Category Archives: 08) Waders

steppe-whimbrel-comparison-landing

STEPPE WHIMBRELS in southern Africa

Title Image: Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris (right) probable male, and nominate phaeopus (left) Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Photo by Callan Cohen.

By Gary Allport (with photos and additional information from Callan Cohen)

In early February 2016, Ross Hughes (RH) and I found a group of 12 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata in Maputo, only our second record of the species in more than five years of birding in Mozambique. They were of the East Asian race orientalis and most had huge bills, but of interest were two much smaller, shorter-billed birds amongst them. We were sure these smaller birds were Eurasian Curlews but we checked-in with staff of BirdLife Partners running the project to search for the Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris in order to make sure, and we also looked at Birding Frontiers remembering a discussion on a possible orientalis in the UK and Dave Gandy’s nice pics from Bangkok. Richard Porter sent me a copy of a recent paper on Slender-billed Curlew from BB by Corso et al. (2014), which had lots of details about short-billed, male orientalis European Curlews which made the identity of the birds in Maputo very clear; they were indeed male orientalis.

Part of a flock of 12 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata of the eastern race orientalis. Note the clean white underwings and long bills. One of two smaller, relatively shorter-billed birds bottom left. Salina Zacharias, Matola, Mozambique. January 2016. Photo by Gary Allport.

Part of a flock of 12 Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata of the eastern race orientalis. Note the clean white underwings and long bills. One of two smaller, relatively shorter-billed birds bottom left. Salina Zacharias, Matola, Mozambique. January 2016. Photo by Gary Allport.

However, that BB paper also flagged other little known and potentially confusing forms of both Eurasian Curlew and Common Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus found in the Asian steppes. One bird I had never heard of was Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris nicely illustrated in the article by Szabolcs Kókay, showing pure white underwings and axillaries. It was clearly very little known and I was geekily picking through the references when I found to my great surprise that the type specimen of Steppe Whimbrel was collected in Mozambique! I did a quick post online, asking if anyone knew anything about this bird or had photos of flocks of Whimbrel from Mozambique that I could check; unsurprisingly I got nothing back. I decided to repost with a nice photo of a Whimbrel to attract more peoples’ attention but I found I had no good images of the species myself. Two days later I happened upon a group of about ten Whimbrel whilst on the way to the shops, so I stopped the car, ran onto the beach took some pictures without really looking at the birds (I had my camera but no binocs with me) jumped back in the car and went to the supermarket. That evening I got round to social media and idly put the memory card in the computer – and you can guess what’s coming next – there was a perfect Steppe Whimbrel. I couldn’t quite believe it but I went through the rest of the shots and all the others were of normal phaeopus race. This bird was outstanding with clean white underwings and rump, larger in size and with greyer, cleaner colouration. I posted it online and sent it to my Slender-billed Curlew colleagues, and in the next 24 hours my inbox exploded. When I was finally able to get back down to the beach two days later with Ross Hughes, to our amazement we found another one – two together.

Some quick research showed that Steppe Whimbrel has always been little known. It was described in 1921 based on four specimens from coastal East and South-eastern Africa (Lowe 1921) with a further three records in Africa since then, the last in southern Tanzania in 1965. In the 1960s it emerged (in the west) that there were records from the breeding areas of Kazakhstan and Russia going back to the mid-19th century (by Eversmann), but the last was seen in 1974, and it was declared extinct by a Russian expert in 1994. However, it was re-found in 1997, a tiny breeding population of six pairs in the Russian steppes at the south end of the Urals (Morozov 2000). There were also a small number of possible sightings in the Caspian Sea area but they’ve not been seen since. The Convention on Migratory Species estimated the global population at 100 birds or fewer (CMS 2014).

Identification

Key identification features were given by Lowe (1921) in the type description:

“axillaries, under-wing coverts and undertail coverts were pure white. The back and rump were also pure white with no hidden spots as in Numenius phaeopus phaeopus, while the fore neck and upper pectoral region were marked with thin streaks of brown, not so numerous nor extending so far down the breast and flanks as in typical N. phaeopus.”

