I have spent countless hundreds, probably thousands, of hours peering at mud. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, the mud is covered, the mud is revealed. Muddy fringes of dykes, muddy banks of lakes, mud edges of flood plains, anywhere there is mud. Some might call it sand, no, it is mud, and in that mud are millions upon millions of invertebrate life, and feeding on that larder of life, are waders…
Waders are a very popular group of birds for both dedicated birdwatchers and the merely interested. However, with their extremely variable plumage, waders are also one of the most challenging of birds when trying to separate quite similar species, or being confronted by a myriad of dull grey birds, all in winter plumage.
Three very different books from my bookshelf have helped me make sense of this rewarding and fascinating group of birds. Colston and Burton’s Waders has long been a favourite of mine. One of the few field guides to a specialist group of birds that has occasionally accompanied me into the field. The plates are superb. It is almost a shame that I choose to only show an example of these here as the species detail is also good- broken into Identification, Voice, Habitat, Distribution, Movements, Feeding, Social and breeding behaviour, Nest, eggs and young. The text is succinct and a surprising amount of detail is included in just 234 pages.
I have spoken before on the faults of photographic guides to birds, but used alongside a good field guide with well drawn plates, they can be very useful. North Atlantic Shorebirds includes a good selection of photographs usually showing at least- juvenile, adult summer and adult winter plumage. I think the species text is of less practical use but buried in the book are some species comparison details that are hard to find elsewhere. But if it is going to be found elsewhere, it is the next volume.
My final selection- Guide to the identification and ageing of Holartic Waders is not intended for easy bedtime reading. This is something practical, containing detail that has been ascertained from skins in museums and measurements , drawings and photographs of birds in the hand. If you are involved in trapping or ringing, this is indispensable. But help in sexing Avocets via the drawings of the respective curves to their bills can be useful to any birdwatcher sitting in a hide, such gems are throughout this authoritative volume.
Books from my shelves:
A Field Guide to the Waders of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Peter Colston, Phillip Burton. Hodder & Stoughton, 1988. ISBN 0 340 39936 8
Guide to North Atlantic Shorebirds. Richard J. Chandler. Facts on File Inc. 1989. ISBN 0 333 45880 X
Guide to the identification and ageing of Holartic Waders, B.T.O. Guide 17. A.J. Prater, J.H. Marchant, J. Vuorinen. British Trust for Ornithology, 1977