After the summer lull, waders are now flocking back to our shores. It's that time of year, and they are on the move from their Arctic breeding grounds. We are in the early phase of autumn migration and many species can still be seen in their charismatic breeding plumage.
Birds change their feathers every year: good quality feathers are vital for efficient flight and for insulation, but there is a need for a wardrobe chance ahead of the breeding season. A striking, colourful ensemble is essential to attract a mate and to show off to rivals. Many waders migrate northwards before moulting, so we rarely get to see them in their Sunday best. August presents us with the rare opportunity to see returning birds still retaining their breeding finery, before the post-breeding moult leaves them dull and drab for the winter months.
|Winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit John Fox|
There are some handsome examples to be seen in Dublin this month, so make sure to take the time to get out and have a look. Among them, Bar-tailed Godwits have returned from northern Scandinavia and Siberia, and feeding parties may be observed probing for buried morcels the tide line. Scattered around the flock are birds with rich brick-red underparts, which extending unbroken from head to tail. This contrasts with the dark wings with golden specs admixed with the grey, black and brown feathers. The Tolka Estuary is a good place to see these flocks on a rising tide.
Dunlin can easily be identified at the moment by their distinctive black bellies, which will turn pale as the weeks wear on. Now, they have rufous and black wings, white flanks and a black belly just like they were swimming in black ink. They will become brown-grey above and white below soon, and will blend well with Sanderling and Ringed Plover later in the season. You will find Dunlin on Dollymount Strand and south of the Bull Island causeway at this time of year.
|Dunlin in Summer plimage Clive Timmons|
It’s a good time to see other species on their way through, following the Dublin coast on their way to Africa. Whimbrel can be seen and heard now, but can be difficult to distinguish from the slightly larger, longer-billed Curlew. Their call, on the other hand, is unique. Try learning the call before going looking for them; it's described as a loud, rippling whistle “pü pü pü pü pü pü pü”. Greenshank are also great to see at this time of the year. Like a Redshank’s paler and lankier older brother, they have very white under parts contrasting with the dark wings. You can see them loosely associating with feeding flocks of Redshanks, but their longer legs allow they to exploit deeper pools.
|Whimbrel John Fox|
So get out there and see what returning waders you can spot this month, as always keep an eye out for colour ringed birds as we are always looking for re-sightings of our project ringed birds.