A sanderling, with a departure weight of just over a hundred grams, has flown the 6,000 kilometres from Norway to Ghana in less than five days. The bird was photographed on 11 August 2009 in chilly, damp South Norway. On 16 August a Ghanaian biologist spotted him under the coconut palms on Esiama beach. The sanderling was recognized by the coloured rings on its legs. Biologists from the University of Groningen and the University of Accra in Ghana give the birds coloured leg rings to learn more about how they live and their survival chances.
Sanderlings can be found on virtually every sandy beach in the world from autumn to spring, including in the Netherlands. The tiny white birds run back and forth with their characteristic ‘bicycling’ action in front of the waves. Sanderlings are relatively easy to approach and sometimes run along beside beach walkers for some distance. Information about the sanderling is needed to help protect this migratory bird and the areas on which it is dependent, such as the Wadden Sea or Delaware Bay in the United States.
Never before has this tiny wader been seen to cross such a huge distance in such a short time’, says research coordinator Dr Jeroen Reneerkens of the University of Groningen. ‘A sanderling weighs less than 100 grams. He flew so fast that it’s impossible for him to have gone around Africa. He must have flown straight across the Sahara – and that’s remarkable for a typical coastal bird.’
That this speedy sanderling was spotted at all is thanks to his coloured rings. A unique combination of coloured leg rings meant that the long-distance flier could be identified. Since 2007, Reneerkens has ringed over 2,100 sanderlings for his research. All over the world there are active birdwatchers who enjoy reading the colour combinations. This system works so well that even waders that are too small for heavy transmitters can reveal a lot of new information. The numerous sightings provide a wealth of information about migration paths, survival chances, choice of winter quarters and breeding behaviour. In January, nature writer Koos Dijksterhuis will be publishing a popular-scientific book about this.
All over the world, crucial areas needed by coastal birds are under pressure from drainage schemes, over-fishing and human interference. Reneerkens’ research into sanderlings falls under the Global Flyway Network, supported by Birdlife International, which combines the research capacity of migratory bird biologists all over the world. By following individual waders, the Global Flyway Network can keep an eye on the consequences of human actions on many threatened wader species. As a result, many different important congregation points have already been awarded protected status.
• Contact person: Dr Jeroen Reneerkens, University of Groningen, J.W.H.Reneerkens@rug.nl, tel. 050-363 2028 / mob. 06-45069262; www.waderstudygroup.org/res/project/sanderling-nl.php.• Global Flyway Network: www.globalflywaynetwork.com.au/.Contact person: Prof. Theunis Piersma, University of Groningen & Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Theunis.Piersma@nioz.nl; tel. 050-363 2043 or 0222- 369 485. • Koos Dijksterhuis’s book Een Groenlander in Afrika. De wonderbaarlijke reis van de drieteenstrandloper [A Greenlander in Africa. The amazing journey of a sanderling will be published in January 2010 by Uitgeverij Bert Bakker.• Photo: The sanderling in Southern Norway, free to use on condition that photographer Bjørn Erik Hellang is credited. HR version available on request from the Communication Office, 050 – 363 4444 or email@example.com.
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