Sanderlings prepare to take winter in their stride

Written by James Allaway

As a picture of one of our biggest birds takes a top prize this week, spare a thought for a much smaller one that has trouble getting a square meal here on the Isle of Wight.

David Trim’s shot of a heron by a London Bridge came first in the British Wildlife Photographic Awards, and sent a powerful message on the problems we impose on our wildlife.

The plump little Sanderling, at 50-60gm it weighs about as much as a small kiwi fruit and is oddly loyal to Ryde beach.

Around this time of year hundreds of them travel from their breeding grounds 2,000 miles away in North East Greenland to spend the winter there, or use the place as a staging post to recuperate before pushing on another 5,000 miles as far south as Namibia. This is despite the interruption they commonly experience from people on the sands, even out of season.

As someone who regularly monitors their progress told me: “When the birds are disturbed they stop feeding or, worse still, fly away. It can take them a whole day to refuel the energy that uses. If the birds can’t feed and rest in peace, they will not have enough energy to survive the winter and fly back to their summer breeding grounds.”

Sanderlings in winter are the whitest waders on the beach and are very similar to Dunlin. But this ‘rather icy-coloured’ bird is best identified by its habit of running in and out in little groups along the water’s edge like a clockwork toy.

So they are fun to watch, but for their own good best seen from a distance.