Bulletin 1 - March 1977: Waders in the United Arab Emirates
Waders in the United Arab Emiratesby John Stewart-Smith
These notes are a summary of a presentation given to the Emirates Natural History Group (Abu Dhabi). Each species was illustrated by 35mm colored slides taken by the author.
1. Crab Plover (Dromas ardeola) (RES prob BR)
A large (15-inch) white bird with a black mantle and black primary flight feathers. The heavy, black tern-like bill is used to catch and crack open crabs. They also feed on mollusks and worms. These birds are unique among waders because of their peculiar nesting habits. They select a sandy plain up to half a mile from the shoreline and there they establish their nesting colonies. They dig a nesting tunnel ending in a large chamber never less than five feet from the entrance. They lay one huge, chalky-white egg about as big as a goose egg. The single egg is laid about mid-April and the chicks are still being hatched out in mid-June. The young birds remain in the safety of the nesting tunnel for some time after hatching and are fed on live crabs by the parents.
These birds certainly breed on the Batinah Coast between Muscat and Fujairah and the coast is suitable as far north as Dibba although I have not seen them there. I have seen pairs on the beaches between Sharjah and Ajman, but I cannot fiend any breeding records for the Arabian Gulf coastline. Despite statements that these birds are very tame, I've found them to be extremely difficult to approach. I have noticed a peculiarity about these birds which will probably help with long range recognition; when they fly away they sometimes hold their rather long necks upright and look back over their shoulders. They apparently always extend their necks in flight. The juvenile birds are gray and white and not black and while like the adults.
2. Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) (WV PM SV)
I think that the numbers of Oystercatchers wintering in the UAE have increased quite dramatically over the past three or four years. The status of the Oystercatcher in the UAE is rather a puzzle because I've now recorded them here in almost every month of the year. I suspect that some birds may spend the whole year here, perhaps first-year birds that are non-breeders. The winter visitors show varying amounts of white on the throat. I saw one bird on Abu Dhabi Island on the 26th April 1972which had an all white breast. At first I thought that I had found a new sub-species but as I've never seen another bird like it I suppose it must have been a freak.
3. Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) (PM)
Unmistakable in the air or on the ground, the Black-winged Stilt has got fantastically long think pink legs and a long thin black needle bill. The adult male birds have dark brownish crowns and a patch of the same color on the nape; the females have all white heads and necks and the juveniles have brownish wings, napes and crowns. There are five recognized sub-species but the ones seen here in the UAE are in the nominate sub-species, H.h. himantopus. Their breeding range includes parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, Malaya, and Africa. I have seen these birds all over the Emirates including some juveniles in August on some brackish ponds over a hundred miles from the coast south of the old track from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain. They are common in small numbers on all the coasts of the Emirates and seem to favor the lagoons around Umm al Qawain and between Khor Kalba and Dibba on the east coast. They are noisy birds when disturbed and seem to mix freely with the other waders during their migration. I have seen the Black-winged Stilt in the UAE in every month of the year except in June and July.
4. Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) (?PM)
Avocets breed on the northern side of the Arabian Gulf, but I have never seen one within the UAE myself. One was recorded at Sharjah on 17th August 1969 but I cannot find any other records for the UAE.
5. Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) (PM SV)
The Ringed Plover is a most attractive little wader with distinctive head markings. It has a rather crouching stance on the ground and it moves around in fits and starts as it feeds. There are some 30 species of Ringed Plover, but the one seen here is Charadrius hiaticula. These birds breed in Britain, Greenland, Baffin Island and parts of western Europe north to Scandinavia. One of the recognized sub-species is slightly smaller than the nominate bird and it breeds in the Arctic tundra of northern Scandinavia through Russia to Siberia. I believe that these smaller birds are the ones that migrate through the UAE. Some of these birds remain here throughout the summer instead of traveling further south on migration.
6. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) (PM)
This is a smaller version of the previously mentioned bird, but it is really quite easy to tell them apart. The Little Ringed Plover has no wing bar in flight. On the ground, it is usually possible to see the white line above the black forehead, the black bill and a bright yellow eye-ring. The Little Ringed Plover has pale legs whereas those of the Ringed Plover are usually bright orange. The Little Ringed Plover has a much wider breeding range than its larger relative and breeds in a broad band of country right across Europe, though Central Asia to Japan. They breed on the north side of the Arabian Gulf and cover the whole of the Indian sub-continent and Burma. There are apparently suitable breeding areas within the UAE and I would like to think that someone from the Emirates Natural History Group may provide the evidence necessary to add this attractive little wader to the Arabian breeding list.
7. Kentish Plover< (Charadrius alexandrinus) (RES BR PM WV)
The Kentish Plover is smaller, slimmer and paler than the two previously mentioned ringed plovers. The adult male has a reddish brown crown, black bill and blackish legs. A white wing bar shows in flight and this helps to distinguish it from the Lesser Ringed Plover. These little birds may be seen on almost any beach in the Emirates, dashing along with their legs an invisible blur and looking for all the world like a clockwork toy or a tiny uni-cyclist. They sing a trilling, high-pitched son, particularly in the evenings. They seem to have fairly catholic tastes in food and I've seen them eating dead fish on the beach and even managed to get some pictures of three Kentish Plover feeding on the meat of a recently dead camel.
If you color in the coastline from Denmark, down the coast of Western Europe, right around the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea, right around Africa, Arabia and down to Pakistan and then outline Australia, add a big blob in Central Asia and East Africa and a few touches in the Americas and you will have illustrated the breeding range of this cosmopolitan little bird.
They breed here in Abu Dhabi, actually on the island, and their sad distraction display will tell you when you are close to the young or the well disguised clutch of three or four eggs. The numbers of Kentish Plovers in the UAE fluctuate as migrants from the east of the Caspian Sea swell the local resident population.
8. Greater Sandplover (Charadrius leschenaultii) (WV PM)
The Greater Sandplover is much larger than any of the previously mentioned waders, being almost as big as a Golden Plover. They breed in central Asia east of the Caspian Sea and are apparently expanding their breeding range westwards and southwards having recently been found in Syria, Jordan and Turkey. There are old un-authenticated records of breeding in Arabia and it seems likely that there are still more breeding grounds to be found. The Greater Sandplovers travel long distances between their breeding areas and their wintering areas. They go as far as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Records tell of 'great numbers' passing through the UAE during the autumn migration with the birds arriving here at the end of June, but I have seen only a few of these birds here during the past seven years. They seem to adopt a very upright stance and give the impression of extending their necks to peer down upon the smaller waders about them. Birds which I have seen passing through the UAE are usually in intermediate colors half way between breeding colors and winter plumage, and they show remnants of the rufous crown, neck and breastband.
9. Mongolian Plover (Charadrius mongolus) (WV PM)
This bird is also known as the Lesser Sandplover. It is almost the same size as the Ringed Plover. All the birds that I have seen passing through the UAE on migration have retained extensive rufous markings on the breast. Again, I must disagree with the reports that say this bird is very common here from August to April. I have never seen more than 25 together, and they are more usually alone. The numbers in the UAE seem to fluctuate from year to year. The best place I have found for spotting the Mongolian Plover in the UAE is Khor Ajman and the big lagoon areas just to the north of Umm al Qawain.
10. Caspian Plover (Charadrius asiaticus) (PM)
The Caspian Plover is most difficult to distinguish from the Mongolian Plover when they are both in winter plumage. In the breeding plumage the rufous breastband of the Caspian Plover is not as extensive as that of the Mongolian Plover and is underlined by a black band. In the intermediate plumage it is often possible to see the remains of this dark line across the lower breast.
The Caspian Plover is divided into two sub-species, one breeding just east of the Caspian Sea and the other breeding in Mongolia and in Korea. The western birds, from the area east of the Caspian Sea, winter in the Arabian Gulf and all down the east coast of Africa from the Red Sea to the Cape.
11. Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) (PM PV)
The Golden Plover is, I think, the most attractive of plovers. It is quite plain looking at a long distance, but seen close each feather is a thing of beauty. The Golden Plover will always be associated in my memory with the midnight sun of the far north in summertime. I spent one summer in the north watching Snowy Owls breeding on the tundra, and whenever I think of that summer I recall the plaintive calls of the Golden Plover as they walked about their breeding grounds.
The Golden Plovers have lost some of their beautiful black, white and gold colors by the time they reach the UAE, but they are still attractive birds.
There are two sub-species of the Golden Plover but they can only be separated in summer plumage. The northern Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria altifrons) breeds in Iceland, northern Scandinavia and Russia as far east as the Yenisei River. Normally, birds which breed furthest north then migrate furthest south, so it is likely that the Golden Plovers we see here in the United Arab Emirates are of the northern sub-species.
13. Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) (PM WV)
The Grey Plover is almost identical in outline and size to the Golden Plover. These birds are exceptions among the waders because they are easier to recognize in winter plumage (as seen in the UAE) than when they are in their breeding plumage. They always show quite diagnostic black auxiliary feathers in flight -- my five-year-old son puts it more clearly when he says they have "black armpits". The Grey Plovers breed in much the same area across the top of the world as do the Lesser Golden Plovers. The Grey Plovers are great travelers and they cross the equator on migration, going down to about 40° south latitude during the northern winter. The 40° south parallel of latitude lies south of the while continent of Africa, all Australia except Tasmania and most of the southern island of New Zealand.
14. Dotterel (Eudromias morinellus) (?st)
The Dotterel is unmistakable in breeding plumage but is quite easily overlooked in winter plumage as seen in the UAE. It is almost the same size as a Turnstone but the same shape as a Grey Plover. In winter it shows a faint white chest stripe and usually has pale yellow legs. A pale eyestripe can be seen if you get close enough.
There are 10 species of birds called "dotterel" but the ones we see in small numbers in the UAE are E. morinellus. The name "dotterel" is apparently derived from the same Old English root as "dote" and "Dotty" so tame on the breeding grounds that it can easily be caught. The cock bird takes on all the domestic duties of the hen and incubates the eggs for some 22 days without help from his mate. He then broods the chicks unaided. A male chauvinistic ornithologist suggested that this is the real reason for the bird being labeled "fool"! Whatever the truth of the matter, the male Dotterel shows such a strong parental drive that it is possible to pick an incubating bird off the eggs, count the eggs, and then replace the bird without the bird becoming in the least upset. Once the chicks have hatched they remain with their father. I have seen pictures of a cock dotterel brooding chicks held in the hand of an ornithologist. This excessive tameness may be the undoing of the species. The breeding areas of the dotterel are already fragmented. Continued and increasing pressure from humans may lead to the extinction of these attractive birds.
15. Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) (WV SV PM)
The Turnstone is easy to recognize in any plumage. It is a rather dumpy little wader with short reddish legs, a sort black bill and plumage which looks black and white at a distance. In breeding plumage the Turnstone has an obvious reddish brown mantle and the birds in the UAE retain some of this color. These birds breed all along the most northerly shores of the world and I've seen them right up at the top of Peary Island, which is the most northerly land on earth. I have seen Turnstones in the UAE during every month of the year, so it appears as if juvenile birds do not return to their breeding grounds during their first year.
Turnstones get their English name from their feeding habit of turning stones over with their bills in order to get at their food. They also rummage in seaweed and fling it about to uncover insects. There are authenticated records of several Turnstones working together to overturn objects too large for one bird to manage. These are successful birds partly because their wide breeding area is still fairly remote and inaccessible to man and also because their food choice is wide. Some of the odd things eaten by them as well as their normal diet of insects, mollusks and crustaceans include seal offal in the Pacific, bread in England, and a dead sheep and a human corpse washed ashore in Wales. They have even displayed a fondness for porridge oats in Scotland!
