Little gull - 8 on fresh marsh
Med gull - 2 on fresh marsh
Spotted redshank - 1 on fresh marsh
Osprey - 1 west @ 07:20
Red kite - 1 east @ 14:45
Hobby - 2 west
Red crested pochard - 5 on Patsy's reedbed
Little gull - 7 1st summer birds on fresh marsh
Short eared owl - 1 still present
Med gull - 2 adults high west over visitor centre
Hobby - 2 hunting hirundines over reserve
Black tailed godwit - 45 on fresh marsh this morning
'Sammy' the stilt by Marc Read
On July 31, 1993, a male black-winged stilt was found at Druridge Bay in Northumberland. He stayed there for almost two weeks, until August 16. Then, just two days later, what was undoubtedly the same bird turned up at the RSPB’s Snettisham reserve, where he remained until August 21. His last short flight around the coast from Snettisham to RSPB Titchwell Marsh turned out to be the start of an epic period for this black and white wader. The next twelve years – almost all of which he spent at Titchwell – turned him into arguably the most watched bird in Britain.
For most of the year, ‘Sammy’, as he became affectionately known, could be found walking around the lagoons in the company of the resident avocets and oystercatchers, or feeding in the saltmarsh creeks where he could be surprisingly hard to find. During the breeding season, he could often be seen pursuing the oystercatchers around the reserve in a bid to find a mate – it must have been their similar plumage that attracted him!
'Sammy' roosting with oystercatchers. Field sketch by Ray Kimber from is book Titchwell Tales
For a bird from the sunny climes of southern Europe, the winter months must have been an especially hard time. He always looked very lonely hunched up behind one of the islands on the brackish marsh, trying to keep out of the worst of the winter weather. He did occasionally wander away from the reserve, visiting Holme, Scolt Head and even back to Snettisham. Every time, though, he’d eventually return to Titchwell.
Of course, there will always be questions raised about his origin. Could a bird that was resident for such a long time really be wild? The answer is nobody really knows, although there have been many theories put forward over the years. Was he an escape from a bird collection? Was he one of the stilt family that bred at Holme in the late 1980s, returning home? Or was he simply a lost migrant from the Med?
Wherever Sammy came from, the reserve visitors always enjoyed him.
But Sammy was more than just a hit with the visitors and birdwatchers. He was a Marketing Department’s dream! Soon there were mugs, T-shirts, baseball caps and pin badges appearing in the reserve shop. Sammy made regular appearances in the birding magazines, and featured several times on local television. People grew so fond of him over the years that we even received chocolates and Christmas cards for him. Sammy never really was one for chocolate, though, but the reserve staff made sure the gifts didn’t go to waste…
On the May 21, 2005, Sammy was recorded sheltering behind some bushes on the saltmarsh. At the time, this was not thought to be a significant sighting. Unfortunately, though, it turned out to be the last time he was seen at Titchwell Marsh.
So, was Sammy the most watched bird in Britain? Well, the answer is probably yes. During his twelve-year residency at Titchwell Marsh, over 1.5 million people visited the reserve. The majority of these would have seen him gracing the lagoons. Few individual birds can lay claim to such status as that.
It was a sad day for many to hear of his disappearance, but I am sure that as an icon of RSPB Titchwell Marsh, he will not be forgotten.
During the 10 years since Sammy disappeared, the RSPB has been working hard around the UK creating new wetland habitats with a vision of having sites that would be ideal new species to colonise. The development of large wetland sites have benefited new species that have been expanding their range north from their southern European strongholds.
In the last few years, little bitterns and great white egrets have become established breeders at Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels, glossy ibis built the first ever in the UK at Frampton Marsh in 2014, spoonbills and little egrets are firmly established in East Anglia and in the last couple of years, black winged stilts have been arriving in larger numbers. This arrival of birds led to three pairs nesting on RSPB reserve in the south, 2 of which successfully raised young.
As reserves continue to establish and mature, who knows what else is waiting in the wings to start breeding in the UK.....
I think a flamingo colony on the fresh marsh would look rather smart