Saturday, 29 August 2015

206. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

Here's one I've been looking forward to for a while! Little Ringed Plovers are probably one of my favourite birds, because obviously, they are adorable. They are a regular visitor to RSPB Sandwell Valley although their breeding attempts have not always been successful there (if only they would nest next to the Common Terns, I'm sure their eggs and chicks would then avoid predation). A few thousand of these diminutive waders breed in the southern half of the UK, and they are a relatively recent arrival here, having bred for the first time in the 1930s. They like sparsely vegetated pebbly/sandy/muddy shorelines along freshwater, such as at gravel pits, lakes, reservoirs, sewage works and along rivers. Even post-industrial sites with puddles will serve (see below)! Little Ringed Plovers look similar to Ringed Plovers, but are smaller and slimmer, with a bright yellow eye-ring in the adults and lacking the bright orange legs of their larger relatives. Juvenile look quite similar to the adults, but lack the black face pattern and breast band, having more tentative brown markings instead, and also have no yellow eye-ring. Outside of the UK, they are very widely distributed - breeding virtually continuously all the way across to Japan, although they are not usually found in large numbers. There are resident populations in some parts of south Asia, and others winter in central Africa and parts of equatorial Asia.

Another reason why I like Little Ringed Plovers so much is that one of my formative birding experiences involved them, so they remind me of that time of discovery and also of the other fun stuff that was going on in my life back then. It was back in 2008 when I was living in York with my parents after finishing my first degree, and trying to work out what to do next. I was working part time at a jewellery shop with some lovely people, building up my birding skills by volunteering at St Nicholas Fields and enjoying loads of great live music with my gig buddy Barwell.....good times! I used to commute to work on foot, a walk of around 45 minutes, which took me past the old carriageworks next to York railway station. This was an area of derelict industrial land which was starting to be reclaimed by nature; I often wondered what interesting things I might find there if I could explore it but I don't think there was any 'official' way in. I was always peering in anyway while walking past and one day in May I noticed a couple of small, fluffy, long-legged chicks bobbling around on the gravel! They were very close but without adult plumage I wasn't sure what they might be. After that I brought my binoculars whenever I walked along that route, and although I didn't see the plovers every time, had soon found an adult. Back then I wasn't familiar with the differences between Ringed and Little Ringed Plover so as soon as I got to work I was on the laptop to check which it was, and bingo - of course it was Little Ringed Plover. A life tick for me at that time! Over the summer I saw them quite a few times, and was able to see the chicks grow up. In September that year I moved back to Birmingham where I've been ever since so I don't know whether the plovers returned again; I've seen many Little Ringed Plovers since too, but my first encounter with them remains one of my favourite birding memories.

Little Ringed Plover, ©Frank Vassen, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Little Ringed Plover painting.
Took my time on this one and I'm quite pleased with it :o)