Wader Tales

WaderTales blogs are written by Graham Appleton, to celebrate waders and wader research. Many of the 116 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).

DSCN1827Black-tailed Godwits

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.

b-dunlinIceland-based research

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.

Blog adultLapwings 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.


RC pic.jpgIt 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.

WhimbrelThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is blog-portrait-adult.jpg

Drumming SnipeSingle-species studies

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.

Colour ringed Redshank by Emily ScraggProject work

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.

b-davemelvilleBroader issues in wader/shorebird conservation and science

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.

GFA in IcelandGraham (@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.

49 thoughts on “Wader Tales

  1. Wadertales is a wonderful blog with really interesting and informative content which we eagerly read when a new blog is posted. You can never know too much about waders and their conservation and we always learn something from these excellent articles.


  2. Do you know anything about oystercatchers using visual stimuli when foraging for food – i.e. the greater number of worm casts the greater diversity of inverts in sand – so do they notice more worm casts and thus forage there ?? A friend of mine is looking into this at the moment and I am assisting a little with research etc – Thank You


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  5. Dear Graham,
    I find your article published in the recent BBC Wildlife’s issue absolutely gorgeous. I red it with a smile. It is so true that it convinced me to buy, at last, the hearing aid which I postponed for two year. Your text is so pleasant that it should be published in the Oiseau Magazine from the LPO.
    Best regards from Strasbourg


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  7. Graham, as an avid Wader Tales follower I have noticed that there are eight, presumed islandica, Black-tailed Godwits still in summer plumage which have been present at Newtown NNR on the Isle of Wight for the past week or so. This is an earlier returning date than normal, with your experience would you think they would be more likely to be failed breeders and will overwinter at this site (winter population c.100-200 birds) or returning Portugese birds which have stopped off en route ?. Best regards, Jim Baldwin


    • Hi Jim. Thanks for the positive feedback. Yes – almost certainly these are failed Black-tailed Godwits that have returned from Iceland. As to the future… that’s tougher. Colour-rings show that individuals have their own preferred schedules and that they vary hugely. Some of your birds may stay with you but others could be on their way to other estuaries. Many birds that undertake their summer moult on the Wash stay in East Anglia but others fly west to NW England or Ireland, fly south-west to the south of England or fly south to France, Portugal and Spain. Shame that none of your eight is ringed! Graham

      Liked by 1 person

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