Saturday, 20 June 2015

Hilltop waders

A Dunlin Calidris alpina watches quietly - easily overlooked as it is little taller than the grasses

Last weekend I was surveying waders in the eastern Highlands, up on the top of the hills. It is on plateaux like these where Arctic-alpine waders such as Dunlin and Golden Plover breed, and they are beautiful birds in their breeding plumage. But they can be tricky to find.

The Dunlin can be obvious when they are displaying, chasing one another around the hilltops, singing their trilling song, but once they have eggs or chicks they hide. They are small, and even when they run away, they look not much larger than a small rodent, sneaking through the grass rather than flying away. Mostly, they will stand still and watch people walk by, oblivious of their presence.

A Dunlin runs through the grass

A Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria stands alert, calling in alarm - difficult to not notice when watching over their chicks

Golden Plover are often as secretive when with eggs. Although some will walk or fly away and call in their peeping alarm call, many sit tight and watch people go by. But once their chicks have hatched the plovers are on constant alert, calling in loud repetitive peeps whenever a human or other potential predator approaches. Meanwhile, their chicks lie low in the grass or heather, their wonderfully golden down mimicking the yellow moss that underlies the taller plants.

Four golden plover chicks - a day old and soon ready to leave the nest 

Golden Plover chicks are some of the most beautifully coloured wader chicks, but the birds don't live on such anthropomorphic terms, don't yet perfectly matched to their hiding places up on the high mossy plateaux.

Golden balls of fluff - these plover chicks are marvelously coloured

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