopamine rush started to fade and my mind switched to the rain, worrying if this would mean 💩 in the sea. For a moment, there was a sense of joy about the rain when I was absorbed in nature & it was pretty special to experience that, but also a stark reminder of how rain stirs up emotions, a sense of rising boundaries keeping us landlocked and knowing beautiful birds like this could be filtering for food in raw sewage. Fortunately, that rainfall didn't result in disaster!
Chance of a second sighting
The tide was close in and we couldn't see it anywhere and so grabbed breakfast at Joss Bay Cafe, but still no sign and we went home. About 4 hours later, there was another alert in the RSPB local group that someone had seen it and so we dashed over.
When we arrived, we scanned the foreshore towards Stone Bay but couldn't see it. Then Greg appeared around the headland and said he'd seen it fly more towards Kingsgate Bay. And so our mission redirected! From the distance, the chalk reef was families were joyfully exploring the rockpools wondering if it would have landed somewhere so busy.
I was blown away to see it nonchalantly feeding away maybe 10-20m from people and we were captivated by this elegant visitor for ages. We chatted with the families sharing the joy of this rare visitor to our shores and the bay's picturesque landscape towards Kingsgate made for some beautiful images and video today! We held out shooting as long as we could see the forecast stormy skies building and it was time to head home!
Celebrating Conservation and Biodiversity
Instances like the Spoonbill's appearance remind us of the importance of conserving natural habitats and protecting the delicate balance of biodiversity. Organisations like RSPB and BirdWise East Kent play a crucial role in advocating for the preservation of these rare and remarkable species.
The recent sighting of a Spoonbill at Joss Bay, Kent, is a testament to the magic that unfolds when nature decides to reveal its hidden gems. The rarity of the event, coupled with the grace and elegance of these birds, has captivates my heart and fuelled my curiosity about the natural world. As we continue to explore and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings, let us also be stewards of conservation, ensuring that future generations can also witness the wonder of such extraordinary moments.
If anyone wants to join the local RSPB Group, you can find out more about how here: https://group.rspb.org.uk/thanet/
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