Your Birding Month
Birds to look for in October include Great White Egret, Water Rail and Stonechat
The Dunlin is the ultimate confusion species for wader-watchers. Despite being one of our commonest wintering shorebirds, with more than 350,000 individuals, and arguably our commonest passage wader, many inexperienced birdwatchers (and some experienced ones) still have problems with Dunlin. It should be the small dumpy wader against which all other small dumpy waders are judged. But instead it is the small dumpy wader which is very often misidentified as something much rarer. When they don’t have the distinctive black bellies of breeding adults, Dunlins have an uncanny ability to confuse. So, they are regularly mistaken for Curlew Sandpipers and a range of scarce and rare waders, notoriously including Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers. The solution, of course, is to become as familiar as possible with the ‘other’ plumages: the grey and white winter plumage and the neatly-fringed and striped juvenile plumage (complete with fine black flank streaking). And while working on familiarising yourself with the plumage variations, also study the vital shape and structure (and bear in mind that the different subspecies have quite radically different bill lengths). Dunlins are at their best in autumn into winter, when along with birds such as Knot, they may form huge whirling flocks of thousands of individuals, flashing white and grey as they wheel over mudflats. It is truly one of the great sights of British birdwatching.