The nature of things
Dunlin and redshank
WHILE the tide is low, numerous little waders run to and fro, dipping their bills into the exposed mudflats, finding morsels to eat on and under the wave-riven, sandy surface. Shrimps and sandhoppers, remains of stranded fish, even jellyfish can be picked at by purposeful bills, along with crustaceans, molluscs, worms, flies and pieces of washedup plant material such as seeds.
Dunlin (bottom left and right) are frequently among the foragers, many of them having forsaken their favoured summer breeding grounds on the high moors of the Pennines and Scotland for better feeding opportunities on lowland estuaries and coasts. Dipping their bills in haste into the soft sand, with a sewing-machine-like action, the resident dunlins are joined by migrants from colder northern lands and will form big flocks that may move together in clouds of synchronised flight, similar to starling murmurations.
Unshowy through the winter months in an overall cape of browny-grey above white underparts, on the arrival of spring, their plumage is dramatically sharpened up, with regular tortoiseshell patterns of red-brown and black spread over the head and back.
Another resident preferring a coastal sojourn through the winter and frequently enjoying the company of the dunlin is the somewhat larger redshank (above left, right and middle). Its colouring is similarly subdued at this time, but it’s easily discerned by its orange-red legs and piercing warning cries. KBH