Tuesday 29 June 1915, New Romney
After work I bicycled down to the sands and thence along the foreshore as far as the range of low dunes. Among the scattered flotsam that marked the high-water level of the last tide, my eye caught sight of two tiny moving objects. Had they been going in the right direction it would have been easy to mistake them for the hollow egg cases of some fish, stirred by the breeze, but as it was I knew them for young Kentish for their parents were already piping and purring anxiously in the offing and commencing their wiles to attract the ‘unbirdy’ individual away. A few moments search revealed, not two, but three, day-old babies lying perdu among the sodden rubbish. So small were they that one found effective cover under the ridge of a man’s heel mark.
Two of these woolly babies were noticeably darker than the third, or perhaps I should say they were more heavily marked. Below I give a rough description of their downy covering.
Crown and back chiefly of a very light sandy-grey or greyish-buff, marked and speckled with blackish. These marks, although
somewhat confused in places, are nevertheless arranged so as to form a distinct pattern. An irregular median stripe and post auricular patch are clearly observable on the head, where however the
other markings are small and scattered and show a transverse tendency. The dorsal stripe is very clearly defined as is also a stripe running from the wings completely round the sides of the body.
The shoulders and space enclosed by this encircling stripe are mottled and might almost be described as having a ‘pepper and salt’ appearance. The forearm or end of the wing is white and shows
very conspicuously when the bird runs with outstretched wings. Hind neck, or nuchal, patch and under surface pure white.
The parents were much perturbed at my close investigations. The female was especially persevering in her personifications of a sorely wounded bird. In the way she dragged herself, with widely expanded tail, over the ground, her movements did not differ from those of a ringed plover under similar circumstances, but she had a trick of spread-eagling her wings and stretching them upon the ground that I have not noticed in that species, while occasionally she flopped and fluttered as though caught in a trap, accompanying her actions with a squealing cry that sounded like a finch or some other small bird in pain.
All this took place at very close quarters, but when the young plovers – evidently growing cold – decided to move from their hiding places and commenced to call out in little cheeping voices, both parents became frantic with excitement and approached within a few feet of me, scurrying hither and thither and continuously reiterating their soft wheet – prr-prrr-prrr. The first frail ball of fluff had hardly tottered a yard or two over the bare sand before the mother rushed forward and with a comforting chuckle settled down to give it the warmth of her body. The next instant the male had done likewise with a second baby. What a wondrous and beautiful instinct is this parental devotion. Here were two perfectly wild, unfettered things quietly brooding their progeny within ten feet of their most dreaded enemy – man! The parents’ joy at the family reunion was very ardent and was clearly expressed in their happy expression and contented little chuckling notes.
When about to brood, these birds squat down on the tarsi, ostrich fashion, puff out their feathers and make little sidling
movements. The babies approach from the front and press a tip-toe against the breast of their parents, at first only their legs and then their toes remain visible.
All this outcry attracted other Kentish plovers and several appeared on the scene to see what was amiss. Most of these seemed to be infected by the excitement of the others. A bird of the year seized every opportunity of running at, and knocking over, the babies, while a male several times tried to tread the female while she was brooding, an attention she strongly resented by chasing him away.
Ingram wrote at the foot of the page. ‘Is this [the white patch at the end of the wing] a ‘danger sign’ like the scut of a rabbit? Normally
the wings are not raised when the bird is running but they are when the youngster is trying to escape.’
He also added, ‘I counted ten in view at one time.’
For Collingwood Ingram