The Blacktoft Peep-what is it?
The bird in the photos below began to be suspected as an adult Semipalmated Sandpiper on Monday 9th, especially by Mike Pilsworth, the RSPB warden (scarily good Spurn birder). I got there early on Tuesday- met with Mike- but no sign- though great variety of shorebirds nevertheless (Wood and Green Sandpipers, double figure Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, easy-to view Snipe etc etc. Mike asked me what I thought about the bird, based on the photos. Aware as ever of commenting on photos when you haven’t seen the bird in the field (this practice should come with a health warning) – here are my thoughts. These are all Mike Ashforth’s photos used with his permission, taken 9th August 2010 at Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve:
Moulting adult Semipalmated Sandpipers are proving to be a trip-up ID zone this year- a good place for learning. I do think this looks the part for Semipalmated Sandpiper, though wish the photos revealed a little more! Here’s my musings to Mike:
“I am struggling to see why this is not a Semi-P. The very strong face pattern (Mike described a dark cap with no split supercilium and broad white supercilium), the dark loral line and ear coverts), the very obvious blackish streaked ‘pectoral band’, the ‘V’ shaped tips to some worn black scaps –usually rounder tipped on Little, the pale buffy internal marks on larger scapulars is less common on Semi-P (common but richly coloured on Western) but perhaps not a feature of Little which has pretty solidly dark centred scapular feathers- the wing tip/ tertial ratio is at least favourable (primaries mostly looking cloaked by tertials with limited primary projections). The bill looks fine and there nice bright white thoat area- Can’t see it being a Little. other option 1st summer Red-necked?- but that would look shorter legged – though I suspect its a bit of an unknown!”
The presence of pale whitish bases to some scapular feathers, particularly on late season/ worn birds and visible on this bird has been mooted as useful pro- Semipalmated feature versus Little Stint.
For comparison: A couple of photos of a moulting adult Little Stint from SW Turkey taken on 21st August 2009 (and don’t you just love those legs!).
Wondering if it could be the same as the Cumbrian bird, I contacted Tristan Reid- he thought not, but he did comment on these photos as follows:
I am not really sure what I can add to the discussion………however here are my views anyway!
On the face of it I would agree that the bird does look good for a Semipalmated Sandpiper in my inexperienced view! The main reasons being:
- The darkish crown and ear coverts contrasting with broad white supercilium
- Shape of supercilium seems good (though I concede that in some of the images it does seem to show a hint of ‘split’ (though the Cumbrian bird also appeared to show this in some images, but was not evident in the field)
- The pale-faced (particularly at base of lower mandible) appearance also seem to be a good supporting feature.
- The presence of the broad dark pec band (streaky)
- The apparent rotund structure
- Short primary projection (tertials appear to almost cloak the primaries)
- The scapular pattern as described by you also seems supportive IMHO
That said the bill seems a lot thicker at the base than the Cumbrian bird and the legs seem quite long. I cannot see this bird being a Little Stint; though I do not have either the confidence or experience to rule out Red-necked Stint. I do not think it is the Cumbrian bird – pics for comparison here (per Darren Robson):
Julian Hough sent in very helpfully annoted photo of a moulting adult Semipalmated Sandpiper taken on 12 August- so highly comparable with recent British (and Dutch) records. The flank streaking, I agree is a really useful feature, can be lacking or only very fine and subtle, but when present (as very obviously here) perhaps diagnostic versus the very white underparts of Little Stint. The whitish bases to upper scapulars only seems to be a very pro- Semipalmated feature, as mentioned above.