WaderTales blogs are written by Graham Appleton, to celebrate waders and wader research. Many of the 124 articles are based on previously published papers, with the aim of making wader science available to a broader audience.
Click on a link in bold to read an individual blog. Black-tailed Godwits feature strongly at the start, followed by RSPB and Iceland-based breeding wader research. Scroll down to find more about single-species articles (e.g. Dotterel, Woodcock and Turnstone) and broader issues of shorebird/wader conservation (e.g. migration, the importance of roost sites and the irreplaceable Yellow Sea).
The individual movements and breeding season behaviour of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits have been studied for twenty years by researchers at the Universities of East Anglia, Iceland and Aveiro. They have been helped by thousands of birdwatchers.
- Why do some Black-tailed Godwits wear colour-rings? explains the roles of colour-rings and colour-ring readers
- Godwits and Godwiteers focuses on contribitions by colour-ring readers but also includes links to 19 papers to which they have contributed.
- Black-tailed Godwits expand their range in Russia & Iceland has at its heart a recent paper in Wader Study
- Why is spring migration getting earlier? discusses the pioneering role of new recruits to the Black-tailed Godwit population.
- Spring moult in Black-tailed Godwits reveals the major changes that occur as birds prepare for the breeding season.
- Godwits in, godwits out: springtime on the Washes reflects on the different time schedules for limosa and islandica Black-tailed Godwits.
- Overtaking on Migration explains how Portuguese birds manage to overtake Black-tailed Godwits that winter further north, as they race to get back to Iceland early.
- Black-tailed Godwits and Volcanic Eruptions reveals the impact of ash-fall on breeding output.
- Dutch Black-tailed Godwit numbers down by nearly 75% describes how counts and colour-ring sightings in Spain & Portugal are used to monitor Dutch populations.
- Black-tailed Godwit pairs – the importance of synchrony reveals what happens if one member of the pair is late getting back to its territory.
- Waiting for the wind – spring flocks of Black-tailed Godwit in Scotland reveals how dependent migrating godwit flocks are on weather patterns.
- Should Black-tailed Godwits cross the Sahara? investigates the trade-offs for limosa Black-tailed Godwits that winter in Iberia, instead of crossing the Sahara.
- Special Black-tailed Godwits asks birdwatchers to look out for 25 ‘head-started’ limosa Black-tailed Godwits that have been hand-reared in East Anglia (UK).
- Just one Black-tailed Godwit tells one godwit’s life story for the three years after ringing, using observations by birdwatchers in four countries.
- Site-fidelity in Black-tailed Godwits looks at how the head-starting programme to support the East Anglian population of limosa might be affected by philopatry.
- Head-starting Success reports on the joint RSPB/WWT project to increase the Black-tailed Godwit breeding population in the Nene, Ouse & Welney fens.
- From local warming to range expansion explores the role of climate warming in fuelling the century-long range expansion of Iceland’s Black-tailed Godwit/
- Generational Change uses colour-ring sightings to explore how Black-tailed Godwit populations have changed in distribution and migratory timing.
- Black-tailed Godwits are on their way home reveals importance of Tagus Estuary (Portugal) to England’s breeding limosa Black-tailed Godwits.
- Cycling for waders is about the head-starting initiative to rebuild the English breeding population of Black-tailed Godwit – and a sponsored cycle ride to support Project Godwit & IWSG.
- England’s Black-tailed Godwits diagnoses the reasons for the recent decline in breeding numbers, following a period of rapid increase that ended in 2006.
The range of wader research in Iceland has expanded over the years and these blogs give a taster of the the breadth of the work.
- Migratory decisions for Icelandic Oystercatchers explains how a new project will examine the costs and benefits of being a migrant.
- How volcanic eruptions help waders shows that areas of Iceland which have been subjected to the highest amount of ash-fall accommodate the highest densities of breeding waders.
- Do Iceland’s farmers care about wader conservation? At a time of agricultural expansion, are farmers prepared to leave space for breeding waders?
- A great summer for Iceland’s waders? summarises the wader studies that took place in the summer of 2017.
- Farming for waders in Iceland investigates densities of breeding waders along the gradient of agricultural intensification associated with farming activities.
- Mission impossible: counting Iceland’s wintering Oystercatchers reveals that surprisingly large numbers of birds adopt the stay-put strategy.
- Designing wader landscapes investigates whether breeding densities of waders can be maintained, as farming expands and intensification increases.
