By September, the return of northern breeding birds to their wintering grounds is in full swing. Many of these belong to the wader (shorebird) family, within which the Redshank is one of the best known, occurring throughout temperate Eurasia, east to China. Although still common, local populations are highly vulnerable to the drainage of wetlands.

Many remain in the milder coastal regions of north-west Europe throughout the year but some of those in colder areas migrate to the Mediterranean basin. The majority of ringed birds recovered in Iberia are from the Netherlands.

In Portugal, a few pairs breed sporadically in the Algarve and around the Tagus and Sado estuaries. They are opportunistic and I was surprised to find a pair nesting by a small temporary lake near Cape St. Vincent in 2017. In the more northerly estuaries, over three thousand birds have been counted in recent winter censuses and there must be at least a similar number in the Algarve in the Rio Formosa and Castro Marim areas at this season.

Unlike some of its relatives, such as the Spotted Redshank (which becomes black in summer), Redshanks show little seasonal plumage variation, becoming just a little more spotted in spring. The largely greyish-brown feathering provides camouflage from predators, mainly falcons, in both their marshy breeding grounds and on winter mudflats.

Many wader species have either plain wings or pale central wing-bars. The Redshank is unusual in having most of the rear of the wing white which, combined with the white rump and lower back, make it easily recognisable in flight. These features probably developed mainly for display purposes but are common to both sexes. It is easily alarmed and the rather hysterical, high-pitched notes, repeated quickly three or four times, and a more relaxed ‘tu-li-oo’ were the first wader calls I learnt when first visiting the Tees estuary in north-east England as a boy. On the breeding grounds, Redshanks perform song flights, giving a yodelling ‘tlu – tlu – tlu’ which is also sometimes delivered from a prominent perch, such as a fence post.

Redshanks feed mainly on small invertebrates which they pick from the surface of mud or by shallow probing with the medium-length bill. They do not form tight flocks like many other waders, except during migratory flights, preferring the ‘social distancing’ now familiar to homo sapiens!

Alan Vittery