This article celebrates five years of WaderTales. It highlights some of the most well-read tales and picks out a few cross-cutting themes. It has not been possible to include links to all of the 98 WaderTales blogs but you can see them all by clicking HERE.
There are six sections:
- The most popular stories
- It all started in Iceland
- A focus on individuals
- Thoughts about moult (moult)
- Conservation issues
The most popular stories
Five blogs on WaderTales have been downloaded 3500 or more times, with the most popular one registering over 10,000 reads. The top five are:
- Which wader, when and why? summarises the migration stories of over forty species that spend at least part of the year in Britain & Ireland.
- Measuring shorebird survival discusses a global analysis of annual survival rates across wader families.
- Snipe and Jack Snipe in the UK & Ireland is the most popular species-based blog.
- Is the Curlew really near-threatened? Our large shorebirds are all under threat and it is unsurprising that curlews are the subject of seven blogs.
- Waders are long-lived birds is designed to appeal to birdwatchers, many of whom are amazed that three species of wader, ringed in Britain & Ireland, have longevity records of over thirty years.
It all started in Iceland
The first WaderTales blog, How volcanic eruptions help waders, was published on 28 September 2015. It explains how the distribution of breeding waders in Iceland is linked to the amount of historical volcanic activity, with ash acting as fertilizer in the central parts of the country. Several other Icelandic studies focus on the ways in which species such as Redshank have taken advantage of opportunities that are provided by farmers’ fields and a warming climate. Designing wader landscapes investigates whether Iceland’s high breeding densities can be maintained, as farming expands and intensification increases.
Unsurprisingly, migration is a recurring theme in WaderTales. Some of my favourite migration stories are:
- Which Icelandic Oystercatchers cross the Atlantic? Great teamwork by scientists and colour-ring readers has helped to work out which of Iceland’s Oystercatchers leave Iceland. 70% of birds migrate to Ireland, the UK and western coasts of mainland Europe but 30% ‘tough it out’ in Iceland.
- Plovers from the north is about Grey or Black-bellied Plovers, a much under-studied wader that travels from the tundra to countries as far south as Australia, Chile and South Africa.
- Well-travelled Ringed Plovers is an amazing migration story, linking Egypt and Somalia to Chukotka, in the northeast corner of Russia. Here, Ringed Plovers from Africa meet Knot from Australia and Buff-breasted Sandpipers from Brazil.
- Iceland to Africa, non-stop is about a paper that changed our understanding of the migration of Whimbrel, when geolocators revealed that birds head straight across the Atlantic, on their journeys south. Other Whimbrel blogs talk about the timing of migration and the weather cues associated with decisions made by individuals.
- Overtaking on migration reveals that Black-tailed Godwits that spend the winter in Portugal, at the southern edge of the species’ wintering range, still get back to Iceland earlier than birds that only have to travel half as far.
- Teenage waders introducess a previously unknown site in Argentina that is used by non-breeding Hudsonian Godwits in the austral winter. When adults fly north from Chile to Alaska, young birds head inland to the Pampa wetlands. What other habitats do slow-maturing and threatened wader species depend upon?
A focus on individuals
The use of colour-rings, geolocators and satellite tracking has helped to turn the spotlight on individual birds, such as the Greenshank alongside, instead of the patterns we see across populations.
Why is spring migration getting earlier? This early blog focuses on spring arrival dates of Black-tailed Godwits in Iceland. Although the migration season is advancing, individual birds are not changing their annual timetables. Pioneering, new recruits are on earlier schedules than previous generations.
Travel advice for Sanderling introduces the concept of ‘happenstance’ to WaderTales. Colour-ring sightings have shown that Sanderlings from the same breeding areas of Greenland can end up in non-breeding locations that can be anywhere between Scotland and South Africa. Some birds settle in equatorial countries, where the apparent annual survival is lower, from which fewer young birds return to Greenland to breed in their first breeding season, and where it is less likely that an individual will be able to end up on an early breeding schedule. Interestingly, survival rates appear similar in Scotland and Namibia, despite the huge difference in the distance from Greenland. The ‘dice are rolled’ and an individual can end up in a good or poor site, to which it will return every year.