It is unusual to see one Turnstone by itself and one normally sees groups of 20 to 30 together in the UAE. They are noisy, quarrelsome birds on the ground and keep up a constant bickering while feeding. In the air they have a happy, chuckling call which seems to be used to maintain contact between members of the flock. One the ground they also use a whirring grating call rather like a wooden peg being twisted in a wooden hole. They always seem to prefer the piece of food found by another bird and Turnstones will chase other waders from their feeding area. The migration flight of the Turnstone is rapid. One bird was shot 500 miles south of the spot where it had been ringed only 25 hours previously.
16. Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) (WV)
The Lapwing, which is also called the Peewit or Green Plover, breeds in a broad band of countries across Europe and Asia from Iceland at 10°W to Manchuria at 120°E. It is a broad-winged plover that looks black and white at a distance but shows almost metallic green sheen on its back and wing coverts in close-up. The adults have long black plumes on the top of the head, but these are shorter on the juvenile birds. The male Lapwing has broader and more rounded wings than the female and these show up in flight. When the males are displaying on the breeding grounds they make a loud, throbbing, wheezing sound with their wings. This seems to be quite voluntary and controlled, just like the bleating sound produced by the snipe's tail feathers during territorial display.
The majority of Lapwings that visit the UAE are juvenile birds that spend the winter here, but there are also some adults here during the winter. I have seen only small numbers of Lapwings in the UAE and I think that we are fairly close to the southern limit for these birds, which are not a truly migratory species. By that, I mean that not all Lapwings leave their breeding areas and they do not follow well-defined routes while wandering northwards in the autumn.
17. Red-wattled Plover (Vanellus indicus) (RES ?BR)
The Red-Wattled Plover is a member of the same genus, Vanellus, as the Lapwing. All these plovers have black wingtips and usually show a large white patch below the wings. They all have white tails and most have a black terminal band at the tip of the tail. I am not positive about the status of the Red-Wattled Plover in the UAE but it is a resident and is probably a breeding species. Single birds occur on the Abu Dhabi island very occasionally and they are generally rare in Abu Dhabi state, but the best spot to find Red-Wattled Plovers in the UAE is in the Northern Emirates around Ras al Khaimah and Hisn Dibba, where they almost certainly breed.
18. White-tailed Plover (Vanellus leucurus) (?WV ?PM)
Seen on the ground, this bird is a tall, slim, brownish plover with long yellow legs and a dark bill. In the air it shows the black primaries diagnostic of the genus, and a large white patch above and below the wings. The pure whitetail is not easily seen while the bird is on the ground. The White-Tailed Plover breeds in Syria, Iran, Baluchistan and the USSR. In winter, some of the birds move southwards from the western end of the breeding range into Egypt and the Sudan. Others move into northwest India from the eastern end of the breeding range. The distribution charts do not show any wintering White-Tailed Plover in Arabia, but I have seen them around Riyadh and Al Kharj in central Saudi Arabia. They also occur here in the United Arab Emirates. I suspect that this is another example of the distribution maps showing the distribution of bird watchers rather than the actual distribution of birds. The White-Tailed Plovers occur in groups of five to 10 around Riyadh, but usually only single birds are to be seen in the UAE. I would expect them to occur in the foothills of Oman and around Buraimi and Al Ain and also in Ras al Khaimah. The ones that I have seen are quite tame on migration and do not object to being closely approached for photography.
19. Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola falcinellus) (PM WV)
The Broad-billed Sandpiper is smaller than a Dunlin and reminds me of a tiny snipe. We still do not know a lot about this little wader. It breeds in central and northern Scandinavia and on the Kola peninsula of arctic Russia. The breeding range is presumed to extend across Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. The wintering areas of the Broad-billed Sandpiper are equally vaguely defined. The western birds have been reported wintering in the eastern Mediterranean, around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and in Egypt but these birds are probably stragglers from the main migration movements. Up to 500 a day pass through Aden, on the way south to an undiscovered wintering area, probably in Eastern Africa. Those birds, which have probably bred in the Kola peninsula and further eastwards, spend their winters around the Arabian Gulf, Indian and Ceylon. Others go to Burma, Indo-China, Micronesia, and even to the southeast of Australia. The Broad-billed Sandpiper is very easy to overlook during migration. Their inconspicuous nature is aggravated by their habit of mixing in with big flocks of Dunlin and it is all too easy to look at a mass of Dunlin without spotting the Broad-billed Sandpipers amongst them. Very little is known about the courtship, incubation or fledging of this bird. The size of the clutch is unrecorded. Not much is known about the food either, so be on the lookout for this rather dark, short-legged, heavy-billed little wader with eye-stripes and plumage like a snipe. Observe it carefully and record all you can because we can almost certainly add to the knowledge collected about the Broad-billed Sandpiper.
20. Curlew Sandpiper (Calidria ferruginea) (PM WV)
The Curlew Sandpiper is a Dunlin-sized wader that passes through the UAE on migration. A number stop their migration here and spend their winter on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. The Curlew Sandpiper is an oddity among waders because it has a restricted breeding area but a vast wintering area. It breeds in the northeast Palearctic region from the mouth of the Yenisei River to the Bering Isles. When they leave the breeding grounds they spread out southwards across most of the world. Their main wintering areas include most of the African coastline right down to the Cape, the whole of the Indian sub-continent, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, the East Indies and the coastline of most of Australia. They even wander to North and South America.
The Curlew Sandpiper is unmistakable in its rich chestnut-red breeding plumage, but it is not so outstanding in its winter plumage. It has a longer, finer, and more evenly down-curved bill, longer legs and a much slimmer outline than the Dunlin. It also has a more prominent eye-stripe. When the winter Curlew Sandpiper is in the air it shows a diagnostic white rump almost like a House Martin. Some of the birds passing through the UAE show the remains (or beginnings) of the reddish chestnut breeding plumage and they look pretty untidy in this state. I cannot remember ever having seen a Curlew Sandpiper in full breeding plumage here in the UAE.
21. Dunlin (Calidris alpina) (WV PM)
The Dunlin is the commonest and most widespread wader in the north hemisphere. It has an almost circumpolar distribution and breeds in Greenland, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe, right across Asia, Alaska and in northern Canada. During autumn the Dunlins migrate southward as far as about 20'N and a large number spend their winter here in the UAE. Because of its abundance and because it breeds quite a way farther south than most of the Arctic-breeding waders, the Dunlin has been widely studied. The young birds (usually four) feed themselves on insects as soon as they are hatched. The role of the female Dunlin is to lead the young to suitable feeding areas, to warn of danger and to brood the young birds in bad weather. She rapidly loses interest in the young birds and leaves them after about six days and almost immediately sets off on her southward migration. The male Dunlin stays with the young and is assisted in caring for them by failed breeders or non-breeders, but he also leaves before the young can fly. Despite this rather careless upbringing, the numbers of Dunlin are increasing and their range is expanding. This may be due to worldwide climatic changes.
The summer plumage of the Dunlin, which normally lasts until the end of August, includes a black patch on the lower breast and belly. In the winter the black and brown mottled back becomes grayish-brown and the belly is almost white. The juvenile birds have black spots speckled on sides of the breast and these remain until the following July.
