Swintail or Pinhoe’s?

On Thursday October 10th, two of my mates Eyal Shochat and Yaron Charka found this exciting Snipe at Ma’agan Michael on the Mediterranean Coast of Israel.

Pintail / Swinhoe's Snipe

Pin-tailed / Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ma’agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13

The bird showed very well to me on Sunday. Very easy to separate from the many Common Snipes in the same muddy pool by chunky, full-bodied structure (almost like a small Woodcock or Great Snipe), rounded head, ‘open’ head pattern (very thin loral stripe), heavily barred underparts, and most important – the pattern of mantle, scapulars and tertials: faint central mantle stripes, with no lateral mantle stripes. Scaps have a symetric anchor pattern, with even-width fringes on both sides of feather, compared to common that has much more white or buff on the outer web.

Scapular pattern, Pin-tailed / Swinhoe's Snipe, Ma'agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13

Scapular pattern, Pin-tailed / Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ma’agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13

This individual has a longish tail, on the long end of the spectrum for pin-tailed. Normally they have a very stubby tail, hardly protruding beyond the tertial tips. It had a unique behavious, in fact closer to a rail or crake – escaping on foot into the reeds when alarmed, rather than crouching down or flying away as Common Snipes do.

Pin-tailed / Swinhoe's Snipe, Ma'agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13

Pin-tailed / Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ma’agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13

Separating Pin-tailed Snipe from Swinhoe’s Snipe is practically impossible in the field (i.e. the excellent article by Leader and Carey (2003) in British Birds ). Both species share almost all features, incuding size and structure, overall tones, bill length etc. The only way known today to separate them is by the shape and structure of the thin outer tail feathers, impossible to see in the field in normal conditions. Also call might be useful but more research is needed on this topic so at the moment also calls don’t help. And anyway, compared to Common Snipe that normally gives a harsh ‘queck’ when flushed, Pin-tailed and Swinhoe’s are most often silent.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

Pin-tailed Snipe, Kfar Ruppin, Israel, November 1998

There are three positive records of Pin-tailed Snipe in Israel – all three ringed – the first in 1984 by Hadoram et al. at Eilat, the second was found by Barak Granit and Rami Lindroos in November 1998 at Kfar Ruppin and I ringed it a couple of days later, and the last one was ringed by Yosef Kiat in November 2011 in Tsor’a. Apart for these records of Pin-tailed Snipe, another 6-7 Pin-tailed / Swinhoe’s were seen in the field (mainly in the Bet Shean Valley) but swinhoe’s could not be safely excluded, though by default I’d guess they were all pintails.

So what is this bird? This bird is rather large and heavy, with a long heavy bill and thick legs, all features associated with swinhoe’s in older literature, but this means nothing apparently. This bird was silent. Several guys (including myself) tried to get a shot of the open tail when it was preening but impossible to see the shape of the unique outer tail feathers.

Unbelievable that this species-pair cannot be separated in the field. I hope someone comes up with something new soon.

The tiny, reedy pond the snipe was in was just superb. I had there 3 Spotted Crakes, 5 Water Rails, 8 Citrine Wagtails, Moustached and Savi’s Warblers and tons of other birds (Sedge Warblers, Bluethroats etc.). A juvenile Eurasian Sparrowhawk missed a taste of exotic Asia and took a Common Snipe that was feeding just few meters away from the pintailed…

Citrine Wagtail, Ma'agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13.

Citrine Wagtail, Ma’agan Michael, Israel, 13/10/13.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Common Snipe, Ma'agan Michael, 13/10/13.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Common Snipe, Ma’agan Michael, 13/10/13.

4 thoughts on “Swintail or Pinhoe’s?

  1. Ottavio Janni

    Ciao Yoav

    I whish I may have seen photos of the open tail, even in fligth…. with those, even if you may not see the real shape and structure op the outer narrow remiges themself, you may see the shape of the whole tail…this is a character I was working on after my records in Sinai desert and Sicily …. indeed not reported yet anywhere: so, if you see a fan-shaped or raven-shaped tail, to give the idea, it is Pintail, if the tail is rounder or less romboidal so more as a gently graduated tail, then it is a Swinhoe’s !! Of course, I would be happy to heard any voice recording as my last record in Sicily
    However, bill length and structure is not a problem at all for Pintail which is most of the time recalling a Great Snipe 🙂

  2. Bryon Wright

    Seems like one of the most convincing Swinhoe’s Snipe pictures, without in the hand verification, to me. Have been tortured by this trio for many hours like others have in Borneo. The open facial pattern with the bulging eye even for a snipe point to this species. Furthermore the scapulars seem to conceal the largest primary. The extensive patterning on the underparts seem to suggest a young bird, hence a superficial Great Snipe apearance. The upperparts also have a less contrasty pattern that seems to defy the current textbook Pintail wisdom. The only consolation is that they are not completely alike in the field , like some swiftlets but they are pretty close to this. I also tried to compare the shape of the scapular pattern on some birds through the scope as compared to the others. Mostly frustration on my part. Even northern Thai birds do not seem to get acceptance on visuals? Swinhoe’s also used to dart through, semi dried reedy areas, like a Slaty-breasted Rail in Borneo, just like in the above photograph but obviously the other snipe species do this when relaxed and unthreatened. Swinhoe’s leg colour always seem green opposed to duller or yellow-green like the others but this may not be consistent throughout.


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