Introduction to waders

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Waders are adapted in a variety of ways to feeding and living around the fringes of coasts, estuaries, lakes and ponds. Different species vary, for example, in length of leg and length and shape of bill, so that they can feed in different depths of water and on different foods – curlew, with their long curved bill, probe deep for lugworms; dunlin pick up hydrobia near the surface; ノ

avocets move their up-turned bill from side to side in the shallows sweeping up tiny creatures. The mudflats on which many of them feed look like a wasteland but are in fact amazingly productive ecosystems. Huge numbers of tiny creatures – shrimps, crustaceans, worms and molluscs – flourish in the ooze, feeding on the nutrients in the mud and on each other. Numbers of hydrobia, a tiny snail, have been counted as around 5,000 per square metre.

Most waders are migrants. Birds that breed further north, as far away as the arctic, come in their thousands to the coasts and estuaries of Essex for the winter. A few species breed in Essex: ringed plover, oystercatcher and avocet on the estuaries; ノ

redshank, snipe, little ringed plover and lapwing inland. Others are passage migrants, stopping off to feed on their journeys south from their northern breeding grounds in the autumn, and on the return journey in the spring.

© David Harrison