As you walk along the seawall on this week’s walk (see above), you might wonder why some of the seabirds you will see were given their names.
Curlew is easy as this long-billed bird calls its name. Anyone can whistle that uplifting sound. The spelling has changed over millennia from curlu, corlieu, and corlio in the French.
It also had the nickname seven-whistler, though that really applied to the smaller whimbrel which gives seven whistles run together. You might see a whimbrel here in autumn and again in spring.
This small curlew had the nickname titterel, again an imitative, and another nickname was may-bird because it always migrates on May 12, or very close.
The redshank is easy because that’s the colour of this wader’s legs. Greenshank, too, which is sometimes seen here, isn’t difficult.
How about avocet? Again, it relates to the bird being one of those supernatural callers in the sky the seven whistlers, which portend death. From old French via Latin, avis cette seems to be the origin. A more recent nickname was cobbler’s awl because of the shape of the upturned beak.
You will see plenty of oystercatchers here and named after that black and white bird’s eating habits: anything from oysters to cockles and mussels. Nickname the seapie alludes to plumage, but also to the fact these as juveniles were caught on the Sussex beaches in quantity 400 years ago to be turned into pies for the wealthy banquets of old.
In winter you will see small groups of red-breasted mergansers in the channel. The name derives from the Latin merge to dive (submerge) and anser a goose, from old German harnser, a long-necked bird. Nicknames for this fish-catcher are sawbill, and spear duck. Its beak is serrated like a saw in order to be able to hold slippery fish.
You will see godwits here, which are almost as large as curlews but have a slightly upturned bill. The origin is lost, but nicknames include stone curlew, sea woodcock, maybird, and peterel.
Goldeneye ducks, obvious when you see them close, were nicknamed pudding-arse duck, which I can’t explain. Old rattler is obvious when you hear them flying, also spectacle duck is quite good because of them having a big white patch under the eye, and magpie diver describes how they look and what they do.
As for the wigeon, which live in these waters all winter, the origin of wigeon is uncertain, but is French and simply means certain type of duck. But the nicknames include easterley, because they appeared when the wind went into that quarter, whew, which describes the drake’s magnificent whistling call, and cock-winder which is lost in origin.
Last of all, you will see a teal in this place in winter, so just listen for the cock bird’s double whistle, ‘tilly’, which Dutch marshmen 400 years ago wrote down as tele. What’s in a name? A bird.