Birdwatch: the Kentish plover – once a scarce migrant, now a real rarity

Some rare birds stay put for just a few hours; others stick around for months, or even years. But that doesn’t always make them easy to see.

Since a Kentish plover was first found in Somerset on Boxing Day 2019, it has been seen occasionally on Stert Island, opposite my coastal patch. It disappeared for the summer, then returned in October to spend the winter with a flock of ringed plovers. But at a distance, it can be very hard to pick out.

Following a recent, much closer sighting on the beach at Burnham-on-Sea, I headed down to look for the bird. At first, I drew a blank; but as the tide dropped, to reveal plenty of food-rich mud, it finally flew in.

The Kentish plover was noticeably paler than its commoner cousins, with a sandy-brown back, white underparts and a distinctive half-collar. It was also much smaller: compared with the heavyweight ringed plovers feeding alongside, it looked tiny.

Like so many other bird names, “Kentish” is a misnomer. It last bred in Britain in 1956, since then it has gone from being a scarce migrant to a real rarity. So to get such good views of this compact little wader, on a chilly December day, was a fine way to end a year necessarily spent close to home.

The Swallow: A Biography, by Stephen Moss, is published by Square Peg (GBP12.99). It is available through the Guardian Bookshop for GBP11.30.

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