A spotlight on waders

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.

square Dunlins
Dunlins & Plovers in the Evening Sunlight

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.

Dunlins 3
A Fling of Dunlins

If you want to learn more about Waders then I strongly recommend Graham Appleton’s WaderTales.

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

18 thoughts

  1. Wow, there is quite a lot to know about waders. I’ve never even heard of the term before this blog. Thank you for teaching! And yes, birds are a terrific hobby. My mom and lots of other folks I know are bird-watchers. I didn’t get it when I was younger but as I get older, I see how interesting it can be to look at and for the different species. many of them are quite striking. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

  2. So many animals and birds have lost their habitat because of man’s encroachment on their habitat. And once gone it is hard to get back.

    1. Thanks Jude ☺️, and yes it really is. Some waders, such as Curlews, are disappearing so fast 🙁

  3. Well done Becky to highlight the potential destruction of the Ria Formosa,possibly by the oyster lobby and by the local council,in their disregard of European law in regard to sewage outfalls,in unregulated camper vans,and the apparent ignorance on the destruction of the Seahorse colonies.
    Letters to the authorizes are ignored.
    Fortunately despite the wholesale neglect,the only serious casualty,is one nesting spot of the blackwinged stilt.
    The cooler weather has prompted the Flamingos and Spoonbills to move,but are still easily found,while your smaller waders are chattering merrily.

    1. Thanks as always for your updates. Good to learn not a complete disaster at the moment, but what does the future hold?

  4. I enjoyed my wade through this post Becky 🙂
    Although I did read “and it is why you will often find me rutting in the Ria Formosa” lol

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