We've had a number of recoveries of Common Sandpiper on migration and on the wintering grounds over the years including Algeria, Morocco, Italy and Guinea Bissau. The distribution can be seen on the map below (purple - ringed in Britain Ireland, yellow - ringing location of birds later found in Britain or Ireland).
However, we now have more information from a study by Highland Ringing Group ringers which investigated the pre-migratory change in mass and the migration route of Common Sandpipers in 2011. Some of these birds were fitted with geolocators in Highland, Scotland, which logged the approximate location of each bird using a combination of time and day length.
"One bird left Britain on 21 July and migrated for three days to Morocco where it staged before continuing its migration to W Africa for the non-breeding season, arriving on 29 July. The region in which it spent most of the non-breeding season (Oct–Feb) was S Senegal or The Gambia.
Prior to northward migration, the bird spent a period inland, before crossing the W Sahara desert to Morocco. Its migration was then delayed, probably due to adverse weather (strong NW winds). However, after a week in Morocco, which involved some northward movement, it followed the east coast of Spain and crossed to W France before moving through England to Scotland. Although Common Sandpipers can accumulate sufficient stores for a long single non-stop flight between N Europe and W Africa, the focal bird migrated in medium-range “skips” during both its southward
and northward migrations."
This is the first record of a British-breeding Common Sandpiper on its wintering ground south of the Sahara. The earlier record in Guinea Bissau referred to a bird on migration, so its origin was unknown.
Thanks to Brian Bates, Brian Etheridge, Norman Elkins, James Fox & Ron Summers for conducting this fascinating study. For more information on the International Wader Study Group click here.