coquet nature lover

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Common ringed plover ring number 895838

Coquetnaturelover's search for migratory birds

Common ringed plovers are a familiar bird of the Northumberland coast. This species used to be more frequent inland, breeding on river shingle in Coquetdale and other valleys, but are now rare in these areas.  There is however a small population at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage a 'little tern' breeding colony with fencing to prevent disturbance to the breeding terns. The good news is that it is known that up to twelve pairs of common ringed plovers have bred in this protected area.

Anyhow, this blog post is about a well-travelled bird, bred in Iceland. I thought you might be interested to learn more about her and how the plumage and migration pattern differs to our resident population. 

Common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)


Common ringed plover 895838 on the move

I first spotted the female common ringed plover, photographed below (ring number 895838) while on holiday in Portugal in 2014. As it had four coloured rings on its legs, I decided to try to find out more about this shorebird and to see if there was a track of its movements and life history.  Due to the fading colours of one of the rings, it took almost sixteen months to confirm its identity. In February 2016, I received an email from the South Iceland Research Centre, based at the University of Iceland, advising me that this borrelho (Portuguese for common ringed plover) was rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010! The project they manage monitors the migration of this species with some recordings as far south as Morocco! The report went on to say that the Icelandic population is estimated at 50,000 breeding pairs and is "well known for its leap-frog migration moving south to Portugal, Spain and West Africa" whereas the British population "is mostly sedentary". Thought that would make you smile!

foraging on the foreshore
Santa Luzia, Algarve (Oct 2016)

Although I had to wait quite some time for information, the data I finally received was very detailed, with numerous sightings of the bird I spotted, in both Iceland and Portugal.  There have also been sightings on the same shoreline in Santa Luzia in Oct 2013 and Oct 2014 as well as in Tavira (Oct 2015) which is very close by! Last Autumn (2016), I spotted her again in almost the same location in Santa Luzia. Now, how amazing is that? 

Yes, I'm back for the winter so get off my patch! (Oct 2016)

After wintering on the Algarve, this common ringed plover returns to Iceland in April for the breeding season and then departs sometime in September.  I am not sure how long the journey takes but it seems to be back in Portugal by early October. To see this small bird, in almost the identical spot as last time, to watch her bathe, feed and defend her territory, right in front of my very eyes was quite amazing.  Hopefully, I will see her again on the Ria Formosa this Autumn! 

My contact at the Research Centre regularly updates me with the new sightings and has kindly given me permission to post the following photos. In the second and fourth photo, you can see the summer plumage of the Icelandic breeding population (sub-species psammodroma). In the summer, their plumage looks very similar to that of the common ringed plover that reside in the UK (sub-species hiaticula) although they are relatively smaller in size. In the autumn and winter, they look very different with the Icelandic birds moulting into a much duller plumage, while the British birds keep their black rings throughout the year. According to Engelmoer, and Roselaar's Geographical Variation in Waders, the white patch above the bill is smaller in the Icelandic birds.

From egg to chick - what a beautiful sequence!

 The nest is no more than a shallow scrape in the ground - lined with pebbles
Clutch of four eggs (Bodvar©)
Incubation (Bodvar©)
Cute common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)
All grown up!  (Bodvar©)
Yes, the bird in the snow in the pic above perhaps looks more slender than our more familiar British common ringed plovers?

Back to Beadnell

The photo of the common ringed plover below was taken in July last year at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage the 'little tern' breeding colony, known as the Long Nanny project. To see my post 'A walk at Beadnell Bay, Northumberland click here

  Common ringed plover with dunlin - Beadnell Bay - July 2016
(Common ringed plover: Fr-Bécasseau variable   D-Alpenstrandläufer)
(Dunlin: Fr-Grand gravelot   D-Sandregenpfeifer)

I find these small, dumpy birds very active and difficult to photograph. When feeding, they stand and watch for a moment, then run forwards very fast whilst pecking.  I will have to try to get a close up shot with the subject in the frame next time! Maybe our UK population don't cross borders but as an amateur photographer, I wouldn't describe them as 'sedentary'!

If any of my readers have a good photo of a common ringed plover taken in Northumberland, I would be delighted to add it to this post and credit you with the image source.

More photos of common ringed plover 895838 in Santa Luzia

Here are some snaps that I took on the Ria Formosa back in 2014 when I first saw this wader foraging on the seashore. 

Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014
Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014


Common ringed plover sightings since ringing date in May 2010

If you are interested, here are the records of this bird's migration pattern which the University of Iceland kindly sent me.  Click below to view data on 895838 as far back as May 2010:


Common ringed plover update

Although the last sighting recorded above was when I saw it on 02/10/16, I received an email last week confirming that common ringed plover 895838 had been seen again (photo below) on 22/01/17 in Santa Luzia, Portugal.  If the records are anything to go by, it will be another month or two before this bird starts on her long journey north to Iceland where she will breed. 

Back in Santa Luzia, Algarve - Jan 2017
(photos kindly supplied by João in Portugal)

To close, I would like to thank my contacts at the South Iceland Research Centre and also to João in Portugal for their assistance in my research.

Wishing you a safe journey back to Iceland

 Bon voyage 895838

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.


  1. What a fascinating story! Hard to believe you spotted the same bird on different trips. You will have to visit Iceland next time to see it in the summer months!

  2. How amazing to see the same bird on each of your visits. I'm full of wonder at the way it has survived each year on its long journeys from Iceland to Portugal when there must be so many dangers around:)

  3. Thank you Louise and Rosie for your comments. Yes, I think I will have to go back to Portugal in the Autumn and also consider a visit to Iceland too! At least I know where to find in in Santa Luzia so that's probably easier and more within my budget!! Will let you know if I see it again. xx