Posted by: georginaferry | June 8, 2010

Redshanks

I have just returned from a week in Swaledale, the most beautiful of the Yorkshire dales. At this time of year the meadows are full of buttercups, the local sheep with their black faces and curly horns each have a pair of twin lambs, and the ground-nesting birds fill the air with their cries as they distract you from treading on their hidden young.

Redshank in flight - this one is in Shetland, but the Swaledale ones look the same! With kind permission of Dave Hall.

Among the many curlews, grouse, pheasant and lapwings, in one isolated spot we saw several redshanks. The red legs were an obvious clue to what they were – the long orange and black beaks a little harder to spot in flight – but the other really distinctive feature was the bright white trailing edge to the wing.

In the Museum this morning I came upon Kate Pocklington of the Zoology Department, working on taxonomic specimens from the bird collection. Kate’s task was to clean them, so that they were fit to go into a new, permanent display of birds planned for the north wall of the upper gallery. Among the birds lined up for her attention was a redshank with young, looking a little dowdy by comparison with the living birds I’d seen only a few days before.

How do you clean a stuffed bird? You can’t wash it, or the carefully-preserved skin will get damp and rot. Kate showed me how she gently rubbed granules of rubber, looking like sawdust or breadcrumbs, into the surface feathers of a shelduck with contrasting black, white and chestnut plumage. As she brushed out the rubber granules, the dust came away with them, leaving the white gleaming and the other feathers glowing with iridescence.

Most of the birds in the Museum’s collection arrived many decades ago: their excellent condition is a tribute to the skill of 19th and early 20th century taxidermists and the care with which they have been stored since. Cleaning them is a delicate and skilled job, but once it is done the redshank family will go on display looking almost as good as their living counterparts.

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Responses

  1. […] either way. Most of the waders actually sound fine with an ‘s’ (see my earlier post on redshanks, which I remember caused me anxiety on this point), and sources are inconsistent. Curlews, godwits […]


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