Callan Cohen was the only birder to get on a plane and trek over to Maputo (from Cape Town) to see the birds and we spent three days looking at both of the Steppe Whimbrels, trying to figure out what these birds really are, looking at the variability in other Whimbrels and getting as much in-the-field information gleaned as possible. Callan got a series of fantastic photos which greatly aided the analyses and we were able to pin-down the feeding territory of one bird, a foundation for further ad hoc ecological studies.

We found that the two birds in Maputo were similar to N. p. phaeopus, with which they could be compared directly, but had a clean white belly and vent, lacking any dark lanceolate streaking or chevrons on the vent and undertail-coverts; the upperparts were colder and paler greyish brown. The first individual was larger, longer- and broader-winged than the second, and not vocal; it was tentatively sexed as a female. It was also less strikingly plumaged, with more brownish tones than the second bird, but had a primary extension well beyond the tail—a feature so far only found in this individual bird. The second individual was paler and greyer than most Whimbrels present, smaller and shorter winged than the female, and very vocal and aggressive, especially later in the time it was on the beach in Maputo; it was tentatively sexed as a male.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable female, Maputo Mozambique, February 2016. Note clean white underparts with no streaks or chevrons on the flanks behind the legs, clean cold greyish brown colouration and long primary projection beyond the tail. Photo by Gary Allport

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable female, Maputo Mozambique, February 2016. Note clean white underparts with no streaks or chevrons on the flanks behind the legs, clean cold greyish brown colouration and long primary projection beyond the tail. Photo by Gary Allport

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Male in group of phaeopus (third from right). Note greyer colouration and narrow breast streaking forming pectoral band higher up the breast. Photo by Gary Allport

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Male in group of phaeopus (third from right). Note greyer colouration and narrow breast streaking forming pectoral band higher up the breast. Photo by Gary Allport

Based mostly on Callan’s photographs, and our observations in the field the following features were identified as separating the two alboaxillaris from nominate phaeopus (presumed adults in freshly moulted plumage):

1. Axillaries and underwing initially appeared pure white, but in photographs both birds had fine blackish shaft-streaks over the terminal 15% of the length of the axillaries. The underwing primary-coverts were finely barred grey. The axillaries in nominate phaeopus are barred blackish brown and white (see first photo).

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable female, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white underwing with narrow shaft streaks towards the tips of the axillaries. Photo by Gary Allport

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable female, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white underwing with narrow shaft streaks towards the tips of the axillaries. Photo by Gary Allport

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white underwing and clean grey colouration. Photo by Callan Cohen.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white underwing and clean grey colouration. Photo by Callan Cohen.

2. Upper rump and lower back clean white, although there was a suggestion of darker centres at the base of the white back feathers in some photographs. The lower rump showed some narrow dark streak-centred feathers, which varied in visibility, but close examination of photographs showed up to three on the female and eight on the male. The uppertail-coverts were ‘laddered’ with clean black-and-white bars, and differed from the lower rump feathers (the two have been confused in some texts). The phaeopus showed shaft-streaks on the upper rump and many lanceolate shaft-streaks and chevrons on the lower rump, with broader black bars on the upper tail-coverts and normally with a brownish wash.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white rump with relatively fine streaking on lower rump and tail pattern with clean white and pale-greyish white outers laddered black with contrasting darker centre tail. There is evidence that the centre four tail feathers are of a different age to the rest of the tail, being less abraded than the adjacent tail tips on the right hand side of the bird and differently shaped. Photo by Ross Hughes.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris probable male, Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016, showing white rump with relatively fine streaking on lower rump and tail pattern with clean white and pale-greyish white outers laddered black with contrasting darker centre tail. There is evidence that the centre four tail feathers are of a different age to the rest of the tail, being less abraded than the adjacent tail tips on the right hand side of the bird and differently shaped. Photo by Ross Hughes.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris (right) probable female, and nominate phaeopus (left) Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Note differences in size, structure, rump and tail patterns. Steppe Whimbrel shows ‘tubby’ shape (possibly carrying a greater fat load in order to depart earlier than phaeopus? But see pics of birds returning in August, below, presumably lean and some of which also show the tubby shape), pure white rump with minor streaking on lower rump, pale tail with slightly darker centres.

Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris (right) probable female, and nominate phaeopus (left) Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Note differences in size, structure, rump and tail patterns. Steppe Whimbrel shows ‘tubby’ shape (possibly carrying a greater fat load in order to depart earlier than phaeopus? But see pics of birds returning in August, below, presumably lean and some of which also show the tubby shape), pure white rump with minor streaking on lower rump, pale tail with slightly darker centres.

3. Outer tail feathers were clean white in the male and greyish white (with a buff wash in some lights) tipped white in the female; both were ‘laddered’ with narrow black bars on both webs over their entire length. The tail was very pale in both birds but showed contrast between the darker central rectrices (patterned with pale grey and black ‘laddering’) and paler outer feathers. In contrast, most phaeopus had pale- to mid-brown tails, barred black and relatively uniform across the tail span. Some phaeopus had a pale outer web to the basal third of the outermost tail feathers.

4. The outer web of the fifth primary (from the innermost) had five clean pale greyish-brown spots, which reached the outermost edge of the web. No phaeopus exhibited this feature, although a few had similar but very faint barring.

5. The breast was finely streaked blackish brown on a clean white or greyish-white background, the streaking ending in a pectoral band higher up the breast than in many, although not all, phaeopus.

6. Both alboaxillaris appeared more bulky – ‘tubby’ – than nominate phaeopus, and had noticeably broader and longer wings in flight, with longer secondaries and more paddle-shaped primaries. At rest, the primaries extended beyond the tail in the female.

Inspection of the type series in the Natural History Museum, Tring (NHMUK), which had been exhibited by Lowe in 1921, revealed that only one of the four specimens has a completely unstreaked rump, the other three exhibit minor streaking on the lower rump, similar to the birds in Maputo, which would probably be invisible in the field but is evident in good-quality digital images. C. S. Roselaar (in Cramp & Simmons 1983: 496) gave the most detailed description of the diagnostic features, which fit very well with the characters observed in the birds in Maputo. Both birds also matched illustrations of alboaxillaris in Corso et al. (2014). Note that Steppe Whimbrel identification will be covered in the new Chamberlain’s Waders guide to Southern Africa by the fabulous artist/author Faansie Peacock . An example of the plates, based on the birds in Maputo, is here. The full account of the finding is accepted for publication in the next issue of the Bulletin of the African Bird Club (Allport 2017). The birds were aged as adults based on their fresh plumage but the moult sequence of Whimbrel is very poorly known so this is a tentative conclusion. The female was last observed in Maputo on 28 February (by Ross Hughes) and the male on 24 March. They were seen by a small number of observers and well photographed.

Finding more

There are all sorts of questions about Steppe Whimbrel – species limits, taxonomy, distribution and numbers – which we won’t cover at length here but the bottom line is we need to find more of them if we are to understand this bird properly.

We have checked all the Whimbrels in the NHMUK and Durban Museum (including the only two known alboaxillaris from South Africa collected in Durban Bay, Dec. 1961 [Allport & Allan 2016]), finding no new birds. But a new record of alboaxillaris was ‘found’ in the public gallery of the Natural History Museum in Maputo (Allport et al. 2016), by climbing into the diorama when a piece of glass was removed for maintenance and lifting the wings of the dusty, old stuffed and mounted birds. There may well be others in museum collections.

The first article with details of the finding was published in ‘African Birdlife’ magazine and in September 2016 we published a second article outlining thoughts on finding Steppe Whimbrel in the boreal winter in southern Africa.

Searches for returning birds in Southern Africa began in August 2016 and quickly led to a series of ‘candidate’ alboaxillaris at the type locality in Inhambane, Mozambique (by GA, Gary Rowan, Maans Booysen and Niall Perrins – see the Birds Mozambique Facebook page and images below) involving a minimum of four and up to seven birds in August to October. One bird was seen on one day in August in Maputo. Two birds were found at Richard’s Bay, South Africa in October by Patrick Rollinson (see SA Rare Birds Facebook page and below). Unfortunately none of these was seen and photographed well enough to be certain of the identification, bearing in mind how poorly known the taxon is. Photos of some of these birds are below.