- Which Icelandic Oystercatchers cross the Atlantic? 30% of Iceland’s Oystercatchers are resident. What determines whether an individual becomes a migrant?
- Oystercatcher migration: the Dad Effect reveals that Icelandic chicks adopt the same migratory behaviour as their father (not their mother).
Lapwings and Redshanks
The work of RSPB and University of East Anglia scientists features strongly in these blogs, which focus on support for breeding wader populations in lowland wet grassland and salting.
- A helping hand for Lapwings investigates ways of keeping predators and wader chicks apart.
- How well do Lapwings and Redshanks grow? reports on a Wader Study paper that shows that there is plenty of food available on wet grassland managed for waders.
- Big-foot and the Redshank nest investigates appropriate cattle stocking levels for successful Redshank breeding.
- Can habitat management rescue Lapwing populations? Might the right mix of pools and verges with long grass provide a big enough uplift in nest success rates?
- Mastering Lapwing conservation focuses on two MSc projects that investigated actual and perceived risks of predation in Lapwings.
- Tool-kit for wader conservation provides an overview of the tools that are available to conservationists and site-managers working on wet grasslands.
- Redshank – the ‘warden of the marsh’ focuses on Redshank that breed on saltmarshes and the agricultural subsidies that help to fund their conservation.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that large waders are facing big challenges at different stages of their lives, as shown in the first blog in this list. For British & Irish breeders most of the problems are associated with the breeding season; too few chicks are being reared and the species is being lost from many areas.
- Why are we losing our large waders? takes a look at a review of the common threats faced by the 13 Numeniini species (godwits, curlews and Upland Sandpiper).
- Is the Curlew really near-threatened? considers the plight of breeding Curlew. It’s easy to understand why RSPB and BTO are focusing on this species.
- Curlews can’t wait for a treatment plan focuses on the primary drivers of the species’ breeding decline in Great Britain.
- Sheep numbers and Welsh Curlew looks at habitat associations within a large site in the Welsh uplands; getting the grazing regime right seems to be very important.
- Curlew Moon has at its heart a review of Mary Colwell’s book of the same name but also summarises some of the issues being faced by Curlew in Ireland and the UK.
- Ireland’s Curlew Crisis focuses on the nationwide breeding survey between 2015 and 2017, which revealed a 96% decline in the number of pairs in just 30 years.
- Curlews and foxes in East Anglia. Could shallow soil disturbance be used to support Curlew conservation?
- More Curlew chicks needed has at its core a paper about survival rates of breeding and wintering Curlew. Even in a period of historically low annual adult mortality, breeding numbers have continued to fall.
- The flock now departing reveals fascinating details about Curlew migration with descriptions of four occasions when two tagged birds ended up in the same migratory flock.
- Curlew: after the hunting stopped describes changes to survival rates of Curlew wintering in England & Wales in the period since the species was taken off the shooting list.
- Establishing breeding requirements of Whimbrel focuses on the different needs of adults and chicks in Shetland.
- In search of Steppe Whimbrel summarises a paper about two very special individual Whimbrel. Will this knowledge help to rescue a subspecies?
- Whimbrels on the move summarises a paper about the movements of Icelandic, ringed Whimbrel.
- Iceland to Africa, non-stop discusses the speed of migration of Icelandic Whimbrel in spring and autumn.
- Whimbrel: time to leave summarises a paper about the consistencies and variability of annual migration patterns of individual Whimbrel.
- A Rhapsody of Whimbrel asks whether Whimbrel use time and weather cues in their travel ‘planning’ and might their plans change during the course of their lives?
- Winter conditions for Whimbrel asks whether conditions experienced in Africa affect breeding performance in Iceland.
- Whimbrels arrive in Iceland starts with observations of flocks of tired Whimbrel arriving on the south coast of Iceland, after five days in the air.
This section is a bit of a miscellany. Each blog is focused on a particular species and is usually based on a scientific paper that highlights a broader issue of conservation importance.
- UK Dotterel numbers have fallen by 57% presents the results of an RSPB survey that was published in Bird Study.
- Conserving British-breeding Woodcock focuses on worrying results from the latest GWCT/BTO survey and work to reduce losses during the shooting season.
- Why do Turnstones eat chips? asks why we sometimes see waders feeding on unusual foods. Is this opportunism or desperation?
- Oystercatchers: from shingle beach to roof-tops details significant declines in Scotland, mediated to some extent by range expansion in three dimensions.
