Thursday, 13 March 2014


High Tide Wader Roost by Richard Zamora
Waterford being a coastal county has large areas of estuarine mud. At first glance mud may seem to be a degraded habitat devoid of all life. Happily this is not the case. Estuarine mudflats are considered one of the richest habitats in the world. The mixture of fresh and salt waters, with abundant nutrients and organic materials supports an extremely abundant invertebrate resource. This food concentration is extremely important to birdlife, particularly waders.

Lapwing by Colum Flynn
Waders, or shorebirds in American parlance, generally occupy wet places where they probe for food such as molluscs, snails, worms and other invertebrates. Waders include a large number of different species characterised by different bill and leg lengths. This allows each species to probe at different depths in the mud to locate prey, thus avoiding direct competition. It also guarantees that the prey species can survive in sufficient numbers to ensure continued existence.

Waterford is of vital importance to wader survival in two respects –
Long-Billed Dowitcher by Liam Cahill
overwintering birds, and passage migrants.

Large numbers of waders choose Waterford to overwinter. Their feeding is dictated by the tides. Waders only stop feeding at high tide when the mud is totally covered. Night-time is not an obstacle – they simply continue probing for food during the hours of darkness.

Whimbrel & Grey Plover by Pat Veale
Waders are long distance migrants moving in spring to their breeding grounds in the far north from their over-wintering areas here, in Southern Europe and Africa. In autumn they reverse their migration along with their progeny. These journeys are not done in one step. The waders stop off at traditional feeding areas upon which they have become dependent over millennia. They feed at these staging posts before continuing with their onward migrations. Any loss or damage to these feeding areas would be catastrophic to their wellbeing. Whimbrel, migrating to their breeding grounds and stopping on the way to feed in Waterford in late April, is an excellent example of passage migration.
Dunlin by Fran O'Connell

Black-Tailed Godwit by Colum Flynn
The following illustrates the absolute importance of Waterford to waders as a winter refuge in terms of numbers: Dungarvan is internationally important for black-tailed godwit and nationally important for oystercatchers, golden plover, grey plover, knot, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, greenshank, redshank and turnstone. Tramore is nationally important for golden plover, grey plover and black-tailed godwit whilst Waterford Harbour holds nationally important numbers of oystercatcher and black-tailed godwit. The Blackwater Callows are internationally important for black-tailed godwit and nationally important for curlew.
Lesser Yellowlegs by Colum Flynn

Occasionally Waterford plays host to rare American waders (shorebirds). At different times long billed dowitcher, American golden plover, pectoral sandpiper, lesser yellow-legs and semi-palmated sandpiper have graced the Cunnigar.

Sanderling by Fran O'Connell
Viewing waders in Waterford is easy. Bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits are readily located in large numbers on estuarine mud virtually anywhere within the county. Turnstone get their name from their habit of turning over stones and seaweed to locate prey. Dunlin are the ubiquitous small wader often in large flocks. Both dunlin and turnstone are widespread throughout Waterford. Watch out for the small grey sanderling feeding along the tideline.
Turnstone by Andrew Malcolm

Curlew by Liam Cahill
 Sanderling resemble toy soldiers as they advance and retreat with the breaking waves. High tide roosts present an opportunity to view different species in close proximity and to study the varied sizes and plumages. Look for and listen to the widespread lapwing with its distinctive pee-wit call. The long de-curved bill of the curlew is unmistakeable, coupled with its plaintive ‘curlew’ call. 

Look among the wader flocks for the plump, stubby billed, medium sized, pale coloured grey plover. The grey plover is easily recognised by its dark axillaries (armpits) once in flight.
Redshank by Andrew Malcolm

 Both redshank and greenshank are common throughout Waterford and best recognised by their respective leg colouration and easily recognisable calls.

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