Semipalmated Sandpiper

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:

“Hi Martin,

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.

12 thoughts on “Semipalmated Sandpiper

  1. Martin Garner

    Julian Hough in Connecticut asked me to add this:

    Just checking out the site..great stuff! Sorry I haven’t been in’s all been a little crazy this past year. Anyway, the Blacktoft bird is an adult Semipalmated Sandpiper and not a Little Stint.
    Mainly for the reasons mentioned in your blog, but just wanted to help solidify people’s feelings.

    It is a rather typical bird, the darkness and boldness of the breast markings, the dark upperparts and dark cheeks are all Semi-p. The pale centres/bases to the lower scapulars are actually quite typical for Semi-p (and as noted, un-Little-like). The rather worn plumage with plain, worn wing coverts all fit perfectly.

    Drop me an email when you have a chance!



  2. Richard Collis

    I’m the bloke who had the bird on the evening of the 8th, but went with the finders original claim, being quite inexperienced (4 years birding) all I could say was it didn’t look like any little Stint I’d seen, but couldn’t come up with an alternative. A friend of mine Justin Carr has discussed the subject with you and forwarded my picture, unless I’m much mistaken it is the same bird. Thank you all for spending the time to ID it correctly.

      1. Richard Collis

        Aye, its been an interesting experience. I’m sure there’s a few Yorkshire listers cursing I didn’t at least put it out as a poss on the sunday night, but as you say I saw it. heh heh.


  3. Pim Wolf

    hello Martin,

    very little to add about the ID as Semi-p but in your text you wonder if this could be a 2cy Red-necked Stint. I have never seen a 2cy Red-necked Stint but based on experience with other calidrids in W-Europe i would assume that they would usually look more or less like an adult in winter plumage or show a very subdued summer plumage. In this case i think that it is an adult bird, thit type of worn summer plumage seems unlikely on any calidris. When I try to imagine what a 2cy Red-necked Stint would/could/should look like i think that it would normally have the same build as an adult. In this case the primary projection looks too short for that species. Red-necked is usually a “longish-looking” calidrid at least when compared with Little Stint or Semi-p. Also, when you look at this bird from the front (pic #2 on your blog), the breast streaking is too dense in the middle of the upper part of the breast. I would assume that a 2cy Red-necked would be either unmarked or pale orange in that area. So, even before checking characters such as the pattern of the scaps, i think you can be sure that it is not a Red-necked Stint.

    blog on,

    1. Martin Garner


      welcome! V helpful comments on Red-necked Stint – thanks very much. I kinda think a first summer could easily pass under the radar in Western Europe. Anyway appreciated the post

      Cheers Martin

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  5. Hugh Harrop

    Hi All – IMHO adult Little Stints can show flank streaks so the feature is not 100% diagnostic for Semi-P; I observed 2 adult Little Stints in Norway in July 2007 which showed reasonably obvious streaks and and also photographed a moulting adult here in Shetland in 2006 which showed very obvious streaks; see the 3 August 2006 entry at

    and also Roger Riddington’s images at

    and at


    Hugh Harrop

    1. Martin Garner

      Great photos Hugh. Roger mentioned (I think) this bird when I was up there earlier this month – not in reference to flank streaks though. Thanks for apposite input

  6. Julian Hough


    Great shots! Your comments are indeed correct and I should rectify and clarify my comments to reflect that flank streaking isn’t totally diagnostic. Flank streaking on the fore and mid flanks is shown by both species, but I noticed that many Semi-ps often show streaking specifically on the rear flanks and lateral tail covert area that maybe is often not shown by Little Stints. I haven’t had a chance to test this since I don’t see any Little Stints. The location of the streaks on the rear flanks, while maybe not diagnostic may be a supporting feature if Little Stints only show them on the fore/mid-flank area. That more accurately defines what I was trying to point out, so hopefully that’s less ambiguous.




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