- Lapwing moult focuses on a 1976 paper in which moult was studied by collecting feathers. There is a broader story about Lapwing moult and migration.
- Bar-tailed Godwits: migration & survival compares the efficacy of using rings and lettered flags to answer conservation questions.
- Snipe & Jack Snipe in the UK and Ireland compares the migratory strategies of the two species and laments the decline of Common Snipe, as a breeding species.
- Well-travelled Ringed Plovers from Chukotka in north-east Russia spend the winter in Somalia, Egypt, the Red Sea & the Persian Gulf.
- Green Sandpipers and Geolocators summarises a Ringing & Migration paper about changing behaviour patterns in Green Sandpipers that wore geolocators.
- Fewer Spotted Redshanks reviews migration patterns and changes in abundance of the species, in a British & Irish context.
- Starting moult early focuses on the timing of moult in Golden Plover populations. It turns out that it’s tough to find a three-month period in which to moult.
- Winter territories of Green Sandpipers includes unpublished information from southern England, where survival is affected by the severity of winters.
- Not-so-Common Sandpipers mixes information about migration with a review of Common & Spotted Sandpipers by Phil Holland.
- Chicks and Ticks reviews a study of the effects of ticks on the survival probability of Golden Plover chicks.
- Travel advice for Sanderling summarises research to understand the pros & cons of spending the non-breeding season in widely different locations.
- Red Knot pay the price for being fussy eaters discusses the reliance of Delaware Bay birds on the unpredictable annual supply of horseshoe crab eggs.
- Disturbed Turnstones focuses upon a paper about the changing distribution of Turnstone in NE England, associating it with levels of disturbance.
- Migration of Scottish Greenshank summarises a study of a small number of breeding birds, using a mixture of colour-ring sightings and geolocator records.
- Scotland’s Dotterel: still hanging on discusses how climate changes are affecting the distribution and numbers of Scottish Dotterel.
- Plovers from the north is a blog about the global migration patterns of Grey Plovers (Black-bellied Plovers), with an Australian focus.
- Teenage waders is ostensibly about Hudsonian Godwits but raises general questions about the conservation of young shorebirds.
- Spoon-billed Sandpipers: track & trace follows tagged Spoon-billed Sandpipers as they travel from their breeding sites in Russia, through Chine and beyond, revealing previously unknown wintering areas.
- Gap year for sandpipers is based upon a Peruvian Semipalmated Sandpiper paper that investigates the survival advantage of not migrating north to breed in any particular year.
- Following Sociable Lapwings reveals the migration routes used by this globally-threatened species. This is vital information for conservationists who are concerned about excess hunting of adults.
- Grassland management for Stone-curlew explains how GPS tags are revealing the preferred feeding habitats for Breckland Stone-curlews and hinting at new conservation prescriptions.
- Subspecies, connectivity and conservation in shorebirds focuses on Red Knot that spend the non-breeding series in Chile, asking whether the concept of a subspecies may distract from local conservation priorities.
- Dunlin: tales from the Baltic focuses upon declines of a disappearing population of schinzii Dunlin but set in a global context.
- Flying high with Great Snipe discusses the differing altitudes of daytime and nocturnal flights, set within broader research into migrations between Sweden and the Congo Basin.
- New Bar-tailed Godwit Subspecies explains why taymyrensis should be considered as two separate populations, with important message for Bar-tailed Godwit conservation.
- Who eats African Oystercatcher eggs? There is a complex interplay of potential predators on South Africa’s Robben Island. African Oystercatchers nesting near the Kelp Gull colony do much better.
- When Oystercatchers can’t find food is a blog that emphasises the importance of protecting networks of sites, not just individual hotspots.
- Navigating a vast ocean follows Hudsonian Godwits, as they fly north across the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. How do they compensate for wind-drift?
One of the aims of these blogs is to engage people in projects that are in need of volunteers or other forms of public engagement.
- NEWS and Oystercatchers focuses on the waders that winter on coasts, instead of estuaries. It was written to promote the 205/16 coastal survey run by BTO.
- Tracking waders on the Severn urges birdwatchers to look for colour-marked waders and Shelducks, to support BTO and WWT work related to power generation on the Severn.
- All downhill for upland waders outlines changes to breeding numbers and distributions of waders breeding in England’s uplands.
- The Waders of Northern Ireland was written as a promotional tool for a 2019 breeding survey but covers wintering and passage species too.
