|Spot the white-fronted sandplover on it's nest...|
|White-fronted sandplover nest - two eggs here.|
Unsurprising, therefore, that many birds choose to forage in these rich habitats. Some of them, like the White-fronted Sandplover I found nesting at Ushongo (can you spot it on the nest?! This seems to be the first breeding record for the northern coast of Tanzania) are resident. But most of them are migrants fron the north and now, in mid July, most of them are busy finishing off their breeding season. Not all, though - a few first year birds will hang around in Africa all year, waiting to breed for another year, and already those adults who failed in their breeding attempt have come back. In the next few weeks more and more will pour south - and they don't just look for coastal estuaries either, the soft mud around many shallow lakes are similarly rich feeding areas so even if you're only passing the odd soda lake in the traditional safari areas you'll be able to see many of these birds as they start to return in ever bigger numbers. In fact, places like Lake Manyara will soon be home to truly spectacular gatherings of wading birds from the north - well over 1 million little stint are there in most years, and even more at times (up to 3 million have been estimated by Neil Baker of the Tanzanian bird atlas project).
|Turnstones, curlew sandpipers and sanderling|
|Curlew sandpipers and turnstone|
So, let's have a little look at some of these migrants that I saw last week - if only to illustrate some of the amazing migrations these birds are capable of. In the pictures above there's a mixed group feeding on invertebrates in rotting seaweed. Most of them - the ones with the orange legs and beaks - are (ruddy) turnstones. These birds, if they migrated this year, will have attemtped to breed right on the tundra beside the Arctic ocean - check here for a map. That's an extraordinary movement - and amazingly, these birds can easily live for 30 or so years, doing these phenomenenal migrations each year. (They also have a remarkably wide diet, with a memorable series of papers reporting ever increasingly bizarre food items from soap and other rubbish, to dead whales, until the editor finally stopped the correspondence when the title reached "Turnstones feeding on human corpse". Nice.). Anyway... You'll alsoalso see (at the right of the top picture, and several in the lower picture) lots of grey waders with rather longer beaks. These are Curlew Sandpipers, and have a similar breeding distribution in the Arctic (but only the Russian Arctic, not North America). These are clearly birds that didn't migrate this year, as the breeding adults at this time are a beautiful rusty red colour and we'll start seeing them soon. Long, decurved beak, long black legs and a white stripe above the eye help identify this species. And if you look carefully on the top picture you can spot one other grey bird running up the sand bank, a bit stockier looking, with a shorter beak - this is a sanderling, and when not breeding in the Arctic is a typical bird of sandy beaches around the world.
|Greater sandplover and turnstones|
There were plenty of others around too, but I didn't get any good pictures I'm afraid. It's always worth checking through the wading bird flocks, though, as anything might turn up - many species show amazingly long migrations and occassionally extreme vagrants turn up among the flocks of commoner species. All very nice.