Everyone is touched by the sight of a very small bird running along the waves of the shoreline. Did you know that these little sanderlings play an extremely important role? Thanks to their expertise arguments between the Sea and the Land are now very rare. Listen to the story of how this came about:
A long long time ago the Sea and the Land were always arguing about the border between them. If the Sea felt that the Land had taken too much from her, she took it back during raging storms. While the Sea was recovering from her fury in the summer, then the Land established dunes and mud flats on quieter days. If the Land had enough time, she then set about fortifying the land gained with plants which could withstand the wild waves of the Sea for longer. But as a result the Sea grew even angrier and demanded back the land lost during the heavy autumnal storms.
Both animals and people were often the victims of these shoreline conflicts and eventually they cried out in despair that an end must come to this eternal warring between the two. They asked the Sea and the Land to appoint a judge who would determine the definitive borders. And so it came about.
The first judge to be appointed was the king of the birds, the mighty sea eagle. The sea eagle was, after all, a bird whose home lay above both the Sea and the Land.
The sea eagle oversaw all the shorelines of the world from a great height. After six months she returned and said, “ With my sharp eyes I have investigated the situation carefully and this is the border!” But the Sea disputed this border, because, as the Sea said, ”The sea eagle is biased; it is more a creature of the land, because she broods on the Land.”
Just before the Sea once again vented her anger and unleashed her storms, the Sea agreed to accept the proposal of the frightened people and animals to appoint a new judge: the wise king of the sea, the great wise whale.
Giving everything careful consideration, the whale swam from coast to coast and returned six months later with a resolute conclusion: “I have looked at the situation from every angle and this is the border!”
But the border which the whale advised was dismissed by the Land, because it considered the whale, a creature of the sea when all is said and done, to be too biased. Everyone threw up their arms, wings and paws in despair, fearing a renewal of the warring between the Sea and the Land. For three autumns and winters storms pounded the shorelines of the world. The animals and people were at their wits’ end. Then Providence came between them. Providence appointed a judge to the Sea and the Land. It was a small, indistinctive little bird: white with some pale markings, known by the name of ‘sanderling’. She ran along the shoreline as the waves flowed onto the sand and thereby she guarded the border between the Land and the Sea. The little bird ensured that the Land did not form dunes to hold back the Sea and she saw to it that the Sea did not flow too far land inwards.
This little bird did her work so well that both parties accepted her as their permanent judge of their borders. This is how the sanderling was officially appointed. Because she carried out her work so diligently, she was given a partner. Together they guard the border so well, that everyone is satisfied. Their numerous offspring are to be found all over the world and they continue guarding the shoreline to this very day.
On the coasts of Europe we often see the small industrious three-toed sanderling hurrying up and down the shoreline. They are very common winter visitors to the North Sea coast. It is a real pleasure to see these bits of quasi-clockwork fluff running up and down the shoreline, busily searching for small sea creatures. They are not fond of crowds and are mostly to be found on quiet stretches of beach, often working together in small groups. By the end of July they already return from the High North where they brood and only leave again towards the end of May. Much like the swift, but then in reverse. Three-toed sanderlings do not have four toes like most other birds, but three, as their name already indicates, enabling them to run fast.