A dark, wet and windy day. The sky brightened briefly this morning, with patches of blue sky showing through, but soon the dark clouds rolled over again and the wind brought driving rain. As the tide rose a flock of sanderling were scurrying at the water’s edge, rushing together after a retreating wave and racing back as soon as the next wave threatened.
As they hurry back and forth, the sanderling seem to have no time for feeding. Looking closer at my photos that I could see the birds were pausing momentarily to snatch up small sea creatures stranded by the retreating waves or to probe the sand with their long beaks. This photo is not well focussed but if you click twice for a closer view you’ll see this is a feeding party, not just a warming race along the beach.
Sanderling are a familiar feature of sandy, Northumberland beaches and it’s easy to think of them as local birds but these winter visitors return each spring to Arctic breeding grounds. Though a return trip of over 7,000 km seems a long way for such tiny birds, those that winter in the UK are taking the easy option. Bird ringing studies have shown that when young sanderling set out from Greenland on their first migration, some stop off in Britain, some fly on to France or Portugal and others keep going as far as Ghana or Namibia. No one knows why some birds fly so much farther than others but once a young bird has established its winter destination, it returns to the same place every following year.
The information on migration in this post comes from Wadertales, a blog celebrating waders and wader research. It’s a treasure trove of surprising information.