Disaster In Greenland.

Sanderling Brian Rafferty

An excessive spring snowfall this year, has brought about a disastrous non-breeding year for shorebirds in Greenland, involving my most favourite of all, the Sanderling.

Jeroen Reneerkens studies breeding Sanderling working from the Danish Research Station at Zackenberg, NE Greenland. Over a two week period there, he says he heard not one singing Sanderling, and only a few times heard Knot and Dunlin, and having seen just two pairs of Sanderling over the two weeks, he concluded they had broken up and never saw them again in the days following his earlier sighting.


Zackenberg Mid-June 2018. Image Jeroen Rennerkens.

Jeroen also suspects that, given the snow conditions were similar in the whole range of NE Greenland, the majority of Sanderling never arrived in Zackenberg, but stayed in more southerly regions where better feeding was likely. 

The Sanderling egg laying date is around 16 June, with 4 July being the very latest, but on 27 June this year, all of their habitat in the Zackenberg Valley was still covered in up to a metre of snow, resulting in a non-breeding year in Zackenberg, or even the entire north-east Greenland.


Image Jeroen Rennerkens. 

Compared to this Sanderling found dead and weighing 26 grams, it's mass upon capture a few days earlier had been 34 grams, Jeroen had some cheer with the recapture of a Sanderling he had ringed here as a seven day old chick in July 2012, now 6 years old and luckily one of very few birds in good health with a weight of 54 grams.

The breeding area for the Sanderling is larger than NE Greenland alone, hopefully outside this area snowfall may have been less or even not at all, in which case they could have had a good year. So counting and logging the number of juveniles seen in flocks of Sanderling in the UK between August and November will be paramount, but as a species no better than an uncommon passage migrant and rare winter visitor in our recording area, my best chance of helping out on this would be to go south of Fluke Hall to Knott End, and probably better still to Rossall Point.

if you are interested in more of this disastrous year for breeding waders in Greenland, you can read the full story and more detail Here