Tuesday, 22 March 2016

What is the Waddenzee?

Of course some of the UK favour a Brexit and have much less to do with Europe, but for birders in the south-east of England the Waddenzee should really be as well known as the Wash, and it has much more of an influence on 'our' birds here in the south-east than the likes of Morecambe Bay, but still many don't know much about it.

Looking again at the Dunlin recovery map for JN69442, the straight line I added may help lead the eye to deepest Russia, but of course the bird wouldn't have actually flown that route. Chances are it hugged the mudflats along the North Sea and through the Baltic Sea. The Waddenzee is the Dutch name for a large intertidal zone in the south-east North Sea, running from The Netherlands through Germany and on into Denmark, now added to the map in red.


I tend to use Waddenzee, the Dutch name. I just don't feel a need to Anglicise. Plus the Germans use that name. (Or at least some Germans- they also call it Wattensee, whilst the Danish say Vadehavet.) The birds don't care, they just know they have a brilliant refuelling site along the East Atlantic Flyway.

For readers who haven't come upon the Flyway concept before, migratory studies have revealed clear favoured routes for seasonal migrations between continents. The East Atlantic Flyway is the chosen route between high Arctic breeding grounds and Western Europe on into Africa.

Heading from Russia to overwinter in west/south-west Africa? No problem, skirt the edge of the Northern European Plain to the Waddenzee and beyond:

Coming down from high Arctic? No problem, drop down off of the tip of Scandinavia and refuel in the Waddenzee:

Heading for the UK? No problem. The flyway isn't really the narrow band I've added, you can take a direct flight or stopover in the Waddenzee (why some of the peaks in certain wader species aren't seen until towards the end of the winter):

For the non-/beginner birder, the image of the Waddenzee being a 'hub airport' becomes more clear when you don't just think about these flight routes, but start adding in flight times. The site is busy for a considerable part of the year. 'Our' Medway Dunlin are off transiting via the Waddenzee at the moment, and will be refuelling there for a few weeks yet. The Dunlin that moved further south as far as Africa won't be on their return flights several weeks yet.

Maps of the Waddenzee, together with detailed species accounts covering  nearly a quarter of a century, can be found in an excellent report available online- Trends of Migratory and Wintering Waterbirds in the Wadden Sea 1987/1988-2010/2011 (well worth a read, even though they only went and Anglicised the flippin' name!)

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