21/07/2014
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Sussex Black-winged Stilts have fledged

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One of the three Black-winged Stilts that have fledged at Medmerry RSPB, West Sussex. Photo: www.RSPB-photos.com.
One of the three Black-winged Stilts that have fledged at Medmerry RSPB, West Sussex. Photo: www.RSPB-photos.com.
Three Black-winged Stilt chicks that hatched on Friday 13 June in West Sussex were not unlucky at all – they have beaten the odds and fledged successfully.

The stilt family at Medmerry RSPB have been seen flying together on the reserve, which has yet to open to the public. RSPB staff and volunteers have been keeping their fingers crossed that the birds would survive to the stage where they can fly, particularly as three stilt chicks which hatched at Cliffe Pools RSPB, Kent, around the same time did not survive.

RSPB volunteers Sam and Sandra Hill, from Selsey, saw the chicks in flight on Wednesday. “We saw two of the stilt chicks walking about on very rough ground,” Sam said. “One chick flew about 10 metres and then landed. Then we saw other two take off and fly about 100 m, when the other chick flew up to join them.”

The Medmerry Black-winged Stilt chicks are the first to fledge successfully in Britain since 1987, when a pair of the Mediterranean wader species raised chicks to adulthood in Norfolk. This is only the third successful breeding ever in the country.

The RSPB organised a 24-hour watch on the Medmerry nest between 22 May and 13 June. In total 34 volunteers at Medmerry covered more than 260 hours on watch to protect the eggs from thieves.

“It’s fantastic news that the birds have successfully fledged and that all the efforts of the volunteers and staff have paid off,” said Mark Thomas, RSPB spokesperson on rare breeding birds. “This species might become a regular breeder in the near future but the first steps towards colonisation are really important.”

“We have worked very hard to create the right habitats for wading birds like the stilts and this is evidence that we have been successful,” Pete Hughes, another RSPB spokesperson, said. “The stilts which arrived in this country earlier this year chose RSPB reserves [on which] to breed, which shows that the work we have done has paid dividends.”

Black-winged Stilt is a slender black and white wader with long reddish pink legs, usually found in the Mediterranean region. They nest on wetlands and feed on insects, which they pick from the surface of the water or forage for in shallow mud. It is thought that a dry spell in southern Spain earlier this year may have displaced the birds to southern Britain, though a few breed just across the English Channel in northern France, too. It is believed that a changing climate may mean they may become more frequent here in future.

The award-winning coastal realignment site near Chichester, was created by both the RSPB and the Environment Agency (EA), and is the newest reserve established by the charity. It was created between 2011 and 2013 by the EA primarily as a flood risk management scheme and consists of mudflats, tidal lagoons, saltmarsh, wildlife-friendly farmland and dragonfly-rich ditches. The reserve is not due to open formally to the public until this autumn, once the paths, car parks and landscaping are complete, but until then some of the paths are open in an unfinished state.
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