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A winter visitor to Poole and Christchurch harbours.

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Whilst the greenshank (Tringa nebularia) could not possibly be described as rare in Dorset it could not be deemed common either. It falls in to what I would call the 'interesting' group where seeing one is not out of the ordinary at the right time of year and in the right place but certainly worthy of a note in your book and worth a mention in a tweet. For that reason there are a good number of reports of greenshank in the Nature of Dorset database. The greenshank breeds in northern Europe and Asia on dry moorland and in boggy areas in the Arctic tundra. However, its winter migration destinations can vary from the the south coast of England to the south coast of Africa! Why some travel so far and others stay nearer home is a mystery. It probably does explain why the numbers we see in Dorset vary each year.

A slightly up-turned, greenish, probing beak and pale green legs are good guides to identification here. The greenshank  is aptly named. I think it is a very elegant bird and it is one of my favourite waders. It is a relative of the redshank, similar in size but paler and mottled, in fact it is a fairly nebulous bird so perhaps that where 'nebularia' comes from? It is far less common than its cousin too. Some years we get hardly any, other years quite a few. Indeed, there were ten in front of the hide on Brownsea when we were there recently. It is also interesting for a wader in that it will catch small fish and crustaceans whereas most waders only probe the mud for food. 

The distribution map shows that greenshank can be seen at many of the Poole harbour sites and they also occur in Christchurch harbour and at sites along the Fleet but by far the most reports come from Lytchett Bay and there are two reasons for this. Firstly, this is a well watched site with reports from there daily whereas other sites may, in general, not be as closely monitored. The main reason, however, is that it is a popular spot for greenshanks to feed, especially when the tide is not fully out and the birds are pushed off the exposed mudflats in the harbour and up to the shallow west end of the harbour. The lagoon on Brownsea Island is another site favoured by greenshank.

The greenshank is one of several wader species that breed in the Arctic and come south to Dorset when the extreme weather sets in further north and so one expects them to reported frequently during the winter and not at all in the summer but the weekly reports chart would suggest this is not the case. There are only a few reports each week from week 42 (mid October) through until week 15 in the following March whereas the bulk of reports come from weeks 32 to 41; that is mainly August and September. It would seem, therefore, that many greenshank reports are of migrating birds arriving, stopping to feed for a few days, before setting off further south. Just a few actually stay on longer and even they may move on if the weather gets really harsh here in Dorset.

This idea of them being more of a passage migrant than a wintering species is born out by a sudden peak of reports in week 16 (early April) and then some ongoing reports during the rest of April. This surely reflects the movement north from more southerly areas once the spring comes. A very small number of birds actually spend the entire summer here but they do not breed.

So greenshank can be seen all year round in variable numbers but even autumn the flock sizes are quite small, usually 12 or less and many sightings are of single birds. To add greenshank to your life list take the boat to Brownsea in late August or early September and you will be rewarded with excellent views right outside the hides overlooking the lagoon.


Common Name Greenshank
Scientific Name Tringa nebularia
Species Group Birds Sandpipers
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A wader with pale green legs

Identification Notes
  • Over winter in Dorset in small numbers every year and can occasionally be seen in summer
  • A slender, elegant wader with a longish neck 
  • The pale green legs are unique and a positive identification feature
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