22. Temminck's Stint (Calidris temminckii) (PM WV)
Temminck's Stint is the smallest wader to be seen in the UAE. Measuring only 14cms from the tip of its bill to the end of its tail and weighing between 15 and 30 gm, it is not much bigger than a House Sparrow. Even in breeding plumage the Temminck's Stint is an inconspicuous mousey gray-brown on the back and breast and is white below. They are difficult to distinguish from the commoner Little Stint, but the field marks to look for are the legs, the tail and the flight pattern when the Temminck's Stint is flushed from the ground. Temminck's Stint has got brownish, greenish or yellowish legs whereas the Little Stint's legs are black. The outer four tail feathers are pure white in comparison with the smoky brown tail feathers of the Little Stint. The Temminck's Stint has a characteristic flight pattern when disturbed. They fly up steeply to a fairly high altitude giving a high pitched twittering call. These birds breed across the top of Europe and Asia and they migrate directly southwards, spending their winters in a broad area from the northeast of Africa to Japan and going as far south as Borneo. They are rare in Britain and less than 30 are recorded there each year. The birds move south across the landmass of Asia and have been recorded as high as 17,000 feet on the Rongbuk Glacier in the Everest area.
23. Little Stint (Calidris minuta) (PM WV)
All the reference books tell me that the Little Stint is easy to recognize and identify but I must admit to a mental block regarding this bird. I have to look carefully to separate the inter plumage Little Stint from the winter plumage Kentish Plover when they are on the ground. These birds are not closely related and the Little Stint has quite a different bill. The Kentish Plover has a fairly prominent white wing bar while the Little Stint has only a faint one; the Kentish Plover has a dark shoulder patch and the Little Stint is smaller . . . but I still confuse them! The Little Stint is fairly common in the UAE during winter and the numbers here peak during the migration periods.
24. Sanderling (Calidris alba) (PM WV)
The Sanderling is one of the easiest small waders to recognize in its winter plumage. The scientific name of Calidris alba obviously refers to the white winter plumage. If you see little white waders whizzing about the beaches like a crowd of crazy clockwork mice then you are almost certainly watching Sanderlings.
Sanderlings have a scattered and fragmented breeding area or areas mainly in eastern Greenland, parts of Siberia, the islands of the Arctic Sea and scattered islands off Arctic Canada. They arrive on their Arctic breeding grounds in the last week of June or the first week of July. Six weeks later the juveniles are grouping into small flocks and the adults have already set out on their long southward migration flight. Sanderlings are great travelers and they go to places as far apart as Chile, South Africa and Australia. Most sandy beaches in the world are visited by Sanderlings at some time, but the flocks are always small compared to most other waders. Sanderlings often mix with other waders and seem to prefer the company of Dunlin. Their white plumage and shorter bills (without the drooping tip of the Dunlin's bill) make them stand out in these mixed flocks.
25. Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) (PM WV)
The Red-necked Phalarope is a wonderfully attractive little bird. I have watched them on their Arctic breeding grounds and wintering here in the UAE. It takes patience and a certain amount of luck to get close pictures of most waders but with the Phalarope one has to keep backing away from the very tame birds in order to be able to focus a telephoto lens.
The Phalaropes have several peculiarities of behavior besides their total lack of fear of humans. The swim far more frequently and freely than other waders. They seem to sit on top of the water like corks. Rough seas do not seem to bother them at all. They have sexual role-reversal (or woman's lib) in the extreme. The female Red-necked Phalarope is much more brightly colored than the male. She chooses the breeding area, selects her mate and displays to him. She then chases the poor chap all over the place until he mates with her. She lays four eggs . . . and immediately loses interest in the whole proceedings, leaving the male to incubate the eggs, raise the young and look after them until they are ready to migrate southward about a month after their birth.
These birds seem to spend their winters at sea in various parts of the world, including the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and off Aden. They also winter in the Atlantic Ocean off Mauritania and Rio do Oro in West Africa. There are also important wintering areas in New Guinea and Borneo and off Peru in the South Pacific Ocean. Their main winter food is plankton picked from the surface of the sea, but I have seen them feeding on insects in the UAE in the winter. They feed on insects and their larvae and on tiny crustaceans in the breeding areas. The phalaropes have two characteristic feeding methods in the summer. They spin around rapidly on the surface of the water, apparently to bring insects and larvae to the surface. On land, they stalk insects carefully and then freeze, take careful aim with their needle-like bill, and then stab out to snap up the insect almost too quickly to follow.
