This month’s focus is on a group of birds known as waders. As the name suggests they spend a lot of their time in or around shallow water, whether coastal or freshwater. Some waders, such as oystercatchers or redshank, can be seen all year round. Others migrate long distances from their Arctic breeding grounds to spend the winter on our coastline. This time of year is great for anyone interested in waders, as many of these migrants are returning to our shores and some will still be in their summer, breeding plumage. Winter plumage waders are generally a drab bunch, whereas in their summer finery they can look quite spectacular.
The knot is a good example. In winter it has few distinguishing features – it’s smallish, roundish and greyish. In summer, however, its back is speckled white, black and chestnut, whilst its face, chest and belly become a bright brick red. The change is dramatic – in winter the knot has been described as a bird which you only identify when you realise it’s not anything else, whereas in summer it really grabs your attention, standing out from the crowd as it does.
The turnstone is one of our smaller waders, which gets its name from its habit of flipping small stones to look beneath for the insects, molluscs and crustaceans on which it feeds. At this time of year birds will be arriving from Northern Europe, Greenland and even Canada. Some will continue to the south whilst others will stay for the winter. In winter, they are a grey-brown colour with a white throat and belly, and orange legs. In breeding plumage, however, the back becomes a rich combination of black, chestnut and orangey-red, while the bird also gains a distinctive black and white face.
There are several places around East Lothian which offer the chance to see waders. Anywhere with open mudflats for the birds to roost or feed is ideal. However, one of the best sites is at Levenhall Links, Musselburgh. It may lack the scenic splendour of others, but the bird hides and wader scrapes can provide unrivalled close-up views of waders. If you’re really lucky you might even see a genuinely rare bird – one or two usually crop up each year.
Forthcoming Ranger Service Events:
Sunday 12th August. Pilgrims Progress. A circular walk of about 13km (8 miles) starting in Whitekirk, an important medieval place of pilgrimage. No dogs please.
Sunday 26th August. Mills on the Tyne. A 17km (10.5 mile) circuit along footpaths, tracks and quiet roads. Following the Tyne to its estuary, find out about the history of the river and the many mills that lined its banks.
Hikes are charged at £4 per person. Details provided when booking. To book a place phone 01620 827421.