Saturday, November 3, 2012

The yellow-legged wader

The wood sandpiper is a wading bird seen in the Maltese islands during migration. It is one of the smaller waders with a short fine bill and yellowish legs. 

Several species of waders visit the Maltese islands. To the uninitiated they might all look the same but with a little practice and experience identifying these birds becomes second nature.

The best place to see migrating wood sandpipers and other waders in Malta is at the G─žadira Nature Reserve near Mellie─ža which is open t the public on weekends but to see them breeding you would have to travel north at least as far as Scandinavia. 

The nests are built on the ground in open swampy areas in northern forests, but as the summer season so far north is very short you would have to be there between May and mid-July. 

The start and finishing dates of the breeding season depends on how far north they are. In northern Russia for example breeding does not start before June.

Some adult green sandpipers start migrating south as early as late June. 

Young birds remain behind for longer and usually leave in late August. 

This gives them time to become fully grown and to build up their fat reserves which will provide them with the energy required to fly south. 

European and many Asian wood sandpipers spend the winter in Africa. 

On their way south they stop to feed and replenish their fat in suitable places. 

Wetlands north of the Mediterranean are of great importance for these birds as the reserves they build make it possible for them to cross the Sahara desert without the need to refuel.

When stopping to feed, migrating sandpipers keep themselves busy walking continuously along the water’s edge or in shallow waters, picking up tiny aquatic insects from the mud or from the water’s surface.

Wood sandpipers have a very large breeding range and they are not considered as being endangered although climate change is seen as a threat as this could result in their specialised habitat shrinking in area.

 As the earth warms up these birds might have to travel further north to find suitable breeding sites. 

This article was published in The Times on 18.04.2012

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