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Order Waders, Gulls, Skuas/Charadriiformes, Family Sandpipers/Scolopacidae

Dunlin/Calidris alpina - Winter

L 17-21 cm, WS 32-36 cm. Breeds on low or high ground, in wet short-grass or tundra habitats; on migration (in autumn ads. in late Jul-Aug, juvs. in late Aug-Oct) and in winter the region’s commonest small wader, found in a variety of marshy or coastal habitats, but most numerous on tidal flats or on banks of seaweed on shallow shores.
IDENTIFICATION: The standard small wader of the region. Familiarity with all Dunlin plumages and their variations will provide yardstick against other species. It will also help in initially picking out other species as ‘something different’. - Starling-sized wader with variable bill length (see Variation), the shortest and straightest almost stint-like, the longest and most decurved approaching Curlew Sandpiper. - Adult summer: Black belly patch diagnostic; variable rufous on mantle/scapulars, becoming more obvious through wear; male brighter than female, with contrasting pale grey nape (brownish on female). - Adult winter: Drab and rather featureless plumage is in itself rather distinctive, combining plain brownish-grey upperparts (fine whitish fringes, esp. on wing-coverts); rather clear-cut pale grey breast-band contrasting with white belly and finely streaked or clear white flanks; rather plain head with indistinct short supercilium; and usually fairly long decurved black bill (but beware long and short extremes). - Juvenile: Dark brown above, neatly fringed pale rufous or rich rufous, usually with white scapular- and mantle-Vs; pattern of underparts distinctive, with neat breast-band of diffuse streaks and band of rather bold blackish spots on belly-sides leaving broad, usually unmarked white flankband; whole head, nape and upper breast washed ginger, without obvious supercilium: even at long range, therefore, shows distinctive combination of rather plain gingery head, spotted belly-sides and white flank-band. Note variability of belly-side spotting, from often very dense (easily confused with moulting adult summer) to very rarely totally lacking. - Variation: Three subspecies occur within treated region, differing in average bill length and brightness of rufous on upperparts: arctica (Greenland; winters mainly W Africa) shortest-billed, least rufous; schinzii (Iceland, W Europe; winters mainly W Africa) intermediate bill length and rufousness; and alpina (Arctic; winters W Europe, Mediterranean) longest-billed, richest rufous. Only extreme individuals safely identifiable; females average longer-billed than males, so shortest-billed individuals probably male arctica/schinzii, and longest-billed probably female alpina.
VOICE: Flight-call a buzzing or harshly rolling ‘chrrreet’. Conversational calls from flocks short, rippling ‘plip-ip-ip’. In display-flight, utters ascending, strained ‘rrüee-rrüee-rrüee-…’, which turn into a hard, descending, slightly slowing trill, ‘rürrüürürürürü-rü-ru-ru ru ru’.

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