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Thursday, 14 May 2020

A wealth of waders
Common sandpiper Photo: Bob Russon

A wealth of waders

Despite the recent restrictions on our movements and activities, I've still managed to keep an eye on the birdlife around the Redmires reservoirs by making it part of my daily walk. I pay particular attention to the middle reservoir as the water level is low, exposing a good expanse of shoreline - a mixture of mud, stony patches and some freshly emerging vegetation which is very attractive to waders. By using my scope from the roadside, it's possible to scan the whole area and, in good light, to identify birds on the far shore.

Many of us think of waders as birds found on the coast but that's far from true. While many waders use the coast when migrating and some species overwinter on coastal estuaries and mudflats, a surprising number breed at inland sites. We're fortunate here on the edge of Sheffield to have a number of waders nesting on the surrounding moors and using the reservoirs to feed and bathe.

To the best of my knowledge, gleaned after just five years here, we have nine species of waders breeding in the locality. Curlews and golden plovers nest in the heather on the moors, snipe breed in the boggy, reedy patches at the edges of the moors and lapwings nest in the grassy pastures, for example along Redmires conduit. Common sandpipers breed near water, either on the shoreline of the reservoirs or in nearby plantations, while woodcock (the wader of the woods) nest in the undergrowth in woodland surrounding the reservoirs. Oystercatchers and both ringed and little ringed plovers choose stony areas around the reservoirs to make a scrape and lay their eggs. On a good day, with patience, a bit of luck and decent binoculars it's possible to see all nine species - though to see woodcock it's necessary to be out at dusk to catch their roding flight.

These are all ground-nesting birds and so very vulnerable to disturbance and predation. Crows, magpies, owls, kestrels, stoats, weasels and foxes all see chicks and eggs as little packets of protein for themselves or their young and, despite the best defence and distraction tactics of the adult waders, the majority of their young fail to reach maturity. I would imagine woodcock are probably the most successful as their concealed nest, superb camouflage, tendency to sit tight and crepuscular habit makes them far less conspicuous than the other species.

I never go looking for nests as this obviously would cause disturbance. Courtship displays are a good indication that birds are pairing up and that breeding is imminent. Also, the fact that they are present during May and June indicates likely breeding. With persistence and a bit of luck it may be possible to spot the chicks of some of these birds. Young lapwings in particular, if they have avoided becoming a tasty snack, can sometimes be seen feeding in the fields along Brown Hills Lane.