Wildlife Column: The not-so-common sandpiper...

One bird of riverside and reservoir edge that has not fared so well in recent times is thecommon sandpiper.

Monday, 13th May 2019, 09:58 am
Sheffield weather expert Professor Ian Rotherham.

If we leave aside birds such as lapwing, snipe perhaps, and nowadays oystercatchers, this is the ‘wading bird’ that most readers would once have seen on local rivers.

However, in recent decades these rather handsome little birds have decreased in numbers, and sometimes alarmingly.

Common Sandpiper

Their main problem is really that they are very specific in their habitat requirements – favouring shingle banks and sheltered riversides along watercourses, and similar areas around lakes and artificial lakes i.e. reservoirs. This brings them into contact with us humans and they simply can’t cope.

They don’t mind too much if there is disturbance around a nest site and people mover on. However, static disturbance such as a group of people stopping for a picnic lunch or setting up camp for an afternoon can be fatal to young birds that need to be fed.

The adults get agitated and sing loudly (described as a ‘sweee sweee swooo’) and display with a characteristic bobbing motion.

When the birds are doing their territorial display they can be quite obvious but most people think – ‘oh look at that pretty bird singing loudly and bobbing up and down…..how nice’.

What they don’t realise of course is that it is a parent bird and it is very agitated and worried by your presence.

This brings me back to the basic problem of the very places where these birds need to nest are the same ones that we choose to recreate along on a warm summer day……and every year there are more of us and rather less of them.

I was up on the River Tyne recently and that is ideal sandpiper habitat.

First of all, it is a ‘big’ river and therefore there is space to share between people and nature; in this case, sandpipers.

Also, the Tyne is a ‘flashy’ river which rises quickly in flood and then drops equally dramatically to leave lovely extensive shingle banks everywhere. And the sandpipers…..well, they are doing fine.