The na­ture of things

Dun­lin and red­shank

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

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

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