26. Terek Sandpiper (Tringa cinereus) (PM)
The Terek Sandpiper breeds in a broad inland area extending across the USSR from Finland to the Pacific Ocean. They winter mainly in Malaysia, Australia and, in small numbers, in South Africa. Some of the birds traveling between their breeding areas and South Africa pass through the UAE. The Terek is about 23cm long and looks rather like a miniature Greenshank with a high-domed forehead. It is grayish or brownish above and white below. The birds that pass through the UAE have orange-red legs. It has a slightly upturned bill that is blackish with a reddish base in some cases. It bobs its head like a Common Sandpiper and flies with a rather similar hesitant wing beat. The Terek is usually seen singly in Abu Dhabi, but flocks of up to 25 can be seen in the Northern Emirates. There are apparently no recognized sub-species of the Terek Sandpiper, but the birds passing through the UAE differ from those described in the reference books. The UAE birds have reddish-orange legs instead of the yellow legs shown and they are much browner on the back and wings than the grayish color described elsewhere.
27. Redshank (Tringa totanus) (WV PM SV)
The Redshank is a common winter visitor and passage migrant through the UAE, and some birds remain throughout the summer. It is a medium-sized wader with brownish upper parts and a white belly. On the ground the most striking recognition feature is the long red legs from which the bird gets its English name. In the air the prominent feature is the broad white patch at the trailing edge of the wings and the white rump. When a Redshank is disturbed it gives a loud and distinctive alarm call which often causes other birds to fly off.
The Redshank breeds in Iceland, most of Europe including the Iberian peninsula, and right across Asia to Manchuria. Most, but not all, of the Redshanks leave the breeding areas in winter and move south. Quite a few spent the winter in the UAE. Redshanks feed on small snails, worms and crustaceans. Because of the small size of their prey they need to take a great number to meet their energy requirements. A study in northeast Scotland showed that each Redshank takes about 40,000 prey each day, collecting them at a rate of about one each second.
28. Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) (PM WV)
The Spotted Redshank breeds across the top of the USSR in a fairly narrow band parallel to, and inland from, the northern coastline. The western edge of the breeding area extends into the extreme north of Norway.
The Spotted Redshank is unmistakable in summer plumage of uniform sooty black with large white spots on the mantle and back. I have never seen a Spotted Redshank showing any sign of summer plumage in Arabia. These birds are not at all easy to recognize in winter plumage. They are slightly larger and slimmer looking than the familiar Redshank, and are generally grayer than the brownish Redshank. It has longer legs that extend well beyond the tail in flight. The Spotted Redshanks that I have seen here in the UAE usually have pale legs, but I think that the majority of birds here are juveniles. When the winter plumage Spotted Redshank is in flight it is much easier to separate from the Redshank because it does not have the Redshank's white wing patch at the trailing edge of the wings.
An alternative name for the Spotted Redshank is the "Dusky Redshank". This is much more descriptive of the juvenile and winter plumage birds that pass through the UAE.
29. Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) (PM WV)
The Greenshank breeds in an area similar to the Spotted Redshank except that the Greenshank's breeding grounds extend slightly further south and also west across the top of Scandinavia and into northern Scotland. It was in northern Scotland that Desmond Nethersol-Thompson conducted his classic study of the Greenshank and produced his famous monograph on the species.
The Greenshank is larger and paler than the Redshank and has a very distinctive up-turned bill. The birds wintering in the UAE or those that pass through on migration are very pale gray and white with a dark gray-blue bill and blue-green legs. They seem to be very tame on migration but this may be because they are still young and have not yet learnt to fear man. When flushed into the air, they show a large white wedge of rump and back between the dark wings and they almost always give their distinctive call.
Status in the UAE: n.b. the status given to each species is on no greater authority than my own observations within the UAE since 1970. The status given does not always agree with the references and records available.
Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan
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