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Summer of surprises see exotic visitors in British countryside

Bee-eaters, Keith Bowser
Bee-eaters, Keith Bowser

Summer is always an exciting time for wildlife lovers around the UK, as the days get longer and warmer, gardens, parks and nature reserves are brimming with an array of different birds up and down the country.

Summer 2017 has been a successful one with a few unlikely visitors nesting in the UK. Black-winged stilts, a graceful bird with long, bubblegum pink legs are beginning to colonise thanks to a joint effort by conservationists, meaning you may have had the chance to spot some this summer. Three pairs of this magnificent bird have raised nine chicks on RSPB nature reserves this year, making it by far the most successful breeding season for stilts in the UK.

Spoonbill flying, Andrew Francis
Spoonbill flying, Andrew Francis

The black-winged stilts were not the only birds to cause a stir this summer. Spoonbills are tall, white waterbirds with long spatulate black bills and long black legs. They have not regularly nested in the UK since the 1700s and are a real conservation concern. The RSPB believes that their troubles nesting are linked to not enough of the right habitats for them to feed and breed and water pollution, and drainage of wetlands .You won’t hear the spoonbills complaining about this though as they are silent birds who are also keen on equality; the males will collect the nest materials and the female will construct it. Spoonbills have been confirmed breeding for the first time on RSPB nature reserves in 2017 with one pair fledging three young at Fairburn Ings, and another two pairs raising one chick each on the Humber which appeared at Blacktoft Sands after fledging. This is the only UK breeding outside of the main colony in North Norfolk and the RSPB is delighted to see them spreading a little further afield.

Bee-eater, Tim Jones RSPB
Bee-eater, Tim Jones RSPB


Another rare treat to set the tail of any wildlife lover wagging this summer was the beautiful bee-eater. With their rich colours, slender bodies and long tail feathers, the exotic migrants flew into the UK at the end of June. Following a hazardous journey from southern Europe all the way to a quarry in Nottinghamshire, this striking bird has been visited by thousands of people over the last two months. The three nests were guarded around the clock but sadly, after hatching the chicks failed to fledge due to the poor weather.

Bee-eaters, Keith Bowser
Bee-eaters, Keith Bowser



Protecting rare nests is nothing new – in the RSPB’s earliest days watchers were employed to deter egg collectors and other miscreants from pilfering tern eggs on the Lancashire coast or snaffling pintail eggs at Loch Leven.

Perhaps the greatest story of the summer comes from the Avalon Marshes in Somerset, which continues to grow as the place to see herons in the UK. Around 11 pairs of great white egrets bred in the Avalon Marshes raising 13-18 chicks. This area is now being referred to by some RSPB staff in the South West as hosting the “National Heron Collection” as so many new species are settling there. This year they were joined by seven pairs of cattle egrets at Ham Wall, breeding for the first time in the UK since 2008.

All in all, summer 2017 has been filled with excitement and optimism across RSPB nature reserves and we have no doubt it won’t stop here. There is always something exciting to see wherever you are in the UK, to find out more about reserves closest to you and the creatures you might see there. Visit rspb.org.uk/reserves


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