- Do population estimates matter? is inspired by the waders section of Population estimates of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain, based on data from the Wetland Bird Survey and the Non-estuarine Waterbirds Survey.
- Ireland’s wintering waders complements the above blog, providing information from I-WeBS and WeBS for the island of Ireland and set in a European context.
- Sixty years of Wash waders celebrates the longest-running wader-ringing project in the UK (and the world?), by summarising six decades of migration research.
- Fennoscandian wader factory summarises analyses of breeding wader numbers in Finland, Sweden and Norway over the period 2006 to 2018.
- Waders on the coast reports on the waders that winter around the open coasts of the United Kingdom, emphasising the importance of these unprotected habitats and detailing changes in numbers over 18 years.
Broader issues in wader/shorebird conservation and science
- Prickly problems for waders explains how SNH are trying to deal with introduced Hedgehogs in the Outer Hebrides, where they are a major problem for breeding waders.
- Are there costs to wearing a geolocator? considers the use of geolocators in wader conservation and the costs for small birds like Semipalmated Sandpipers.
- A place to roost discusses the importance of safe, high-tide roosts, especially in terms of energetics. What are waders looking for?.
- Wader declines in the shrinking Yellow Sea discusses the link between reliance on the Yellow Sea and population declines, across wader species.
- Which wader, when and why? summarises the annual migration patterns of over 40 species of wader that visit Britain and Ireland.
- The not-so-Grey Plover focuses on the moult of the Grey Plover but the principles are relevant to determining the ages of birds of other species.
- Interpreting changing wader counts looks at the links between local and national wader counts, with consequences for site-based species protection.
- 25 years of wader declines focuses on the loss of breeding waders (Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher & Curlew) from Scottish farmland.
- International Shorebird Rescue is a repackaged version of an online Twitter presentation for the BOU Twitter Conference #BOU17TC
- Waders are long-lived birds! Some thoughts on the longevity records for BTO-ringed wader species and the value of monitoring survival.
- Measuring shorebird survival is a global review that explores the geographic, seasonal and sex-based variation in survival rates across wader families.
- Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew in France provides background to the debate about a hunting ban or moratorium in France.
- Deterring birds of prey summarises a paper about Diversionary Feeding; one way to keep protected predators away from wader chicks.
- Leg-flags and nest success investigates whether nesting success of small waders (shorebirds) is affected by wearing leg-flags.
- Managing water for waders celebrates work to reduce flooding, store fresh water for farmers and create habitat for breeding waders.
- Time to nest again? asks how much of the advantage of being an early migrant could be associated with having an option to nest again, if the first attempt fails.
- Tagus estuary: for birds or planes? What could go wrong if an international airport is built right next to an estuary that is important to Black-tailed Godwits?
- Nine red-listed UK waders discusses why nine species find themselves on the UK Red List (Birds of Conservation Concern).
- Where to nest? Do Iceland’s open-nesters (Oystercatcher, Golden Plover & Whimbrel) fare as well as nest-hiders (Redshank, Snipe & Black-tailed Godwit)?
- Trees, predators and breeding waders is all about how the presence of woodland affects the distribution of mammals, even after tree removal and restoration as peat bog.
- Flagging up potential problems discusses safety issues associated with using flags and flag-mounted geolocators.
- In amongst the tidewrack promotes new research into the way that roosting and resting waders make best use of microhabitats created by fresh and older beds of seaweed.
- Remote monitoring of wader habitats. It turns out that radar can be used to assess the suitability of large areas of grassland for breeding waders.
- On the beach: breeding shorebirds and visiting tourists discusses how much space is being taken away from breeding Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers, in Norfolk and Suffolk (UK).
- Eleven waders on UK Red List is an update of Nine red-listed UK waders. Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper were added to the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in 2021.
- Chick squeaks is a fascinating study of the ways that the calls of wader chicks change, as they get older. Differences between the calls of male and female chicks become more obvious with age.
- How many shorebirds use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway? summarises a stock-take of waders that link Russia & Alaska with Australia & New Zealand.
- Keep away from the trees is an Estonian study of the relationship between nest success and the proximity/amount of woodland/forestry.
The intention is to add one or two new blogs each month. You can sign up to receive an e-mail notification when a new one is published.
Graham (@grahamfappleton) has studied waders for over 40 years and is currently involved in wader research in the UK and in Iceland. He was Director of Communications at The British Trust for Ornithology until 2013 and is now a freelance writer and broadcaster.