The Dunlin Calidris alpina - a "calidrid(ine sandpiper)", a small wader.

The breeding area of Dunlin migrating by way of the Baltic, the North Sea and the Irish Sea is shown in the figure below. In East Siberia, the species breeds to Kamchatka, in North America throughout Alaska, in Canada to Hudson Bay and on West Greenland. For a review of the mating systems of calidridine sandpipers see Jehl & Murray 1986 and Pitelka, Holmes & Maclean 1974.


Each autumn 1 - 2 million of these birds migrate by way of the "East Atlantic Flyway" from their Arctic breeding-grounds to moulting- and wintering-grounds in Western Europe and W Africa and along the "Mediterranean Flyway" to the Mediterranean and later on the Black Sea. With such numbers, the Dunlin is the most common among waders visiting the North Sea area in autumn and spring. And it has been studied accordingly; it is no doubt the best studied wader species in NW Europe. Does this mean that it is the best known species as well? It ain't necessarily so. The field-work performed has been outstanding in many cases, real Herculean efforts, but brilliant field-workers are not always great thinkers, and the thinking associated with several major projects is not without flaws, some of them serious, really breakneck. These flaws are the main target of this website, the task of pointing them out and correcting them, but in some other respect the whole thing boils down to a follow-up of Berkeley: "A Defense of Free-thinking in Biology".

The most entertaining biological papers today are the ones concerned with environmentally or ecologically induced "adaptations", many of them are completely derailed and will be the laughing-stock of generations to come. In Dunlin one particular "adaptation" has been attributed to a population that is characterized by the fact that it does not initiate moult on breeding-grounds, instead some moult is said to take place on migration. In Darwinist vocabulary this is an "adaptation", a closeness to some sort of purpose (not existing beforehand, but maybe materializing in the process). Some day, when the ornithological community at large realizes, that the same Dunlins initiate moult on breeding-grounds and do not moult appreciably on migration, the whole thing will again be construed as an "adaptation", and everyone will be as happy as before. Darwinism has no compass in the world of senses, it doesn't know where the North Pole is, its adaptation compass rotates around the clock. (Third there will be a synthesis: moult and no moult on breeding grounds, moult and no moult on migration, an "adaptation", very optimal, everyone as happy as before... The fourth state will be unimaginable). What I describe here is a general state of irresponsible, Darwinist "thinking", it is anti-empiric, it rapes empirics, the same object again and again, with the same charming complacency. Hence the extreme "mis-adaptation" of a more or less purist Darwinist approach to many practical situations, field situations; the worst example I have seen in recent time is Holmgren et al. 1993a, the shadow of Darwin paralyses the authors, and the required thanks to professoral superintendence reverberate particularly hollow in this paper. The awkwardness of Darwinism in the field is a clear sign, that its perspective - visualizing ecologically or environmentally induced selection as the efficacious process - in cases like the one depicted has outlived its usefulness, if there ever was one. /moult is: exchange of feathers/

