Ghost of the mountain tundra – ÉLVONAL fieldwork with Eurasian Dotterel
Eurasian Dotterel (Eudromias morinellus) is a charismatic and in various aspects challenging shorebird species, wintering in North Africa and breeding scattered across mountain tundra of Europe and Asia. Is well known for the reversed sex roles with more colourful females leaving the care for eggs and chicks nearly exclusively to males.
However, current mostly anecdotical evidence suggests that females are contributing to parental care much more than it had been previously thought. And this makes Eurasian Dotterel very interesting species for closer investigation of the sex roles and breeding ecology in general.
Breeding dotterels are often elusive and it might be difficult to find a nest or even more of them. To understand dotterels better, one needs to live with them in a harsh mountain environment away from civilization, drink water from mountain streams, sometimes being covered with snow and the other day with mosquitoes, observe dotterels patiently and study their behaviour and breeding strategies in detail. And this is exactly what we are doing in Utsjoki region in Northern Finland.
Our study sites consist of several systems of mountain tops along the Tana River in Utsjoki region and wider suitable areas for the closer research were identified with the great help from Sami Timonen (Oulu University). We are following the ÉLVONAL fieldwork protocol, investigating courtship, incubation and chick care of breeding dotterels. Apart from the core science, we do care about the conservation and education, talking often to mountain visitors, explaining them the vulnerability of the fragile mountain ecosystem as well as the uniqueness of the breeding dotterels.
From preliminary results is obvious that female dotterels indeed often contribute to incubation in a various extent and Eurasian Dotterel cannot be regarded as uniparentally incubating shorebird, females are performing incubation as well as chick care sometimes, at least in the Utsjoki region. Studying dotterels is not easy, but it is definitely rewarding and revealing interesting patterns of sex roles and life history strategies of this iconic species as well as enriching our knowledge of diverse life histories of shorebirds.
Dotterels breeds at low densities and a successful nest search require knowledge of preferred microhabitats and a lot of kilometres walked across the mountain tundra in a suitable time.
The Yellow-yellow male (full combo G.M|Y.Y) nearby the nest which returned after one year to breed again at the same mountain.
View of Tana River from the mountain tundra can be spectacular, but it is often covered by clouds and rain.
Mountain tundra can undertake a dramatic change. Here is the view of the same nest just one day apart, when incubating bird was completely covered with snow at the later day, but brave birds persisted and the nest hatched successfully.
Photographs are usually taken during good weather but a substantial proportion of the time consists of chilly and rainy weather.
Devices for incubation monitoring need to be well camouflaged as is the incubating adult to preclude any artificial attraction of predators around.