The Trouble With Cumbrian And Lancastrian Storks

On the way to watch Barrow secure their Football League status for another season I stopped off at High Carley to do a breeding bird survey in the tetrad SD2675. It’s a nice rural square and when I’ve done the two transects I also get to check an out of the way expanse of water called Burkine Tarn.

I hadn’t got very far when I saw an odd looking bird on a marshy area off Green Lane I check for Mallard and Moorhens. Raising my bins I saw it was a White Stork, as the phone shot below just about shows.

The only storks that should turn up in this scenario in spring should be migrants headed for the Continent that overshoot and go too far north before reorienting. What we’ve actually had over the years in Cumbria and Lancashire are generally:

  • A couple of birds, both ringed and unringed, wandering from Harewood House in Leeds (these may have died now)
  • Several birds free flying at South Lakes Animal Park in Dalton which have been allowed to roam the local area and which again are both a mixture of the ringed and unringed
  • Increasingly birds from a reintroduction in Knepp, West Sussex which have wandered this far up the country, these are invariably ringed with large blue coded colour rings

The bird on my BBS survey will be from the Animal Park, as it isn’t far as the stork soars. Even closer to the Animal Park is Standing Tarn on the outskirts of Dalton-in-Furness. I stopped off here and the stork in the header picture was present, it could be the same individual but it’s equally likely to be another bird on day release.

If you look closely at the header picture you may think ‘that bird isn’t ringed, how does he know it’s from the zoo’. Putting basic probability to one side the reddish dust seems to be from their enclosure, though given they are now nesting on the roof of the vulture cage presumably some of them don’t spend that much time at ground level in the zoo grounds. A bird at Glasson Dock a couple of years ago had this reddish tinge and presumably had wandered across Morecambe Bay on an extended period AWOL.

Several of the Knepp birds wandered into Cumbria and Lancashire the other week, seen in flight first but then on the ground where their rings were read. As these are part of a reintroduction project some people think they have a bit more cache and legitimacy than the birds at the Animal Park. But to paraphrase what Alan Tilmouth said to me on Twitter today, if storks are nesting in Dalton the situation isn’t that different to what’s being done at Knepp. In both cases a former breeder in Britain could establish itself again, in one case deliberately and in the other almost by accident.

I am not going to go as far as to say I don’t want the reintroduction project at Knepp to work, I genuinely wish them well with their endeavours. Being honest it’s quite the distraction to have a stork on your WeBS count or Breeding Bird Survey, a bit of jam to go with the bread and butter birds. But all of that notwithstanding I’d rather the various circuses weren’t in town, and a flyover White Stork could be enjoyed as a rare treat and an insight into the wonders of migration patterns forged over time.

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