The corruption of biological - or more specific: ornithological thinking is a challenge. Darwinism is a poisoned gift to biology, its insights are easily come by, and absolutely void of content. I do not deny, that there are adaptations, adaptive behaviour in nature, but there comes a limit where Darwinism (and the particular Darwinist approach to adaptation) is no longer qualified, certified; this limit has been violated for a long time now. Adaptation according to the Darwinist procedure prevents a bird from being adaptive; selected for in matters like moult is a predisposition to solve occurring situations dynamically, and dynamics is instant magic relative to the blind mole-work of selection. The year-specific combination of moult and migration in Dunlin should not primarily be treated in evolutionary terms, the "solution" to what we see lies in a shorter perspective, although heredity is involved with fixed parameters. Dunlin - or the abused waders in general - are not some theoretically idealized eelpout, adapting to water temperatures according to their fixed genetic programming (as a matter of fact I think more highly of eelpouts), deprived of all other possible degrees of freedom! The concept of "optimal migration" will at times succumb to the same sort of delusion, although of course containing some partial truth; again, the true "solution" to (more or less) optimal behaviour is dynamics. There are other opportunist tradeoffs between the heartfelt need for Darwinist orthodoxy and, say, a sound dynamic modeling, I'll pass them over in silence here. Given the widespread abuse of Darwinism, biology would be served by having it replaced by a more general "philosophy of nature" (or rather a competing pluralism of philosophies). I can discern one of them, in vague outline, it is ultra-dynamic; many relationships in nature are not really "adaptive", they are temporary, ad hoc, in individual cases the second best or third best alternative (or even worse), and they are continuously upset by the earthquakes of an intensive net of interaction. Moult in Dunlin is governed by such a dynamic pattern; what we sample in a particular case is not manifestations of a single, predominant "adaptation", or some trade-off between two major competing alternatives, but a continuum of states from the spectrum of a vast dynamical system. Time expenditure, energy budget, safety demands and adult male sacrifice - a very un-Darwinistic idea - are dynamically balanced in the Dunlin, past must yield to here and now. One and the same bird - even from European Russia - must be able to fly unmoulted to moulting-grounds in July one year, half-moulted to moulting-grounds in August another year and with fresh remiges but old scapulars and belly-patch in October some third year. (An adaptation, yes, maybe... - a dynamical adaptation, with shifting faces). This capacity is imperative to the bird, and it doesn't exclude majority patterns in single years.

My own knowledge of biological dogmatics may be inferior to that of the people I criticize, but there is one thing I can do (better): I can meta-think over their papers, try to strike some terror into the originators. And the reason for my relentlessness should be perfectly clear: errors have nine lives, we never get rid of them if they are not persecuted. Again Darwinism is the offender; its presence in the background perpetuates errors, since many errors are in line with its primordial version of "adaptation". I will not allow old - or new - errors to be reproduced in modern Dunlin contexts, I will hunt them down. There is a sort of desperation in the eternal reproduction of the statements by e.g. Greenwood 1983 on moult strategies (in anticipation of what is to come already Boere 1976 vents his misgivings on this point), and I really raised my eyebrows when I met them again in Engelmoor & Roselaar 1998, they should have been buried and dead by that time. I have a second resource: I am a devoted field-worker, the mere thought of a Herculean catching effort acts as a stimulus on me. This is the combination that has fueled the construction of this web-page: scrutiny of the existing literature and good empirics obtained by means of qualified field-work. And of course: love for circin tra, the little beach-hen (we all sit in the same boat, thinking or not-thinking...) At times I will be harsh, and more than that, but this page is primarily devoted to freedom of thought and expression in a world of regimented academic thinking and writing - so there will always be room for reply, Erwiderung. My own errors should be hunted down, like the rest of them. One thing is crucial for me to know: were all these errors merely caused by placid "force of habit" and ignorance, or will someone defend his or her position in affection; is there heart-blood in Dierschke's differential migration or Rösner's "trial and error progress"? And how about the Norwegian scene: are there any modern, relevant and correct statements pertaining to Dunlin migration in this country? Ten lines of reliable information on Dunlin phenology and age ratios from the Norwegian west coast would be a blessing, I will publish such a thing the minute I receive it! Scanned, memory-consuming material will not be accepted; in those cases I will convert to GIF/JPG pictures and hypertext. If anyone wishes to bring contributions under such auspices, they will be welcome. Later on I will bring an introduction to the history of Dunlin study, an exciting theme, but this is not first priority, so it will have to wait.

The field-work presented on this page was done on the Falsterbo peninsula; it lies beneath the bill-tip of the dunlin on the front-page. The red fringes of scapulars and wing coverts and the stoutness of the bird are meant to imply an eastern origin, let us say a peninsula of another magnitude: Gydan in Siberia. The short bill and the grey neck strongly suggest: male. A Gydan male may fly to Höllviken as a juvenile, in its first autumn, but where does it go from there, and which routes are followed in years to come? This is one of our unsolved problems; the large-sized, late autumn juveniles disappear completely, are never met with again.[CP]


Last changed 11.7.03.