Semipalmated Plover and other rarities: Varanger is hot!

by Tormod

The dust have not settled in Varanger. With a very active jungle-telegraph, or rather “tundra-telegraph”, more then 250-300 birders have now seen the stunning looking Harlequin Duck. There is no doubt that summer in Varanger is a hot season for rarities in the Arctic. Last year we had the Stejnegers White-winged Scoter and the Glaucous-winged Gull (Biotope Gull article) at this time. Of course the quite large numbers of visiting birders has a lot to do with this: more birders = more finds. This story however of finding the rarity is about skills and persistance. Again it is my hard core birding friend Anders who strikes. Basically Anders, when in Varanger, has a 16 hour birding day – every day. And few birds pass his bins or ears without being identified. A couple of days ago he found Norways second Semipalmated Plover! No doubt a bird that separate the birder from the birdwatcher?!

Studying details (Anders to the left)

Little beauty

The bird was first detected by its call – a Ringed Plover, but not! Just minutes after Anders got his eyes on the bird he was certain it was an Semipalmated Plover. He called me and every other birder he knew that was in Varanger. We gathered faster then mosquitos on a nude in the Finnish woods. Within minutes we had our bins and cameras on this very cool little guest from across the Atlantic. Looking at it now it seems like quite the obvious bird. With the rather clearly visible pale-yellow eye ring, very narrow breast band, slightly shorter bill, very little white eyebrow and overall “cuter” look. However the Ringed Plover in Varanger are not straight forward business: I guess a closer look into the subspecies hiaticula vs tundrae is high on the agenda. Some of the birds we see here are quite small, with very narrow breast band. More research needed, and with the Birding Frontiers resources hopefully it will be a post to come soon.

The Ringed Plovers above show some of the variation. All photos taken at the Sunddammen site in Vardø, where the Semipalmated Plover was found. By the way it is still present on its 4th day, and birders have been flying in from southern Norway for this hard-to-get bird.

The defining details: the semipalmation between the central and outer toes is very obvious. We also noted that there was barely any dark above the bill, between bill and the white front patch. The white front patch was also quite wide and it was allmost like a 50-50% black and white front, unlike the other present Ringed Plovers, with their 20-30-50% black-white-black front (note that this varied quite a bit). Is this a character to look into? It certainly helped us when locating the bird – time after time. A great learning experience and a great bird!

And to make the birding experience complete: the Harlequin is still hanging around, a Sabines Gull was seen for a day in Svartnes Harbour and a local farmer just found and identified a Rose-coloured Starling. For birders visiting Varanger this meant that Harlequin, Sabines, White-biled Diver, Stellers Eider, King Eider, Rose-c Starling and the Semipalmated Plover where all available within 30 min driving!

Our other guests:

I made an article on our local birdfinders in Varanger – seems visiting birders are facing some competition!

Birders enjoying the Semipalmated Plover in Vardø

I expect more mega news will come from Varanger this summer. Anders will be birding the region the whole summer along with many hundreds of visitng birders. For those with an extra interest in Varanger I have just launched a twitter bird news service (in collaboration with follow us @Finnmarkbirding

Best wishes from the northern frontier

Tormod Amundsen /

3 thoughts on “Semipalmated Plover and other rarities: Varanger is hot!

  1. Jan Jörgensen (JanJ)

    Among several (mentioned) features separating SPP from CRP – the much quoted loral feature (first pointed out by Killian Mullarney in 1991 – I think) – where the lower dark mask in the loral area meets the bill above the gape line in SPP (more pronaused in juveniles) – whereas in CRP it meets the gapeline – or slightly below – seems to be a surprisingly trustworthy feature, provided that the birds are fairly fresh and not in active moult. Among the many hundreds of images I have studied I haven´t seen any SPP – juv, near adult and adults which lacks a visible – obvious to less obvious – pale line above the gape line. It seems that while some SPP are very similar or perfectly match CRP – you will have a hard time finding a CRP with a SPP match, or….

    BTW – Compare with the above SPP with this CRP in a frontal view:

    Great pic btw!


    1. jim

      thanks v much for your article – the system works! helped me with the id of a bird seen in Tenerife
      (unfortunately Not a Semi! – but never having seen one i did not know how much webbing to expect between the toes)

  2. Pingback: Lesser Short-toed Lark in the Arctic | Birding Frontiers

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