Ringed and Semipalmated Plover ID
Varanger´s Semipalmated Plover made me remember an interesting looking, Semi-P like in some ways, juvenile Common Ringed Plover we had in Lanzarote last September. I think it´s good to show some pics of this at first controversial bird here, and comment a few things on a couple of features. Nothing new, but might be of interest.
Semipalmated Plovers are one of the most commonly recorded american shorebirds in the Azores, but, at the same time, one of the rarest ones in the rest of Europe. It must be overlooked, and has to be more common than what the records suggest. Main problem are the similarities with Common Ringed Plover, especially if the birds are distant.
Over here in the NW coast of Spain we´ve had 3 records of SP at the same area, so they are occuring here. I´ve been looking hard for many years, but still no luck. Will keep looking (and listening), and hopefully someday…
Back to the Lanzarote bird
The white feathering above the bill gape is a feature first pointed out by Killian Mullarney (whose comments on the bird were, as usual, very helpful) as much more typical of SP. In my opinion too, it´s one of the most striking and easily seen features, together with bill shape, that should “ring the alarms”, even with distant birds.
But, remember, although very helpful for finding a candidate, it´s not a confirming feature, as some CRPs can show it. When confronted with a candidate, other features, as well as call, need to be checked in order to confirm its identification.
On this certain bird, this character was quite obvious on both sides of the face. Together with the fact that, at the same time, there were several other american waders present nearby, it meant that this lone bird deserved closer scrutiny.
Semipalmations are said to be, on several field guides, “diagnostic” of Semipalmated Plover. But that´s not right at all! Unfortunately some of the information regarding semipalmations published on some bird guides is misleading, inaccurate or wrong.
CRP do show semipalmations between the outer and the middle toe. And, in some birds, they can be quite extensive. Such as on the Lanzarote bird. It´s true that they´re more extensive on SP, but, still, they can be quite noticeable on certain CRPs. Check the following pic..
So the key is the semipalmation between the inner and middle toe, which is absent on CRP, and present in SP (though not as extensive as the one between the outer and middle) . Tough to see, but if it´s present, then you have it.
Although the diagnostic calls (apart from Spotted Redshank like, to my ears quite similar too to American Golden Plover. Once, one fly-by AGP I had here lead me, at first, to think on SP before seeing it…) are probably far easier to detect for clinching the ID as SP, and also for finding one… (see how Dan Brown and Rob Martin / Punkbirders found their last autumn irish bird: here ),if you have a candidate, try to check those toes.
As you can see, both on the second pic and on this one, the Lanzarote bird lacked any toe webbing between the inner and the middle toes, as is the case with CRP.
Furthermore, other visible features are also typical of CRP, such as bill shape, shape of breast band and supercilium (although these 2 are highly variable, and of little use in my opinion), etc..
There´s little doubt there will be some Semipalmated Plovers this autumn waiting to be found by the persevering observer. Who will be the lucky one to find one this year? Checking carefully and familiarizing well with variation on the widespread CRP can prove very helpful too.