Highlands & Islands

Study 'pinpoints' where common sandpipers spend winter

Common sandpiper Image copyright Highland Ringing Group
Image caption Numbers of common sandpiper are in decline across Europe

Where an at-risk wading bird spends winter after breeding in the Highlands has been identified.

Ornithologists knew common sandpipers returned to West Africa, but not specific locations.

Highland Ringing Group fitted geo-locators to some birds and worked with Inverness College UHI on a method to analyse the data recorded.

The analysis showed that the waders travelled via Spain and Portugal to Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

Ornithologist Dr Ron Summers collaborated with Dr Louise de Raad, research fellow at Inverness College UHI, on the new analytical method.

Tens of thousands of common sandpipers, whose numbers across Europe have declined by 21%, migrate to the UK.

The study looked at those birds that arrived in the Highlands.

'Poor weather'

Dr de Raad said: "From this new information, we identified Guinea-Bissau as the location where the majority of Scottish common sandpipers migrate to.

"Now we have a better understanding of their journey, we are one step closer to finding out why their population is in decline."

Dr Summers added: "This is a really big breakthrough as before we weren't able to pinpoint their location in West Africa.

"Now we can look at the difficulties and challenges they face on their journey and at these wintering grounds, and how these might impact on their survival."

One of the challenges already identified is poor weather.

Dr Summers said: "We now know from analysis of weather data by meteorologist Norman Elkins that the birds face strong cross and head winds on their northward migration from West Africa.

"Therefore, poor weather in the spring may lead to lower return rates to their Scottish breeding grounds."

The results of the study have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Avian Biology.

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