It is said that Sanderlings visit every
beach in the world
outside Antarctica at least once a year. I don't know whether that is
literally true but they are certainly widespread globally and always
a delight to see scurrying along the tide line.
They are easy enough to
identify even for beginners, although, as we don't see many summer
plumaged birds here on the Dee Estuary these have been known to fool
Unlike most of our waders they prefer sand to mud and are therefore found almost exclusively along North Wirral, West Kirby, Hilbre and between Point of Ayr and Gronant, I don't recall ever seeing any inside the estuary proper.
last two winters (2011/12 and
2012/13) have seen good numbers of over-wintering Sanderling
locally. The highest ever Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) winter count was
on November 2012 with 2,158 and there have been four counts of 1,000 at
West Kirby and a max count at
Hoylake of 1,900. A good 2012 breeding season in east Greenland, due to
Lemming year, may well have boosted numbers this last winter (Arctic
Foxes eating Lemmings rather than Sanderling
for the Dee Estuary, carried out since 1970, do vary wildly from winter
to winter (e.g. max in 2000/01 was just 100 but a year later was 550),
but the long term trend for over-wintering birds shows a small but
steady increase with the five year mean currently at 860. In the 1970s
we used to get 7,000 or more during both spring and return passage, but
those migrating birds seem now to prefer the Alt Estuary/Formby
beach and the Ribble Estuary.
Nationally WeBS counts also show a slow
steady increase, and the East Atlantic population (Calidris alba alba)
as a whole is thought to be stable, perhaps increasing, and
stands at about 120,000 birds with around 27,000 wintering in
Europe, the rest flying south to Africa for the
winter. Any of these estimates should be treated with some caution,
however, as Sanderlings are notoriously difficult to survey accurately
as they are so widespread along open coasts often well away from
concentrations of other waders at estuarine sites. A recent review of
UK Sanderling numbers actually indicates quite a sharp decrease
despite the slow rise shown by WeBS, this may possibly be due to
previous over-estimations of birds on open beaches many of
which are not counted for WeBS.
It was once thought that most of the European over-wintering birds bred in Siberia with the Greenland breeding birds moving further south on passage. Colour ringing over the past few years has changed that view and we now know that large numbers of Greenland breeding birds winter in NW Europe, including the Dee Estuary. In fact, we don't really know if Siberian breeding birds visit NW Europe in significant numbers at all, the evidence is very sparse and a colour ringing project is required to determine their exact migration routes and wintering grounds.
Left: Bird 1 (G5YWWW) at Hoylake on Jan 12th 2013 (Charles Farnell).
Right: Bird 2 (G4RWWW) at Leasowe on Jan 3rd 2010 (William Boyce).
One of the joys of colour ringing is that anybody can contribute to the research into migration routes and the distribution of the different populations. Locally a small group of us have been collecting Colour Ringed (CR) Black-tailed Godwit and Knot records over several years, but in 2013 we have concentrated our efforts on Sanderlings. Over the set of spring tides at Hoylake in January (see February and March Newsletters) a total of five CR Sanderlings were photographed with further sightings in February and March giving a total of nine birds. The table below gives a summary of these birds plus a map illustrating their movements.
|Bird No.||Date Ringed||Ringing Location||Dates
on North Wirral
|1||27/6/07||Zackenberg, E Greenland||14/11/09
|2||14/5/09||Sandgeroi, SW Iceland||03/1/10
12, 13, 14/1/13
|3||20/5/10||Sandgeroi, SW Iceland||27/2/13||Hoylake Shore|
|4||30/5/11||Sandgeroi, SW Iceland||12/3/13||Hoylake Shore|
|5||28/7/11||Hochestetter Forland, E Greenland||12,
|6||22/5/12||Sandgeroi, SW Iceland||17/11/12
11, 12, 14/3/13
|7||22/5/12||Sandgeroi, SW Iceland||12/1/13||Hoylake Shore|
|8||22/6/12||Zackenberg, E Greenland||13,
|9||16/8/12||Griend, Wadden Sea, Netherlands||
13, 14, 15/3/13
Hoylake Shore Hoylake Shore
The numbers on the map refer to the birds shown in the above table.
