Wader wonderland

Woodcock NestBy Marlies Nicolai, GWCT Auchnerran Research Assistant

It’s that time of year again when the wading birds return from their wintering grounds and settle down to breed at Auchnerran.

The farm is made up of a variety of habitats including some wetlands and farmland that provide suitable environments for breeding waders to nest. Although it is only the start of the waders’ breeding season it is evident that a number of species are beginning to perform a variety of acrobatic displays.

At this time of year we start to systematically search for signs of breeding activity by waders. For some, like the curlew and lapwing, this is relatively easy as the males perform spectacular aerial displays both to attract females and ward-off other males.

Snipe too are relatively easy to spot as the males again perform a roding display in the evening, but they do seem to be a little more subtle about it and restrict most of their activity to this time of day – similar to the woodcock. Males of this species perform an intriguing night-time dance that sounds a lot like croaking frogs!

This all adds up to an impressive array of wader species at Auchnerran. The curlew is of particular importance as it was recently cited by conservationists as the most threatened bird in the UK because its numbers here are declining sharply, and the UK hosts around 25 per cent of the entire world population. This gives us a golden opportunity to study this species at Auchnerran to try to bring our special brand of practical conservation to bear.

It is not just the curlew that is threatened. It is great to see such a variety of wading bird species on the farm as it is well known that the numbers of most are diminishing in agricultural settings due to the draining of wetlands, removal of suitable habitats and, in many places, the loss of eggs and young to predators. Auchnerran has for years personified a low intensity farming system coupled with legal predator control, so providing a safe, low-disturbance environment for waders to flourish.

The most abundant wader at Auchnerran is probably the lapwing, found in most grazed and ploughed fields on the farm. This spectacular bird, with its loud and distinctive almost electronic call, erratic and excitable flight patterns, combined with its glamorous head dress, seems to add some intrigue and excitement to the dullest of surroundings. It is safe to say that this wader has some very unique characteristics and it’s welcomed to the farm.

In the next few weeks it is hoped that a number of nests will be identified and young waders will soon be emerging. Once consistent nesting sites have been identified greater efforts can then be made towards protecting and monitoring these sites to further enhance breeding wader populations. May the return of the waders continue!

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