I have been in love with shorebirds/waders ever since I started bird-watching. For us in India, waders seem to be birds that have their gods in the summer-lands because, by the time they come into India during winters, most of them wrap themselves up in a blanket of grey/blacks and whites. It’s only when they start preparing for their annual journey back to their motherlands do they shed that blanket and unravel their true colors.
The reason why I fell in love with them goes back to one fine winter morning on a bridge near Pune city. I had gone there for my first ‘bird-watching’ session and the group leader pointed out a ‘Temminck’s Stink‘ from a mass of tiny tots. Well, ‘mass of tiny tots’ they were for me on that day. He seemed very excited to see that bird and in the same breath he mentioned something about a ‘Rough‘ a ‘Reef‘ and a Sandpiper.
Try imagining yourself on the first bench of your college where the professor goes on and on about something and you are forced to show that you understood everything!!
I had a similar feeling there. All that I could do was nod my head and behave as if I understood when in fact I had no clue which bird to look at in the first place. My position was like that of a lion being confused about a group of Zebra, couldn’t even figure out where one bird ended and the other began…
Well, so that was my eventful, embarrassing, frustrating first outing to watch waders!!
Things changed and changed rapidly. I kept visiting the place again and again and again for quite a few winters after that and slowly started appreciating these beauties. I could now identify the Temminck’s Stint, The Ruff, The Marsh Sandpiper and most of their kind.
Here are a few images of waders, clicked a few years later.
Waders as the name suggests, are birds that wade through water. All birds under the order Charadriiformes are waders. It is a diverse group and each sub-order under them is worth multiple blogs in themselves.
They are birds that are normally seen hugging the coastlines or on tidal mudflats and some choose the river banks as their winter homes . By and large, a lot of the waders that I am talking about mostly eat invertebrates that are picked out of the wet soil.
Take a look at the following collage which shows the beaks of some of them. Each having its own unique beak shape/size adept at finding just the right food, each looking for something different. It is nature’s unique way of providing each of them with enough food.
For e.g. it is quite common to see the following 5 birds very close to each other
1. Terek Sandpiper
2. Ruddy Turnstone
3. Little Stint
5. Eurasian Curlew
Take a look at the beak of a few of these.
Its a wonder how precise nature has been in designing them, ensuring co-existence. Wish humans could learn some lessons from this
Apart from their shapes and sizes but there is one more absolutely marvelous fact about their beaks.
The upper mandible is flexible.
No, seriously, it’s not a joke, take a look
This is called Rhynchokinesis and it is a term used when the base of the upper mandible is fixed but it is flexible closer to the tip. The bone structure of the upper mandible imparts this flexibility in waders. It obviously would be helpful when they probe for food under the soil. The flexibility giving them a greater chance at sensing and catching prey. The best times to see this is when the bird is yawning or gaping as seen in the images above.
Fascinating creatures, aren’t they?
It’s almost time for these guys to start returning to the coasts, marshes and rivers of the Indian Sub-continent and I hope I find a few obliging ones for my camera again. The Next part in this series will be about identifying a few of these guys in the field.
I had a tough time starting out with these birds, so I don’t expect you to fall in love with them straight away but give them time……