The first returning ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found in Inhambane, Mozambique 2nd August 2016. Note white axillaries/underwings, larger wings, tubby shape, narrow band of flank barring and grey face. The rump and tail look pale but the image is not good enough to be certain. Photo by Gary Allport.

The first returning ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found in Inhambane, Mozambique 2nd August 2016. Note white axillaries/underwings, larger wings, tubby shape, narrow band of flank barring and grey face. The rump and tail look pale but the image is not good enough to be certain. Photo by Gary Allport.

The second ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (centre) found by Gary Rowan and Maans Booysen, Inhambane, Mozambique 12th August 2016. Note white underwings, larger wings, tubby shape, much reduced flank barring and grey face. The rump and tail look pale. Possibly same bird as 2nd August; but at least three other ‘candidate’ birds photographed around that date but this is the best image. Photo by Maans Booysen.

The second ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (centre) found by Gary Rowan and Maans Booysen, Inhambane, Mozambique 12th August 2016. Note white underwings, larger wings, tubby shape, much reduced flank barring and grey face. The rump and tail look pale. Possibly same bird as 2nd August; but at least three other ‘candidate’ birds photographed around that date but this is the best image. Photo by Maans Booysen.

Third ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found by Gary Rowan, Inhambane, Mozambique, 15thAugust 2016. Note white underwings, white axillaries with fine terminal shaft streaks (the only ‘candidate’ returning Steppe Whimbrel photographed well-enough to see this feature), larger wings, much reduced flank barring and paler face. Photo by Gary Rowan.

Third ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found by Gary Rowan, Inhambane, Mozambique, 15thAugust 2016. Note white underwings, white axillaries with fine terminal shaft streaks (the only ‘candidate’ returning Steppe Whimbrel photographed well-enough to see this feature), larger wings, much reduced flank barring and paler face. Photo by Gary Rowan.

First of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (lower), Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016 (one day only). Note white axillaries and underwing. Flight shots were under-exposed/ taken against the light and adjusted for brightness so plumage tones are not accurate. But noting apparent pale fringes to upperwing coverts, this bird might be a juvenile? Note white axillaries and reduced flank barring. Photo by Gary Allport.

First of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (lower), Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016 (one day only). Note white axillaries and underwing. Flight shots were under-exposed/ taken against the light and adjusted for brightness so plumage tones are not accurate. But noting apparent pale fringes to upperwing coverts, this bird might be a juvenile? Note white axillaries and reduced flank barring. Photo by Gary Allport.

Second of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (upper bird) Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016. Note pale rump and tail. Flight shots were under-exposed/ taken against the light and adjusted for brightness so plumage tones are not accurate. This bird appears not to have barring on the outer web of the fifth outermost primary. Photo by Gary Allport.

Second of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (upper bird) Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016. Note pale rump and tail. Flight shots were under-exposed/ taken against the light and adjusted for brightness so plumage tones are not accurate. This bird appears not to have barring on the outer web of the fifth outermost primary. Photo by Gary Allport.

Last of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (second from right) Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016. Several badly exposed shots of candidate Steppe Whimbrels (of which I have many) show apparent pale underside to the primaries and contrasting dark, blackish, primary tips, which is not apparent in close-up, well-focussed shots. The same is true when viewing birds with the naked eye and also through a camera viewfinder – sometimes they really stand out. Note that the contrasting underwing pattern is a very different shape to that of a Slender-billed Curlew, which has a darker panel on the full length of the outermost primaries forming a dark bar along the leading edge of the underwing. See Figure 2. By Szabolcs Kókay in Corso et al. (2014). Photo by Gary Allport.

Last of three shots of fourth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel (second from right) Maputo, Mozambique, 19th August 2016. Several badly exposed shots of candidate Steppe Whimbrels (of which I have many) show apparent pale underside to the primaries and contrasting dark, blackish, primary tips, which is not apparent in close-up, well-focussed shots. The same is true when viewing birds with the naked eye and also through a camera viewfinder – sometimes they really stand out. Note that the contrasting underwing pattern is a very different shape to that of a Slender-billed Curlew, which has a darker panel on the full length of the outermost primaries forming a dark bar along the leading edge of the underwing. See Figure 2. By Szabolcs Kókay in Corso et al. (2014). Photo by Gary Allport.

