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Common Sandpiper

A passage migrant mainly in the autumn

Photograph by: 
Hamish Murray

The common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) is not a resident Dorset species; it is a passage migrant seen whilst making its way north to breed in spring and south to warmer climes in autumn. The common sandpiper is quite common in Britain nesting on fast flowing rivers in Scotland, northern England and Wales but they head south to Africa for the winter. They can turn up in all sorts of unexpected places here in Dorset as they stop off for a final meal before heading out across the channel. Sometimes they can stay several days before making that long journey. I watched two ferreting around amongst the large stones on the bank of the River Frome opposite the quay in Wareham. 

Looking at the charts the first thing I notice is that exactly the same number of reports were found in 2018 as there were in 2017, 122 in both years. I am sure there is nothing too significant in this but it does seem quite coincidental. The second thing I notice is that despite it being a passage migrant there are occasional reports of common sandpiper in Dorset during both the summer and winter months when reports would not normally be expected so it always pays to expect the unexpected when it comes to bird watching.

Despite the unseasonable reports the weekly chart shows a fairly typical passage migrant shape with a sudden, steep influx of birds in spring from week 15 to 18 which shows that mainly return in a single, short wave in April stopping briefly to feed and rest before pressing on to their nesting grounds. The autumn return journey is a much more relaxed affair with birds passing through from about week 26 until week 40 meaning they are likely to be visible from late July through until late September. During the autumn they may stay over for few days before resuming their long journey to Africa.  

The distribution map shows that they are usually reported from coastal sites. This is partly because as 'waders' this would be the sort of habitat one would expect to see them in but also, of course, these are the sites most watched by Dorset birders. The majority of records come from two very closely watched sites at Abbotsbury swannery and at Lytchett Bay with frequent records also from Ferrybridge and Lodmoor.

It is difficult to be precise about when and where you might see common sandpiper, this is another of those species where you need to watch the news headlines and act as soon as reports start to come in.


Common Name Common Sandpiper
Scientific Name Actitis hypoleucos
Species Group Birds Sandpipers
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 04 - April
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
Look for

The gently bobbing tail

Identification Notes
  • Mostly seen on migration drunig the spring and autumn in Dorset although occasional birds occur in mid-summer
  • Although seen on mudflats at low tide they can also be seen almost anywhere during migration times including lakes, ponds and rivers
  • They have a constantly bobbing tail which helps distinguish them  
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Sandpipers