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Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is an organization embracing professionals and amateurs who are linked by a passion for waders.  Currently, there are 450 members worldwide in over 50 countries.   To give an opportunity for the members to meet, exchange ideas and share the results of their research, a conference is held every year at various locations in Europe, always close to a good wader habitat. 

This year, the Highland Ringing Group (HRG) hosted the conference between 23 and 27 September 2011 in Strathpeffer, 20 km northwest of Inverness, Scotland.  The HRG is a group of dedicated wader enthusiasts involved in ringing waders and wildfowl around the Moray Firth in Highland Scotland.   The Moray Firth comprises the most northerly complex of estuaries on the East Atlantic Flyway.    In winter, the area supports on average 40,000 waders and 60,000 ducks, with several species reaching internationally important numbers.   

One hundred and thirty delegates took part in the conference, representing 15 countries.   Some delegates took advantage of the lovely location and arrived a few days earlier to do some sightseeing in the Highlands.  By Friday evening though, the majority of delegates had arrived at the Ben Wyvis Hotel, where the conference was held.  The unofficial opening of the conference was marked by the Strathpeffer Pipe Band, which played in the hotel grounds to entertain the delegates, shortly before dinner.    

All meals during the conference were held in the smartly decorated dinning hall, conveniently situated next to a well stocked bar.  The evening menu throughout the conference comprised some traditional Scottish dishes, which included chicken breast stuffed with haggis immersed in whisky sauce, clootie dumpling and Scotch broth.

The evening entertainment on the first night comprised a film of one of the first wader expeditions to Morocco in 1971, presented by Mike and Ann Pienkowski, a show of some stunning images of waders by Jan van de Kam and two audio-visual presentations by myself on the wader catching in the Moray Firth by the HRG.

The official opening of the conference was on Saturday morning followed by the AGM and then talks.   There were two sessions in the morning.  The first, on Feeding Ecology, comprised one on the foraging patterns of Oystercatchers using GPS-tagging and the second, on the feeding strategies of Red Knots in the Yellow Sea.   After a coffee break, talks on various aspects of migration continued until lunch. 

We had an hour break for a scrumptious lunch and then talks continued until late afternoon.   The subjects included, habitat selection by Black-tailed Godwit, the breeding ecology of waders in Sweden, evolution of the breeding system in small plovers, the importance of Prairie Dogs to breeding Mountain Plovers in USA and behaviour of  breeding Jack Snipe in northern Norway.  The late afternoon talks dealt with various aspects of population decline in waders, which sadly is becoming a common feature of many waders.  Those in decline are Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits in the Netherlands, Curlew in the UK and Lapwing in the Czech Republic. 

Just before dinner, there was a poster session.  Twenty posters were displayed giving a chance for the delegates to talk to the authors and vote for their favourite poster.  Later on, the delegates were piped into the dining hall, providing another lovely accent of Scottish culture.

The ceilidh dance led by the “Gillie Dhu” band on Saturday evening was no doubt a highland delight for many at the conference.  All the males of the organising committee were dressed in kilts, adding splendour to the dancing.  The international mix of Czechs, Dutch, Americans, Canadians, Norwegians, New Zealanders, British, Polish, Chinese, Finns, Spanish, Estonians, French and many others, joined in a kindred spirit of the Scottish folklore.  The dance continued late into the night and finished off with the Orcadian strip-the-willow, which left delegates exhausted but exhilarated. 

Sunday saw us with five talks in the morning, including talk on the migration of Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings and breeding studies of Lapwing in Scotland, Redshank in the UK.  After a group photo outside the hotel and a short break for a coffee, the talks continued.  There were two talks on the genetics of Temminck’s Stint and Black-tailed Godwit, followed by a talk on the trace element concentrations in waders wintering in France.  The population trend in waders at an important site on Sumatra, Indonesia, was a subject of the last talk.    

The majority of participants took part in the afternoon excursions.  These included, a trip to Knockfarril with a varied scenery across the farmland, forestry plantation and heather moorland; Nigg Bay and the coastal realignment project; and  Munlochy Bay which included a variety of habitats such as mudflats, saltmarsh, reedbed and cliffs with old sea caves.  The fourth excursion was a visit to the Highland glen (Strathfarrar), which holds a remnant of the Caledonian Forest within picturesque mountain scenery.  For those that visited the estuaries, big flocks of Teals and Wigeons were seen on the mudflats along with smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Redshank.  Highlights for a lot of the participants were a view of Bottlenose Dolphins and a Peregrine Falcon at its breeding site on the cliff.

Although the conference was officially closed on Sunday afternoon, two workshops were held for those who wished to stay longer.  The “Measuring Moult” workshop, was introduced by Les Underhill on Sunday evening and the “Flyway Population Review” workshop, chaired by David Stroud and Marc van Roomen, took place on Monday.

The conference proved to be a great success and even the weather, which managed to give us some typical Scottish drizzle during the excursions, failed to dampen sprits.  The next year conference is taking place in France – see you there!

 

This article has now been published in Scottish Birds 2012: vol 32 (1), pages 52-53.


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Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

Dancing at the Wader Study group in Scotland

Dancing at the Wader Study group in Scotland

Dancing at the Wader Study group in Scotland

Dancing at the Wader Study group in Scotland

Wader Study Group conference in Scotland

Wader Study Group conference in Scotland