My first sightings of Redshanks were in East Lothian at North Berwick. At first, I only saw them in flight, sickle shapes flung across the sea and whickering as they went. Wild birds spot you a long time before you see them, and then they’re gone and you’re left wondering, and sorry for what you just did. Then you start to try to find them at the sea’s edge from a long way off, and you become surreptitious; sometimes they are just busy and you can get close and identify them, and then maybe photograph them.
Glasgow residents are fortunate to live near a cluster of sites, known collectively as RSPB Inner Clyde (an SSSI), which are of international importance for Redshanks. The reserve seems mostly inaccessible, apart from at Cardross, where you can leave the train and look out over the mud across Pillar Bank towards Port Glasgow. There will be birds to see in front of the sawmill, and on the Bank if the tide is low. There is some helpful signage urging dog owners to respect the birds which live there. It is hard to tell how much notice is taken of this. The last time I was there, a woman was paddleboarding with a dog on board close to the shore; needless to say, everything fled while she “reconnected with nature”.
Redshanks seem to be either full-on busy or in repose, no grey areas. They do look rather wonderful against a silver grey background like at Cardross, as the receding tide exposes the fresh mud and its harvest of invertebrates and crustaceans.
Perhaps the tide pools between Troon South Beach and Ballast Bank offer them a moat and more of a sense of security. I found a pair in dispute over turf, and an individual being statuesque. None of the three seemed to mind me.
At Saltcoats, the rocks in the Old Harbour and the breakwater beyond the old bathing pools offer places for them to rest up from their restless feeding. The size contrasts with the Dunlins and the Oystercatcher make some sense of the small/medium/large wader descriptors used in the bird guides.
The DEFRA Bird Survey has two listings for Redshanks – one under birds of wet grassland, the other under waders.
In the former case, the population has declined by over 50% – in the latter, only 4%. The RSPB has them on the Amber list. This confused me so I read on. The RSPB offers, as part of its advice to farmers: “There has been a significant decline in redshank numbers in many areas of the UK. On farmland, the main reasons for this reduction have been the drainage, re-seeding and fertilising of grassland.” So would it be facile to say that our UK winter numbers are steady but our breeding population has halved because of habitat reduction? If not here, where will they breed? Fortunately, there is nourishment to be had along the mud flats of the Clyde estuary and along the Ayrshire coast, and so there are Redshanks to enjoy. Long may they come.