A Nesting Reeve in Norfolk

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A Nesting Reeve in Norfolk  (1907) 
by Emma Louisa Turner

From Country Life, volume 22, 27 August 1907, pages 231-233. "Reeve" is the name for a female Ruff, Calidris pugnax.

A Nesting Reeve in Norfolk.

Miss E.L. Turner.Reeve sitting.Copyright.

It is eighteen years since the last reeve's nest was discovered in Norfolk; consequently excitement was intense when the keeper dropped suddenly into my cabin on the afternoon of June 13th, and announced the discovery of a reeve's nest containing four eggs near at hand. I soon gathered together my camera and accessories, stepped into the punt and in less than 10min. was standing scarcely 8ft. from the sitting bird. At first she was invisible, so well did her plumage harmonise with the surroundings as, with head low down, she awaited the approach of the intruders. I sent the keeper back to the cabin for my hand camera, hoping to get a picture of her as she crouched. Meanwhile, there we remained, reeve and photographer, gazing at one another for a quarter of an hour, when suddenly the reeve relieved the tension by flying away. My mind had been filled with conflicting emotions. I was loth to disturb the bird's peace. Perhaps she would resent the camera and not return then I should be filled with regret. Might I not remain satisfied with having seen what

Snipe Runs Across the Foreground - Emma Louisa Turner - 1907.jpg

Miss E.L. Turner.Snipe runs across the foreground.Copyright.

no Nature lover of my generation had seen? Being human, however, the desire to do what no one else had done overpowered my scruples, and, when the bird flew away. I did not hesitate to erect some sort of shelter. That day, owing to intense eagerness on my part to commence operations, the preparations were scanty and, as regards my own comfort, insufficient. The ground was swampy, and the nest placed in a tuft of rushes just out of the water. On the north side a wide dyke separated this tiny island from the marshes, while scarcely 50yds, away there was a highway for sailing craft, whose noisy occupants often interfered with my work and delayed the return of this very shy sitter. I simply throw down an armful of rough litter, sufficient to keep my plate box out of the water, and, having erected the camera, sat on the box, under two reed thatched hurdles which met over my head, all gaps being filled in with some cut grass. A heavy thunderstorm broke over the marshes, and rain fell in torrents for an hour, during which the reeve was never far away, for I could hear her somewhat heavy splashing through the water all round me, as she examined every feature of my shelter, and once alighted upon it.

Having satisfied herself that no real danger lurked beneath the heap, she suddenly ran on to the nest, sipping raindrops as she came. I let her settle and dropped the shutter Even then she did not move, but as I was slowly but surely sinking deeper into the swamp it became necessary for me to shift my position. This started her, and she was off in an instant. Alas! my plate was useless, for though the rain had not actually touched the lenses, they were slightly fogged by the general moisture of the atmosphere. I had to leave the neighbourhood for three days, during which I possessed my soul in tolerable patience: but before going away we threw down the hurdles and covered them with a heap of litter. We also exchanged the reeve's eggs with those of a redshank, so that throughout I had no compunction in keeping the reeve of the eggs for several hours if necessary.

Returning on June 17th I tried again, this time lying down on oilskin coat placed over thatched hurdles, which kept me well out of the swamp. I also wove an elaborate rush front for my camera, so that when all was covered with sedge and reeds there was nothing to alarm the bird. Still I had to wait from 1.30 till 4 p.m., and when the bird returned my eyes were blurred with long gazing through criss-cross strands of grass and my fingers rigid from want of use, so I failed to drop the shutter at the exact moment, and the bird flew away without settling on her nest. I returned to my cabin limp and depressed with my second failure. The next day I succeeded, the day being one of good omen, and secured the first picture of this series. On the 19th I was out at 6 a.m, and waited until eight o'clock. Just as the reeve returned, a snipe ran across the foreground when I dropped my shutter. A moment later, both snipe and reeve stood side by side, erect, intent on the spot from which the sound proceeded. Had I waited the fraction of a second later. I should have secured a rare and doubly interesting picture, whereas the snipe now appears merely as a speckled heap in the foreground. Another attempt was made at 9.30, this time with a single lens. The reeve returned some minutes later, accompanied by a redshank The latter bird sat on my rubbish heap whistling calling and making little crooning noises, for whose benefit I do not know: but they evidently pleased the reeve, for she would look up at him from time to time and move her head from side to side, as if cheered by his neighbourliness, and finally settled down into the contented attitude shown in the last picture. I let this go on for some time, as it was pretty to watch. When at last released the shutter, both birds flew off, the reeve uttering a curious guttural double note, something like a quack. Changing the plate, another two hours wait followed with no result, though four redshanks and one snipe ran over me all together, calling loudly. Still my lady would not return. The creaking call note of the snipe heard at such close quarters, is very curious it is almost possible to feel the vibrations of sound, as when some long disused machinery is set in motion. My rubbish heap, whether containing me or not, was always a favourite preening place for all the birds of the neighbourhood. This, though very interesting made it doubly hard for me, as I dared scarcely breathe, much less stir to relieve an aching muscle. The next day for four long hours the reeve only ran about the marsh, and refused to approach the nest. She always seemed shy of the double lenses. However, on the 24th I secured the fourth and last picture of the bird actually running on to her nest, after which I left her alone, viewing her only from a distance occasionally. The eggs proved unfertile; all our scrupulous care of them was in vain, though they had been kept warm and watched almost night and day. The eggs were smaller than those of the redshank, more pointed, and more evenly marked all over with reddish brown spots. The ground colour of this particular clutch was light greyish green, one of the four being much lighter than the other three. The nest in no way differed from that of the redshank; the longer rushes were twisted together at the top to form a kind of roof, but some of these had to be cut away before the bird could be photographed

I saw no ruffs during the hours of waiting for the reeve, but on July 7th a ruff and reeve were seen in the vicinity of the nest, and later in the day two reeves. In the spring a few ruffs and reeves regularly return to their old hunts in Norfolk, and during the last two summers young birds have been seen, so that it is not improbable that these latter may have been home bred birds.

Miss E.L. Turner.A Picture of Content.Copyright.

Miss E.L. Turner.On Her Way to the Nest.Copyright.

It is to be hoped that the efforts which are being made to induce these interesting birds to return and breed in their old quarters will be crowned with success, and that the Nature-lover may once more have the pleasure of watching those dancing parties and harmless duels with which the somewhat irresponsible ruff delights to while away his time.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1940, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.