Birdwatch: shore things – getting close to waders on their migration

Stephen Moss
Photograph: FLPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Waders are on the move. September is the peak month to see them as they head south from their northern breeding grounds to winter along the coasts of Europe and Africa.

On my coastal patch, high tide forces them to stop feeding and roost for an hour or so; it also allows me to get close to birds that spend most of their time out on the mudflats.

As the water approaches, they congregate along the sea wall, nervously looking out for danger, which as well as the fishermen and dog walkers also includes me. So I keep my distance, scanning the flock through my telescope. Today, there are mostly dunlins and ringed plovers, with a turnstone and a single knot – the first I have seen here for a while.

Dunlins and ringed plovers both breed in Britain but I suspect these birds have travelled much farther to be here. That’s because they perform “leapfrog migration”, where birds nesting at temperate latitudes stay close to their breeding grounds for the winter, while Scandinavian birds head south, some going all the way to west Africa.

But wherever they have come from, and wherever they are heading, they have allowed me to spend time with them on their journey – for which I am, as ever, grateful.