Map kindly provided by University of Texas Libraries (text etc. added by the author).
Left: Bird 8 (G5RGGW) at Hoylake on Jan 14th 2013 (Matt Thomas).
Right: Bird 9 (Y6RGYY) at Hoylake on Jan 13th 2013 (Colin Millington).
There are several interesting observations to add to these records:
1. The records confirm that Sanderlings are very site faithful, you can see bird 1 has been visiting North Wirral since at least 2009, likewise with bird 2 since 2010, the latter spending all last winter here.
2. The Sanderling Project Team tell me that Hoylake is the first location where three Sanderlings ringed in their breeding location of North-east Greenland have all been seen together in one flock (birds 1, 5 and 8).
3. Birds 1 and 8 were ringed as adults when incubating a clutch of four eggs (bird 1 in 2007, bird 8 in 2012) whereas bird 5 was ringed as a large chick.
4. If you want to see Sanderlings in Iceland you don't have to travel very far as the beaches at Sandgeroi are only a few miles west of Reykjavik International Airport! This is a major staging area in May for birds breeding in Greenland, and also post-breeding. Most of the birds above which were ringed at Sandgeroi, were subsequently seen many more times at the same location. Bird 2, for example, has been seen there every year since it was ringed in 2009.
5. Bird 7 was in France from July 18th to September 20th 2011, the southernmost report of 'our' birds, some Greenland breeding birds make it as far as southern Africa.
A couple of interesting links:
Following colour ringed migratory shorebirds around Europe, by Matt Thomas
A movie clip of Sanderlings being caught and ringed in Mauritania, the commentary is in Dutch but the video is self explanatory.
1. Jeroen Reneerkens 2013,
pers. comm., 7th March.
2. Jeroen Reneerkens et al., Sanderlings using African-Eurasian flyways: a review of current knowledge, Wader Study Group Bull. 116(1):2-20, 2009.
3. International Wader Study Group Sanderling Project (Project Leader: Jeroen Reneerkens) - see www.waderstudygroup.org/res/project/sanderling.php.
4. Juvenile Sanderling Newsletter 2012, IWSG Sanderling Project.
5. Simon Delany et al., An Atlas of Wader Populations in Africa and Western Eurasia, Wetlands International, 2009.
6. Waterbirds in the UK (WeBS Report), reports from 1998/99 to 2010/11.
7. Neil Friswell and Colin Wells, Dee Estuary WeBS Annual Report, 2011/2012.
8. Musgrove et al., Overwinter population estimates of British Waterbirds, British Birds (Vol. 104) July 2011 364-397.
9. Charles Farnell, John Jakeman, Colin Millington, Tanny Robinson, Matt Thomas and Peter Welch who provided data and/or photographs.
- if you see any ringed Sanderlings please let me know - I can
report them for you (and forward you the feedback) or I can put you in
touch with the Sanderling Project Team directly. Any records will be
the database and I'll let you know of any further sightings - many
Once again the RSPB are organising voluntary wardening at Neston Reed Bed, the scheme will begin near the end of March and run through until the end of May. Wardening will take place each evening in order to protect this important habitat from disturbance. I know in the past this scheme has attracted birders who have realised what a good opportunity this location is for some serious birdwatching with the possibility of seeing migrating Ospreys and Marsh Harriers, large numbers of Little Egrets flying in to roost, Bearded Tits, Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls and the numerous birds which breed in the reed bed. If you are interested please contact Geoff Robinson (Geoffrey.Robinson@rspb.org.uk), telephone 0151 353 8478.
|White Wagtail||14th March||Leasowe Lighthouse||8th March||11th March|
|Wheatear||17th March||Leasowe Lighthouse||9th March||13th March|
|Sand Martin||28th March||West Kirby||28th Feb||12th March|
|Swallow||17th March||20th March|
|Willow Warbler||20th March||16th March|
|Whitethroat||1st April||8th April|
|House Martin||4th April||25th March|
|Cuckoo||14th April||20th April|
||26th April||17th April|
26th April, 12.09hrs (BST), 9.6m.
27th April, 12.53hrs (BST), 9.7m.
28th April, 13.38hrs (BST), 9.6m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
Also see 2013 Events Diary.