Sanderling (Calidris alba)

This little bird is found all over the world, and they are here on the coast of Andalucía. It is a bird with a lot of character. They are very busy little birds, on a sandy beach  they will run up and down chasing the incoming waves and picking out little morsels of food washed in by the waves.Sanderling2

They eat a wide range of food, partly dependent on the time of year. When breeding they take insects (especially adult and larval Diptera, Coleoptera and Lepidoptera) as well as spiders and crustaceans  On arrival on the breeding grounds the species may also complement its diet with plant matter (e.g. seeds, saxifrage buds, moss and algae)  before invertebrate prey becomes available.  During the winter its diet consists of small molluscs, crustaceans, polychaete worms and adult, larval and pupal insects (e.g. Diptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Hemiptera and Hymenoptera), as well as occasionally fish and carrion.Sanderling3

They are very fast, old bird books describe their movement as like clockwork, but as clockwork is only something people over 50/60 will remember, this description is becoming less and less useful. Suffice it to say they run like the clappers, you can hardly see their legs move when they are going for it.Sanderling4

‘Going for it’ usually happens when a wave comes in a bit on the fast side and they will run like mad to keep ahead of it, however occasionally the wave is too fast for them and they will, in that case, take to flight for a short distance. Obviously getting their feet wet is not something they appreciate.

They are also to be found on more rocky shores and on muddy estuaries, in fact anywhere along the shore line.  On passage the species may occur on inland freshwater or saline lakes but it is largely coastal during the winter, inhabiting open sandy beaches exposed to the sea, the outer reaches of estuaries, rocky and muddy shores, mudflats and coral reefs .

I took these photos on a stretch of beach where it was both rocky and some sand. Here they were more sedate and were not exhibiting their clockwork tendencies. The little bird you can see is a Ringed plover, there were several of these about as well.Sanderling1

At this time of year they are showing their non breeding plumage which is quite white on the breast with grey and white on the back. Their breeding plumage is a bit darker and a little more brown, however you and I are unlikely to see that as they breed in the high Arctic on barren, stony tundra with well-drained ridges,  and that is not somewhere I get that often.

I really like these little birds they have a lot of charm and to me are the sort of bird you might like to rub shoulders with…. which is almost what is happening here where we have a Sanderling and a Kentish Plover doing a good impression of a couple of bookends.

You can find more about these little birds and others that frequent the shoreline on the RSPB web site.






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