Fifth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found Inhambane, Mozambique, 30th August 2016; one of four photographed that day. Note white axillaries, reduced flank barring and greyer/paler face. Photo by Gary Allport.

Fifth ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrel found Inhambane, Mozambique, 30th August 2016; one of four photographed that day. Note white axillaries, reduced flank barring and greyer/paler face. Photo by Gary Allport.

13-oct-inhambane1

Two ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrels, Inhambane, Mozambique 13th October 2016. These two birds accompanied each other. Note tubby shape and big wings. Possibly the first bird from early August (top)? Photos by Gary Allport.

Two ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrels, Inhambane, Mozambique 13th October 2016. These two birds accompanied each other. Note tubby shape and big wings. Possibly the first bird from early August (top)? Photos by Gary Allport.

One of two ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrels found by Patrick Rollinson at Richard’s Bay, South Africa, 22nd October 2016. Note clean greyish tone, white axillaries and underwing (partly visible), pale tail with darker centres, apparently pure white rump, pale barring on the outer web of the fifth outermost primary, greyish breast and contrastingly paler face. This is a very strong candidate Steppe Whimbrel. There are only two previous records in SA, both collected on the same day in December 1961 in Durban Bay (skins in Durban Museum DNSM). Photo by Patrick Rollinson.

One of two ‘candidate’ Steppe Whimbrels found by Patrick Rollinson at Richard’s Bay, South Africa, 22nd October 2016. Note clean greyish tone, white axillaries and underwing (partly visible), pale tail with darker centres, apparently pure white rump, pale barring on the outer web of the fifth outermost primary, greyish breast and contrastingly paler face. This is a very strong candidate Steppe Whimbrel. There are only two previous records in SA, both collected on the same day in December 1961 in Durban Bay (skins in Durban Museum DNSM). Photo by Patrick Rollinson.

The sequence of photos of candidate Steppe Whimbrels returning to southern Africa in August-October 2016 show that abraded birds do look quite different. In particular the flank bar is less distinct than both the two birds in Maputo in February and nominate phaeopus Whimbrel alongside. They all show a greyish face, contrasting with the mostly browner breast, in some cases markedly so. Some nominate phaeopus Whimbrel also show this feature so the extent to which it is a distinctive character is yet to be sorted out.

Anyone reading this is encouraged to check their photos and/or look for Steppe Whimbrels, especially in the range from central Asia, through the Middle East and throughout Eastern and Southern Africa.

This work is ongoing and I am trying to keep all the publications up to date on my Research Gate page and sightings are posted to the Birds Mozambique and SA Rare Birds Facebook pages.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Callan Cohen for considerable expert discussion and to Gary Rowan, Maans Booysen, Niall Perrins and Patrick Rollinson for their enthusiasm for finding new birds and for use of their photos herein.

References

Allport, G. 2017. Steppe Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris at Maputo, Mozambique, in February–March 2016, with a review of the status of the taxon. Bull. Afr. Bird Club 24(1): xx-xx

Allport, G. 2016. A step back in time. African Birdlife 4(4): 10-11

Allport, G. A. & Allan, D. 2016. A re-examination of two specimens of Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris Lowe, 1921 in the Durban Natural Science Museum. Durban Nat. Sci. Mus. Novit. 39: 41-45

Allport, G. A., Bento, C., Carvalho, M. & Guissamulo, A. 2016. Specimen of Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris (Lowe, 1921) in the collection of the Museu de Historia Natural, Maputo. Biodiversity Observations 7.24: 1-5.

Allport, G. & Cohen, C. 2016. Finding Steppe Whimbrel: discovery and identification in southern Africa. African Birdlife 4(6):48-54

Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). 2014. Conservation statements for Numeniini species. UNEP/CMS/COP11 information documents (28 October 2014). www.cms.int/en/document/conservation-statements-numeniini-species.

Corso, A., Jansen, J. J. F. J. & Kókay, S. 2014. A review of the identification criteria and variability of the Slender-billed Curlew. Br. Birds 107: 339–370.

Cramp, S. & Simmons, K. E. L. (eds.) 1983. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 3. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lowe, P. R. 1921. [Exhibition and description of a new subspecies of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris) from Portuguese East Africa.] Bull. Br. Ornithol. Cl. 41: 110.

