In December 2018 I found a colour-ringed Ringed Plover from Germany on Hartlepool Headland, NE England. This was the first time I had really given any thought to Ringed Plovers. Two months later 58 on a beach North of Sunderland could not be local birds as there are so few breeding opportunities on the Durham coast. So began a month long obsession with these plucky little birds.
The Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) nests in the Arctic and northern temperate zone. The breeding distribution is largely restricted to coastal areas but in Eastern Europe the species breeds along some of the major river systems of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The main wintering grounds of the species extend from the British Isles to southern Africa and to the east to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.
The Ringed Plover has one of the classic examples of leap-frog migration in which birds from more southerly populations winter close to the breeding grounds and those from northernmost parts of the breeding range make long flights to more distant wintering grounds.
Fig 2 BTO ringing information.
Three subspecies are recognized C. h. hiaticula is generally larger and paler than C. h. tundrae, but this division is unsatisfactory, because the variation in distinguishing features, i.e. size and the colour of the upperparts (C. h. tundrae being smaller and darker) is rather clinal. Furthermore, C. h. tundrae from Central Siberia are again larger, approaching C. h. hiaticula in size.
The nominate subspecies C. h. hiaticula breeds in the area from the British Isles to the Baltic; around the Scandinavian coast; and in inland areas in Central and Eastern Europe. Subspecies C. h. tundrae inhabits the northern parts of Eurasia from the Scandinavian mountain range to the Chukotka peninsula. The third subspecies is C. h. psammodroma, it has breeding grounds in NE Canada, Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroes.
C. h. hiaticula moves towards W European and N African wintering grounds mainly along the coasts. C. h. tundrae is a long-distance migrant in autumn it migrates across the continental land masses of Eurasia and Africa, with wintering grounds mainly in sub-Saharan Africa as far as South Africa e.g. (c. 70º 15’ N, 30º 40’ E) C. h. tundrae from Finnmark, NE Norway have been tracked to Mauritania; Sierra Leone; and the Gulf of Guinea.
C. h. psammodroma is thought to winter mainly in S Europe and NW Africa. It is likely that in winter Iberia and NW Africa play host to all three subspecies.
In Central Europe, C. h. hiaticula migrate earlier, with many local breeders usually leaving the breeding grounds in mid July, and the vast majority of adults observed from the beginning of August belong to C. h. tundrae. In the case of juveniles, the proportion of these two subspecies change more gradually in August. A similar pattern was found along the Iberian Atlantic coast.
While ring recoveries link the breeding grounds of the C. h. tundrae in northernmost Europe with wintering areas in W Europe, W Africa and South Africa Much less is currently known about the migration of birds from the Asian part of Russia. Using geolocators ornithologists have tracked and described annual migration routes of Ringed Plovers breeding in Chukotka (62.53°N, 177.05°E), Russia -the north-eastern limit of the species breeding range.
The wintering grounds of five males were scattered from the Persian Gulf to the Nile Delta and south to Somalia. During the wintering period three birds made only local movements, whereas two others moved 1,100 and 3,200 km northward in the second half of March, before embarking on pre-breeding migration in April. During post-breeding migration, the birds used a ‘hopping’ strategy, following the inland West Asian–East African Flyway and making hundreds of stops of various lengths, as recorded by their geolocators’. Three main regional stopover areas during southward and northward migration were identified. These were -N and W Kazakhstan together with the neighbouring southernmost areas of W Siberia.
The pathways of each bird were rather similar in autumn and spring in the southwestern half of the routes, while a loop migration was evident in Siberia, and although the distances covered were longer, the migration speed was faster on the northbound route than on the southbound one. The migration tracks likely reflect a historical eastward expansion of the breeding grounds of this species in the late Pleistocene. Here Ringed Plovers may have had a largely W Palearctic breeding distribution with migration south to Africa; then as the ice melted and large areas of suitable habitat became available, the breeding distribution may have expanded eastwards with eastern breeders continuing to winter in Africa. The same scenario is thought to have led to similar breeding and wintering distributions in other species, e.g. Northern Wheatear and Willow Warbler. Based on migration routes there may be other subspecies to find, but to date genetic markers confirm C. h. tundrae to be a subspecies that expanded rapidly as ice retreated.
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