Waders, or shorebirds, are probably some of the most observed birds thanks to their fascinating and diverse behaviour in habitats which are easy to reach and observe from. It also helps they are photogenic birds, many with haunting calls, and that the 210 (ish) species are found around the world.
I thought today I’d share a few identification highlights so I can link up with the photo blogging challenge #JanuaryLight and with the ‘theme of words ending in light‘ I also plan to shine a spotlight on some of the critical issues facing waders. First though my wader squares, do hover your mouse over for the species name and my __light titles!
One of the challenges, or should I say delights, of birding in the winter months is that so many of the waders look exactly the same to my uneducated eye. And even if I read up their descriptions I am no wiser, as so many descriptions say ‘browner than the other dark legged stints’ or ‘larger and greyer’!
Size, legs, bill length and behaviour can help for example the Common sandpiper has a fabulous bobbing walk, and the Redshank has stunning orange-red legs. And of course the Kentish Plover has a white hindneck collar, and the Ringed Plover a very clear neck ring. However some waders, such as Dunlins, are known for their variable sizes and bill lengths, and so if you are like me you can remain confused forever! Fortunately though in early spring the birds begin to change into their breeding plumage, and all becomes clearer, as wonderfully demonstrated here by the Grey Plovers.
No wonder birding is so good for our personal well-being. It gets us outdoors and you are always discovering something new. And that’s not the only thing that wader observation gives us. Wader migration and breeding habits offer real insight into the impact us humans are having on the environment. Waders tend to have marked site fidelity for where they breed and where they spend their winters, with behavioural and migration patterns dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Consequently a loss of or disturbance to a site will have a significant impact on their well-being and future, and it is why you will often find me tutting in the Ria Formosa.
I find it incredibly sad that the Algarvian Government is not taking more care of this beautiful natural lagoon which is a major migratory corridor for birds. It is also surprising they get away with the levels of pollution, disturbance and reclamation, given it is a Portuguese protected site and a world heritage site covered by the Ramsar Convention.
Unfortunately it is not the only Important Bird Area (IBA) in Portugal under threat. Two hundred (ish) miles north is the Tagus Estuary, and here the Portuguese government is planning to build a new airport for Lisboa. It might seem sensible for the economy and tourism, but it will be a disaster for environment, and in particular what is known as the bird East Atlantic Flyway. At the moment, despite the bird evidence and climate change, it has the go ahead. We can only hope Birdlife International and others find a way to stop it. It would help enormously of course if the general public also started changing their behaviour, for example reducing air travel and our desire to explore the world. By the way, I am targeting myself with this plea for action as much as anyone else.
If you want to learn more about Waders then I strongly recommend Graham Appleton’s WaderTales.