September target bird: Spotted Redshank

This Spotted Redshank is in juvenile plumage but has already started moulting its mantle feathers. The new pale grey feathers are part of its first-winter plumage and will replace the brown ones as autumn progresses. Photo by Bill Baston.
This Spotted Redshank is in juvenile plumage but has already started moulting its mantle feathers. The new pale grey feathers are part of its first-winter plumage and will replace the brown ones as autumn progresses. Photo by Bill Baston.

THIS attractive and distinctive wader is named after its striking breeding plumage, but is more often seen in Britain after the mating season, when it can be less easy to identify. Behaviour is often a clue to its identity, as Spotted Redshank generally feeds in deeper water than Common Redshank, dashing and lunging after prey, sometimes sweeping its bill from side to side and at other times swimming or even up-ending like a duck.

Spotted Redshank breeds in the northern regions of Scandinavia and eastwards across Siberia, wintering in Europe, Africa, China and South-East Asia. There are no subspecies. Scandinavian birds migrate south through Denmark and Germany.

The first birds arrive on their northern breeding grounds in early May and display with an aerial song flight. The initial incubation is undertaken by either the male or female birds, but females usually depart the breeding ground before the eggs hatch, leaving the males to care for the young. These females gather in flocks and move south in June, with the males and then juveniles following from mid-July.

Birds from Scandinavia and Russia migrate south and use staging posts, like the Wadden Sea, where they may be plentiful, stopping there to commence their autumn moult. Much of this migration may be overland and birds are often only seen in relatively small numbers away from these areas. Most spend the winter in West Africa, arriving there mainly in September and October, but some also stay north of the Sahara in western Europe and the Mediterranean. A few non-breeding birds will remain in Africa for the summer, while others head north into Europe, although they remain well south of their breeding range. Northward passage commences in March, and most spring records in Britain are in late April and early May.

In Britain, Spotted Redshank is mainly a bird of autumn and winter, with fewer in spring, although it can be found in any month. It passes through from late June, with the main peak from mid-August to mid-September. Wintering individuals may stay until April or May. In England the largest numbers are seen on the Humber, Dee and Greater Thames Estuaries and The Wash. It is an uncommon migrant in Wales, usually in autumn. In Scotland, it is mainly an autumn migrant between August and October along the east coast, with about 80-90 birds annually, although in 1974 more than 300 were seen. Small numbers occur in Ireland in autumn and it is a scarce winter visitor there.

Spotted Redshank’s population is declining in parts of its European breeding range. It is Amber-listed in Britain and Ireland, as more than half of British birds are found at fewer than 10 sites, with probably no more than 500 birds occurring annually and about 150 overwintering. It is usually seen singly or in small numbers, but a flock of 187 was at Snettisham, Norfolk, in September 1977 and there were 210 on The Wash in September 1987.

How to see

Spotted Redshank is usually found at coastal wetland sites in Britain, and a visit to the east or south coasts of England in autumn offers the best opportunity to find it. Coastal lagoons or saltmarsh with shallow open water are the best places to look.;

Where to watch

The sites below are those which regularly attract Spotted Redshanks. While some may hold good numbers, individuals can be encountered almost anywhere.


• Cheshire: Inner Marsh Farm RSPB (SJ 304744)
• East Yorkshire: Blacktoft Sands RSPB (SE 843230)
• Norfolk: Titchwell Marsh (TF 750438) and Cley Marshes NWT (TG 053440)
• Suffolk: Minsmere (TM 471672)
• Essex: Old Hall Marshes RSPB (TL 959122)
• Kent: Elmley Marshes (TQ 938678)
• West Sussex: Pagham Harbour (SZ 856966)
• Hampshire: Pennington Marshes (SZ 324923)


• Fife: Eden Estuary (NO 454188)
• Lothian: Aberlady Bay (NT 471805)


• Carmarthen: National Wetland Centre WWT (SS 531984)
• Conwy: Morfa Madryn NR (SH 667743)
• Gwent: Newport Wetlands (ST 334834)
• Clwyd: Connah’s Quay NR (SJ 277713)


• Co Londonderry: Lough Foyle RSPB (C 545237)
• Co Down: Belfast Lough RSPB (NW 488307) and Dundrum Bay (J 409374)
• Co Clare: Shannon Airport Lagoon (R 374606)
• Co Dublin: Rogerstown Estuary (O 218520)
• Co Wexford: Tacumshin (T 038071) and Wexford Wildfowl Reserve (T 080240)
• Co Cork: Ballycotton (W 982653) and Clonakilty (W 397387)

Content continues after advertisements