Bird song (37) – Dunlin

Dunlin are familiar shorebirds on estuaries in winter and as passage migrants in Spring and Autumn but they nest with us too – up on the hills, in remote peatbogs the song of the Dunlin is heard.

And it’s a pretty good song too. Delivered from the ground as pictured above but often in a Skylark-like song flight. The sound of this song takes me back to the summer of 1986 when I started working for the RSPB and was doing fieldwork in the magical Flow Country of eastern Sutherland and western Caithness. I’ve often taken my mid census break sitting on a hummock of moss and listening to Dunlins singing above the dubhlochan systems of the Flows. Takes me back…

Here is the song of the Dunlin from Alaska:

… from Iceland:

… and from Svalbard, Norway:

But this song to me will always mean the Flow Country between Strath Halladale and Loch More – Greenshank country, Common Scoter country and Dunlin country.

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3 Replies to “Bird song (37) – Dunlin”

  1. Takes me back to the early nineties doing breeding bird surveys on moorland for YDNP. Its a lovely song for those places on the highest tops where they occur plovers, pipits and Dunlin. It also takes me back to two specific days near the head waters and origin of the Ure. day one the only Dunlin nest I've ever found and no bloody camera! A beautiful cup in a grass tussock with four tiny wader eggs in dark olive and chocolate.
    Day two in a very close area with Dunlin singing in the background along with a very close Quail and being able to hear or see, Pheasant, Grey Partridge, Red and Black Grouse as I sat on a boulder having my sandwiches, not an everyday day.

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  2. The Flows "where Dunlin rise and fall on silvery threads" - Nethersole Thompson.
    I think my second favourite after Dotterel, a soft purring sound while searching the high tops will reveal a Dunlin often very close by, and quite tame.
    On the Uists their " pea whistle" is a constant background on the wetter machairs.
    Still a summer visitor to the higher, wetter, Peak District moors, though seemingly gone now from some peripheral areas, where I have found nests in the past.
    A brilliant brilliant little bird.

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  3. Sadly, as an old fogey, Mark's entry rings memory bells. As lead on the then NCC's upland bird surveys, I had to choose survey areas on the Flows and adjacent areas every year for 4 years in the mid 1980s to attempt to fully understand and predict the value of the bogs for birds and their wider ecology (see Birds, Bogs and Forestry for our joint results).

    That took me to many out-of-the-way areas across Caithness and Sutherland, as I chose the new survey blocks, and then walked them with my teams. Dunlin were just part of that community, with greenshank, golden plover and divers abounding. There was always the possibility of something else too: a wood sandpiper on one block was a happy find. Though being bombed by skuas had its downsides. Happy days?

    Listening to a live feed from Shetland last night gave me dunlin, redshank and others from that community- all without leaving the desk.

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