Sunday, 6 March 2011


There are some birds that are easily recognised from their names. The wheatear is one because of his white arse and the redshank is another because of his bright orange legs. Well , there are no whitearses on the Estuary at the moment but there is an abundance of orangelegs. I have just been watching many of them, not in a flock you understand but spread out along the mudbanks. They stride about pecking at sandhoppers and seaweed hardly slackening their pace. They turn out in large numbers for the month of March.

Shank for leg has an ancient Middle English ring to it. In the Thirteenth Century it was standard English. Edward I had the nickname Longshanks and the word has persisted to describe the 'leg' of an anchor, a fish hook, a wine glass and so on.

The "noisy, restless, redshank" is the master of silly walks. He makes John Cleese look as though he needs some practice. His flight is pretty crazy too, "swift and erratic," says Mr T A Coward. He makes a lot of noise which the birders consistently write as tewk. In some localities, not here I think, he is said to answer to the echoic name of Tewk or Tewkie but Redshank is such a good name he hardly needs another.

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