Dunlins at Dawn

Goldcliff Lagoons for the last couple of weeks has been hosting a significant number of Dunlins scientific name :Calidris Alpina - "The Sandpiper from the high Mountain"  (Ref 1). They have been visiting the lagoons in their hundreds. Earlier in the week it was reported that their were over 800+ birds.

Dunlins hurtling past

When I have seen them they have been frequenting primarily the first lagoon - Monks. Views of these small waders have often been best from Hide 1 or the Redshank Platform.

Many of my readers may ask - why are we seeing so many Dunlins all of a sudden at the lagoons?

Well spring migration is now under way and these birds are very likely congregating in order to make a journey to Iceland and Scandinavia.  These birds are most likely to be birds that have wintered in the United Kingdom and possibly western Europe.

There are three main different sub-species of Dunlins (There are apparently ten sub-species world wide). I have read that there are three of these sub-species that are known to occur in Europe and may appear in the UK. (Ref 1) -

  • C.a. Alpina - breeds in Northern Scandanavia, and eastwards to Northern Russia. This sub-species winters in West Europe (including UK) and Mediterranean (Ref 2)
  • C.a. Schinizi- breeds in South Eastern Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Northern Britain, and Southern Scandanavia. This sub-species winters mainly in West Africa (Ref 2).
  • C.a  Arctica - breeds in North-Eastern Greenland and Svalbard. This sub-species winters in West Africa (Ref 2).
I am no expert but cant help wondering what sub-species the Dunlins are I photographed today. On examination of my pictures I suspect that they are C.a. Alpina. What makes identification of the sub-species in all the birds hard is that some are in various stages of moult so I am not sure if any of them could be Schinizi.

Dunlins landing on Monks

Dunlins feeding on Monks

I love watching these birds fly around in their tightly bunched flocks. They hurtle around and capturing flight pictures of these small birds is not the easiest I must confess. Today I had some technical issues with focusing which added to the difficulty enormously. The blame though is entirely on myself tinkering with my lens again.

Dunlins do a close fly past at Priors Lagoon.

It was quite weird today at the lagoons concerning the waders. They were in their greatest numbers at just after dawn and then as high tide approached their numbers dwindled from almost 600 birds to about 50. A pair of Marsh Harriers and a Buzzard was partly to blame for scaring them but at high tide they had all but vanished.

Besides the Dunlins there was plenty other birds to watch. Many of the waders have been breeding and I have been keeping my eyes out on the how the chicks are doing.  My feeling so far is not good. Avocet and Ringed Plover chicks were seen in very small numbers. They always look vulnerable and prone to being picked off by a predator at any moment. The Avocet, Lapwings and Shelducks continue to mob the predators but I do wonder how many will fledge successfully. Talking of success stories - the Geese as ever are Legion on the reserve. The Canadian and Greylag Geese all have large broods that are now all over the lagoons.


Behind the first hide we heard a pair of male Cuckoos calling. One of them we watched flying off along the reen towards to the entrance lane.

On Priors Lagoons my friend Nev Davies who accompanied me for most of the morning spotted a drake Garganey duck. A nice tick to have for Goldcliff this year to add to my list.

Drake Garganey ( record shot)

We were both surprised at the numbers of Gadwall ducks. There were 28 at one stage on Priors with some Tufted Ducks mixed in.

Gadwall acrobatics

Overhead it was good to watch a number of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. They all appeared to be coming in off the estuary.

Near the entrance a pair are building a nest in the eves of a house and as I left the reserve later I watched one of the house martins landing near a puddle and some wet mud. I think it was collecting mud for its nest. Beautiful birds close up.

House Martin

Once again it was all worth getting up at stupid o'clock for. The sunrise was pretty epic.

Sunrise from Priors

Ref 1- Waders of Europe - A photographic guide by Lars Gejl.

Ref 2 - Collins Bird Guide 2nd Edition 


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