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In his monthly column, JONO LEADLEY of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust looks at this strange summer has been affecting breeding birds.
IT CERTAINLY hasn’t been a summer of sun so far and this has had a dramatic effect on wildlife. We have seen phenomenal numbers of upland and Arctic-breeding waders that have clearly given it up as a bad job and departed south early.
At stopover points on the east and west coast, large numbers of Icelandic-breeding black-tailed godwits have been turning up in numbers much higher than is usual in July.
These ground-nesting species are very susceptible to flooding and prolonged heavy rain can wash away their nests; following a number of failed attempts the birds just give up.
Closer to home curlews and dunlins that nest in upland areas, along the Pennines and in Scotland, have been departing too for similar reasons. So, will this have a negative effect?
Waders are long-lived with smaller species such as dunlins living to almost (and probably over) 20 years and larger species such as curlews living well over 30 years. Therefore, providing this unusual weather does not become a trend, the waders should soon bounce back.
Worryingly, many scientists now predict that as the global climate changes, the weather in the UK will become even more unpredictable, with these extreme events more common. This unsettled weather is possibly a sign of things to come.
The movement of waders is a remarkable event, with many species moving from breeding grounds in the high Arctic and wintering in southern Europe, West and South Africa. These colossal journeys are all the more notable considering how small some of these birds are.
Dunlins are only two-thirds of the weight of a starling, at around 50 grams, yet they have the strength and endurance to travel thousands of miles in one go – as impressive as any Olympic athlete.
Estuaries in the UK, such as the Humber, provide a vital wintering ground for some of these birds with the mud and sand flats containing a rich, yet unseen source of food.
The estuaries also provide a great refuelling site for thousands more birds which continue their journeys after feeding for a few days. The Humber could therefore be seen as a giant service station for international travellers.
Spurn and Welwick Saltmarsh out on the Humber are two great Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves where you can enjoy the spectacle of thousands of waders.
Inland, smaller numbers of waders move through, with sites such as Staveley Nature Reserve, near Boroughbridge, attracting species like green sandpipers and greenshanks which prefer the fresh water habitats on offer.
In ploughed fields, large flocks of lapwings assemble following breeding. The young birds sport neat ginger scalloping on their iridescent green upperparts and the ratio of young to old birds in a flock is a good indicator of the success of a breeding season.
Many of these lapwings will winter around Yorkshire, but if harsh weather arrives, they may continue further south and west.
If you get the chance, take time to look at our migrant waders, spectacular global travellers that grace us with their presence only for a short time.