An eye on the birds

The Galloway News - - SCHOOLS -

The Sol­way is one of the most im­por­tant es­tu­ar­ies in the United King­dom and Europe for mi­grant and win­ter­ing waders.

Ian Bain­bridge, the new Scot­tish Or­nithol­o­gists Club Pres­i­dent and a long-stand­ing mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Wader Study Group, ex­plained to the Ste­wartry SOC group the value of the Sol­way to these won­der­ful birds and in­tro­duced each of the species oc­cur­ring here, out­lin­ing their habits, mi­gra­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

The greater Sol­way, from Loch Ryan in the west to Carlisle in the east, is home to more than 80,000 waders.

The in­ner Sol­way is recog­nised as an in­ter­na­tion­ally im­por­tant site for them, hold­ing more than 70,000 in­di­vid­u­als of more than 25 species. Some species, such as oys­ter­catcher, red­shank , lap­wing and ringed plovers breed on the Sol­way.

Oth­ers, such as sander­ling and whim­brel, pass through on mi­gra­tions from their Arc­tic breed­ing grounds to win­ter­ing ar­eas as far south as South Africa, and many more spend the win­ter here, feed­ing on the in­ver­te­brates found in the rich Sol­way muds.

Oys­ter­catch­ers are un­usual waders in that they only lay three eggs, not four, and that they feed their young for sev­eral weeks af­ter hatch­ing (most wader chicks feed them­selves from day one).

Their diet of worms, cock­les and mus­sels leads them to have dif­fer­ent shaped bills, de­pend­ing upon whether they stab or ham­mer their prey: ham­mer­ers have shorter, blunter bills.

The six plovers vary in size from the rare lit­tle ringed plover to the grey plover, a win­ter vis­i­tor from Siberia, and in­cludes the dot­terel, a moun­tain breed­ing bird, which had been known to lay eggs in both Scot­land and Nor­way in the same year.

The smaller sand­pipers in­clude the knot from Green­land, Canada and Siberia, and dun­lin, the com­mon­est wader, with pop­u­la­tions pass­ing through from Green­land, Ice­land and north­ern Europe en route to Africa, as well as birds from Siberia which spend the win­ter here. Pur­ple sand­pipers from Ice­land and Nor­way win­ter on the rocky coasts, with South­er­ness a favourite lo­ca­tion.

Curlews are a fa­mil­iar sight – and sound – on the Sol­way; Scot­tish and Nor­we­gian breed­ing birds win­ter here, with the smaller males feed­ing more on earth­worms in the fields, and the longer-billed fe­males catch­ing lug­worms on the shore, though crabs are also a favourite prey.

There is much still to learn about Sol­way shore­birds: in­creas­ing num­bers of green­shanks win­ter here, but we don’t yet know whether they are breed­ing birds from the far north of Scot­land, or from farther north in Scan­di­navia. In time, care­ful stud­ies will un­lock this mys­tery.

The next meet­ing will be on Thurs­day, Jan­uary 17 at 7.30pm in New Gal­loway School.

Mick Durham, a semipro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher, will talk on the rich and var­ied wildlife of the Shet­land Is­lands in the sum­mer months.

Spot­ted Oys­ter­catcher in the wild

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