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Generally a passage migrant but sometmes over winters here in Dorset



Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Sanderling: waving goodbye

Post date: Saturday, 25 October, 2014 - 00:00

You would expect that any species of bird that is considered to be a wader would be happy in water? Well, not so. It seems the sanderling (Calidris alba) tries to keep its feet dry. If you watch, they like to feed along the edge of the water and they run in and out with the waves. This one got caught in the water becuase of my presence close by!

The sanderling is very much a bird of sandy beaches, although a plover it is never seen on mud flats. They feed on small crustaceans that are found along the waters edge. In Dorset they are primarily seen on passage south from their Arctic breeding grounds but a few certainly spend the winter here and the most likely place to see them is just inside Poole Harbour in Bramble Bush Bay, not far from the car ferry. They are never here in big numbers as most fly much further south than Dorset. They are great travellers and some can go as far south as the Falklands and in to South America.

Although nervous birds they tend not to fly away as you approach unless they really have to, they prefer to run. They are lovely little waders; fun to watch but difficult to get close to to photograph.


Sanderling in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Friday, 11 January, 2019 - 18:24

The sanderling is a delightful little wader best known for its habit of running up and down sandy beaches as the waves come in seemingly trying not to get its feet wet! Whilst they can be seen in many coastal locations they do have a marked preference for sandy beaches and that is where their name originates from. The sanderling is not that common in Dorset but it could not be considered scarce either; they certainly do not breed here. They are primarily a passage migrant species although some do spend much of the winter here if conditions do not get too severe.

A look at the weekly reports chart shows two peaks for sightings, one in spring and the other in autumn. The spring influx picks up in week 17 at the beginning of May reaching a maximum in week 21 at the beginning of June before falling away and then there is then a gap of about four weeks before the return flow starts which is then well under way by week 30 in July and goes on until week 36 at the beginning of September. After this there are a couple of reports most weeks throughout the autumn and winter although it seems February is almost devoid of them here.

Sanderling can be seen at various points around Poole harbour where the conditions are suitable as well as in Christchurch harbour. They can also be seen at most of the sites along the Fleet but the most reports come from Ferrybridge, partly because this is a well monitored site but also because conditions favour their behaviour and feeding habits.

Apart from Ferrybridge, the best place to see sanderling is probably the beach at Sandbanks or across the Poole harbour entrance on the beach at Shell bay or in Bramblebush bay where they can often be seen near the car ferry ramp. 


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Sanderling
Scientific Name Calidris alba
Status Local
Interest Level
Species Family Sandpipers
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
Preferred Environment
  • Sandy shore
Look for Small waders running up and down the beach to avoid the incoming waves
Additional Identification Notes
  • More often seen in the migration months but occassionally seen in winter and summer too
  • Very much a wader of sandy beaches rather than mud flats
  • Often in small flocks and can be seen running up and down the beach as the waves come in to avoid getting their feet wet