IWSG: Where the waderologists of the world can find like-minded wader-people!

The International Wader Study Group (IWSG) is a world-wide organisation with over 450 members who are interested in learning more about waders (or shorebirds for those outside of Europe) from the birds themselves and from collaborating with others. With the closing date for the next IWSG conference coming up, Katharine Bowgen gives some background to the group and to their conferences. The next conference will be held in September 2024 in Montpellier, France. Bookings for the conference close on 16 June and the abstract submission deadline is 17 July. For more details on the next conference, see the conference information on the IWSG website.

The IWSG grew from the Wader Study Group, one of several study groups started under the auspices of BTO back in the early 1970s. ‘Waderologists’ across Europe and then further afield joined and it was later renamed as the IWSG to reflect this.  Membership is open to all, with reduced fees for families and students and there is an option to support anyone who needs sponsorship to become a member. By joining you also benefit from a new network of waderologists, as they are affectionately known, access to new and historic issues of Wader Study (formerly the Wader Study Group Bulletin), and discounts to attend conferences and events.

Every autumn a conference is held over several days to bring together everyone interested in studying waders to meet, share their experiences and findings, plan new international projects, find out about projects they are interested in and simply catch up. I first attended one as a shiny-new PhD student who turned up keen to chat to other people about her research, though a little apprehensive to head to Germany with only one fellow student in tow. I was soon proved wrong to be apprehensive; in comparison to a vast slightly impersonal conference I had first attended this was a place where everyone would listen to you, have a chat and then come up with ideas. The friendly atmosphere on the dance floor during the German steam-punk-folk-rock band playing at the conference dinner also helped to get to know people better!

Since then, I have attended every conference in the past 10 years and am now the Membership Secretary for the IWSG, helping members out with their payments, getting their journals safely to them and providing answers to all sorts of questions. Some of my favourite messages are from long-standing members who’ve had a few years off and are coming back excited to tell tales of when they last attended and looking forward to being a part of the group again. I’m also not the only one from WWRG who helps with some aspect of running IWSG, several current (and past) members have taken part in running the organisation.

The last conference running at the end of September into October 2023 was as I’ve come to expect. The location was Germany again, this time on the island of Sylt at the top of the German Wadden Sea. Only accessible by rail or ferry (we took a car train which was fab for bird watching on the way!), this island hosts both beach-loving holiday makers and wader lovers, of which the latter enjoy the muddy and sandy coastlines with their range of waders moving around enjoying the best delicacies that the intertidal mudflats have to offer. Last year, WWRG was well represented with several of us attending to present talks and posters about our work and take part in workshops on climate change impacts on Wadden Sea waders and new tagging and tracking methods. The organisers had us set up in a German ‘Schullandheim’ which, though normally for large school parties, provided a great place to host talks and drinks whilst being a short walk from a bed and sea views. The days of talks were pretty full on as, being only the second conference since Covid, and one where there were almost no restrictions, meant so many talks were offered that there were three parallel sessions over two days followed by three workshops. The evenings were filled with chats over drinks and music (with some impressive dance moves from some people) as late into the night as you wanted, with some people still keen enough to get some early morning birding in before the next talks!

WWRG member Ryan Burrell giving a talk at IWSG, Sylt, by Katharine Bowgen
WWRG member Nigel Clark demonstrating a catching technique at IWSG Sylt, by Sam Franks

Seven WWRG members all made contributions related to their work and non-work lives. These included Black-tailed Godwits migration, overwintering habitat selection in Curlew, headstarting Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit, agri-environment scheme trials and targeted conservation actions for breeding waders, and a remotely triggered spring-powered clap net!

The IWSG’s X (Twitter) feed @waderstudy and hashtag #IWSG2023 can still be searched to show the wealth of subjects from talks on the annual cycles of Dunlin to the ability of plover chicks to smell their parents, to nest camera usage to the launch of a global wader tracking database. The programme of talks from previous conferences can be viewed on the IWSG website. The next conference will be held in Montpellier, France in 2024.

The IWSG is not a professional or academics-only group; it encourages people who are interested in waders from across the spectrum of enthusiast to academic to come together to discuss the whole family of species and find new discoveries and methods to conserve these amazing birds. If anyone is interested in joining the group and would like a little bit more information, please feel free to get in touch at membership@waderstudygroup.org

Cover image by Sam Franks.