Generational change. In a changing world, with more chaotic weather patterns and rapidly altering habitats, migratory birds are faced with opportunities and challenges. Long-term monitoring of Black-tailed Godwits has shown that migration patterns are forged by new generations, the behaviours of which are moulded by the conditions they encounter in early life.
Thoughts about moult
The main moult of northern hemisphere waders typically happens in the late summer, when the breeding season has finished and once birds have left the breeding grounds. There is then another moult before the start of the next breeding season, as birds change into summer finery (and can change the way they smell). These two moult periods may take up as much as a third of a shorebird’s year but do not get very much attention in scientific studies.
- The not-so-Grey Plovers provides an introduction to the ‘standard’ autumn moult.
- Spring moult in Black-tailed Godwits does what it says in the title.
- Starting moult early describes an exception – Golden Plovers start their primary moult at the start of the incubation period (or even before).
- Lapwing moult suggests how to study moult without catching birds.
A lot of the papers that are described above are based upon research that focuses upon species that are of conservation concern. This final selection of blogs highlights a few cross-cutting conservation themes.
- Why are we losing our large waders? Large shorebirds, such as curlews and godwits need lots of space, bringing them into conflict with human society.
- Curlew Moon describes the decline of the Eurasian Curlew across Ireland and the UK, despite this being a species that is of huge cultural significance in both countries.
- Wader declines in the shrinking Yellow Sea shows how rapid changes to one area can have impacts across a whole flyway.
- A place to roost and Disturbed Turnstones raise issues about the pressures upon our beaches, especially from human recreational activities.
- Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew in France and Conserving British breeding Woodcock both question the sustainability of activities to harvest waders for human consumption.
- Tagus estuary: for birds or planes. The proposed construction of a new airport within one of the best sites for migratory waterbirds on the East Atlantic Flyway sets a worrying precedent.
- Tool-kit for wader conservation summarises some of the tools that are available to conservationists to help the waders that breed in lowland wet grasslands.
- Managing water for waders allows us to finish on a positive note – a flood alleviation and water storage solution that works for breeding waders and farmers.
The purpose of the blog series has not changed since I wrote this introduction on 24 September 2015, but the range of species and the geographic scope have both increased over the years.
WaderTales blogs are used to celebrate waders and wader research. Many of the articles will be based on previously published papers, with the aim of making wader science available to a broader audience. The choice of topics will reflect personal interests, so there will be plenty about Black-tailed Godwits and the international team of scientists who study their behaviours and life-histories. I hope that these blogs will be of particular interest to the hundreds of people who contribute their sightings of colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits to the ever-expanding database of movements.
There are 98 blogs in the WaderTales catalogue but WordPress tells me that there have actually been 109 posts. The extra eleven represent summaries at the end of each year and occasional syntheses of articles that cover a particular topic, such as migration blogs on wadertales and Wetland Bird Survey: working for waders.
It is humbling to discover that 118,000 people have visited WaderTales in the first five years, however briefly some of them may have stopped by.
I am grateful to all of the authors who have worked with me to make sure that WaderTales blogs properly represent the findings of their research, to the photographers who generously permit free use of their images and to my wife, Professor Jennifer Gill, who encourages and inspires me. It is no surprise that Black-tailed Godwits appear in more blogs than any other species!
There seems to be no shortage of new shorebird research to write about. If you have ideas of topics I should cover or you have an upcoming paper that might turn into an interesting WaderTales blog, please get in touch. A blog works best if I can work up a story in time to share it with the lead author and publish it alongside a paper. Here’s to the next five years!
Here’s a link to the full WaderTales catalogue