Speaker: Graham Appleton
Reporter: Sue Gale
Graham Appleton impressed us all with his comprehensive knowledge of waders, and in particular of wader migration on which this talk was focussed. It seems the UK is something of a hub for migrating waders, with birds coming from all points north and heading in many different directions after a stop in the UK. Or they may stop and over-winter in the UK, like the Sanderling, some of which stay here and some travel all the way to South Africa.
Whichever choice they make, studies show that waders do the same thing each year. This makes the first migration of young birds very important. Take the Black-tailed Godwits that come from Iceland, where they are doing very well indeed. They are successfully breeding in many more locations in Iceland, possibly due to climate change, but adult birds migrate before their offspring are ready to do the same. This means the young birds have no idea where they are going, leading to the establishment of new places to over-winter and indeed to breed.
The above birds are examples of migrants from the North West. Birds from the East include Ruff, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpipers, which may all travel together. Amongst them may be some Pectoral Sandpipers, which may have been ringed in breeding grounds in the North of Alaska. They fit into this category because they explore long distances in both directions along the Northern coastlines in Arctic regions. Greenshanks that we see here are mostly Scottish breeders, so these birds from the North have made only relatively short journeys.
But in the Far East Greenshanks make very long journeys indeed, making the point that there are no such things as short- or long-distant migrant species. Waders that over-winter in the UK are sadly declining in number. Most of us are aware that Curlews are a cause for concern, but we are also losing Redshanks that breed on saltmarsh, partly because of habitat loss but also because of disturbance. The remaining birds are found in places without dog-walking.
Studies still continue into the big question. How do migrant birds know where to go? For instance, Curlews from Iceland are known to do what the male parent does, which makes sense because late care of offspring is left to the male. But he still leaves several weeks before the young! Head-started Curlews in the UK did not all go in the same direction when released.
Tracking data is helping to establish where birds go, but not yet how they know. Semi- palmated Sandpipers from Peru don’t all breed every year, nor do they all migrate in the same direction. Those travelling East seem to repeat this every year, while those going West sometimes miss out some years. The latter make the longer journeys, so this might be related? Tracking also provides evidence that can help with conservation issues. Hunters have been discouraged from shooting birds when shown how important their region is as a migration route. The grass wetlands of Argentina are home to thousands of non-breeding young waders and need to be conserved. The plan to build a new airport on wetlands in Portugal could spell disaster for thousands of Spoonbills and other large waders.
Graham ended his talk with a 4 point list of what we can do to help
1. More surveys like WEBS
2. Report colour rings
3. Learn more about waders via Wader Tales – Graham’s blogs which can be accessed
via Twitter etc @GrahamFAppleton
4. Enjoy waders!
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly indoor / online meetings.