Sunday 7 August 2016

Dunlins at Farmoor 7th August 2016

This year at Farmoor had seen an extremely good spring passage of waders which were to be found feeding along the edges of the water where it meets the concrete apron and now it looks like the autumn passage will be similarly good. Already Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper,  Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, Wood Sandpiper and Black tailed Godwit have been seen.

By far the most frequent of these visiting waders is the Dunlin and it is easy to dismiss it due to its frequency and almost guaranteed presence at the times of passage. But stop awhile and consider what this small wader has achieved to be on the concrete surrounds of Farmoor. A few weeks ago it was just a ball of fluff, surviving the numerous hazards to its life on the tundra far to the north and now, independently, has probably already travelled a phenomenal distance to arrive here and undoubtedly has still many miles to go through uncharted skies to reach its winter destination. So I never dismiss these birds out of hand and still find a thrill in finding one or more of them running along the temporary refuge of Farmoor's waters edge. 

There are arguably ten races of Dunlin, ranging from North America to the Far East. Some of one race, schinzii breed in Britain on moorlands in northern England and Scotland but the commonest race here on migration and in winter is probably alpina which  comes to us from Norway, The Baltic and northern Russia and judging by their bill lengths I suspect that the seven juveniles present today at Farmoor were of that race. Less common is arctica which comes from north east Greenland and is headed for northwest Africa. To tell one race of Dunlin from another is very difficult and involves the size of bill which is always subjective and subtle differences in their summer breeding plumage.

Juvenile Dunlin with grey winter plumage feathers already present amongst the
mantle and scapular feathers on the upper parts
Dunlins at Farmoor have an innate charm and often are very confiding, seeming to yet learn to fear human presence and so it was this evening when I walked along the Causeway and came across the seven juveniles wandering along by the water, like errant children along a seashore.They allowed me to walk right up to them and would cluster for re-assurance not quite sure of my intentions but then realising I meant no harm would part and carry on their way, picking at items thrown up by the wind blown, white bubbled wavelets.

I stopped to ponder their lives, for ever having to be on the alert, their metabolism meaning the pace of their life is so much faster than mine and as the late evening clouds became a billowing mass of white suffused with pink and then turned to fire, aflame with orange and red as the sun slowly sank below the horizon and dusk fell and the light faded, I wondered what they did through the night. 

Did they carry on feeding, tuck their elegant long bills in their feathers and sleep, always with one eye open or just stand and wait for the dawn, never ever secure but constantly on the alert?  How very different to my sedentary existence.

Juvenile Dunlins
Dunlins are also familiar to us from the seaside when in huge flocks they cause us to marvel at their manouevres as they swirl in an alternating and shape shifting grey and white cloud above the seashore before landing and re-commencing their frantic feeding in the short daylight hours of winter. They are a sociable bird and it always seems strange to see one on its own, such as sometimes occurs at Farmoor. They feed energetically in tight groups and flocks and at high tide cluster en masse, quietly and conversationally twittering to each other as they roost until the receding tide reveals the mud and they can resume feeding.

Juvenile Dunlins such as the ones I saw this evening are mainly an unprepossessing streaky brown on the upperparts and variably spotted on their underparts, hinting at the black belly patch that they will acquire next year when they moult into their breeding plumage. Unlike their juvenile North American counterparts which moult into winter plumage on their breeding grounds, European juvenile Dunlins do not commence their moult into the grey upperpart plumage until they leave their breeding grounds but moult on passage, and this can clearly be seen in a couple of the images I took of the confiding group of juveniles. In early Spring they will have another complete moult into a very smart and dapper breeding plumage, completing this as they move northwards.

Dunlins in breeding plumage
So today the marvel of bird migration is before my very eyes at Farmoor and the humble Dunlin is the very epitomy of this and I will never take them for granted.

No comments:

Post a Comment