Morozov, V. V. 2000. Current status of the southern subspecies of the Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris (Lowe 1921) in Russia and Kazakhstan. Wader Study Group Bull. 92: 30–37.

Title Image: Steppe Whimbrel N. p. alboaxillaris (right) probable male, and nominate phaeopus (left) Maputo, Mozambique, February 2016. Photo by Callan Cohen.

 

First year Hudsonian Dunlin

By Guillermo Rodríguez

Hudsonian Dunlin (C a hudsonia) records have been claimed several times in the UK & other countries in Europe, usually adults in mostly summer plumage in late spring and summer, when the pale head and bright back of Hudsonian is quite different from European birds (but, on the other hand, is difficult to separate from several Pacific taxa). However, Hudsonian Dunlin also differs from Dunlins that occur regularly in Europe (alpina/schinzii/arctica) in juvenile/first-winter plumage, when the likelihood of a vagrant is perhaps higher. Dunlins arrive in good numbers to the east coast of the United States in late September, only slightly later than Baird’s Sandpiper and American Golden Plover.

After careful study of a few hundred first-winter birds, I think some of the features typically shown by Hudsonian are relatively rare in European birds, and their combination on a prototypical individual might indicate a nearctic origin.

Moult: probably the most obvious and eye-catching difference at first glance (in September/early October) is that the birds arrive from the breeding grounds already in a remarkably advanced moult. Most birds have moulted head, breast, and most of the back feathers; the belly, rump and wing coverts are usually moulted slightly later. For instance, all 9 first-year birds seen in Massachusetts on September 24th were in moulted plumage; only one out of 76 was still in mainly juvenile plumage on October 1st; and only 3 out of 54 seen on October 8th showed partially (but still fairly advanced) juvenile plumage. Thus, the proportion of birds arriving with retained juvenile plumage may be well below 5%. At this time of year, most first-year Dunlins in Europe have some replaced scapulars, but usually not most of them and rarely if ever show a complete winter plumage overall (ie also including head, mantle and breast). Some Hudsonian Dunlins leave some back and rump feathers unmoulted until the late autumn and winter, showing a characteristic line of conspicuous rufous-fringed scapulars contrasting with the moulted greyer feathers, reminding in some way first-year Western Sandpiper.

Bill shape: Hudsonian Dunlins on the East Coast present limited variability in bill shape and length, at least compared to Dunlin taxa in other parts of the world. Most Hudsonians have a long bill, which curves down at the end, somewhat similar to Curlew Sandpiper. Some birds also show a sort of ‘drop’ at the bill tip. Even in the shortest-billed birds the bill shape is characteristic, and considerably different from the majority of Dunlins in Europe (although, obviously, European birds sometimes show similar bills).

Facial pattern: many Hudsonians present a characteristic facial expression: the brow is usually broad, and ends sharply just beyond the eye; in some birds there is a conspicuous pale area in front of the eye. The cap and nape are roughly concolorous, and thus more contrasting with the supercilium. In European Dunlins, the nape tends to be paler and so the supercilium seems to “merge” with it, contrasting with a slightly darker cap. As a useful comparison, these differences are reminiscent of the differences in facial pattern between juvenile Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers (with Hudsonian being more similar to Western).

Breast and flanks patterning: this feature has been considered as diagnostic in the past. Once they have moulted into winter plumage (but generally not in juvenile plumage!), around 70% of birds present sparse short streaks on the flanks of the underparts, beginning at the breast and sometimes reaching as far as the undertail. In most of these birds, the dirty grey patch on the breast partially extends towards the belly along the flanks. In most European birds, the underparts are neatly white, but some exceptional birds might show a similar streaked pattern to Hudsonian.

Some examples illustrating the variability of first year Hudsonian Dunlins.

1

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, September 21, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

2

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, September 24, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

3

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

4

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

Even in the shortest-billed individuals the bill drops down at the tip. Note also the characteristic pattern of the supercilium.

5

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

6

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

9

Hudsonian Dunlin, first year, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

8

Hudsonian Dunlins, October 8, 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

Note the similar bill shape and size in most individuals. Variability is relatively limited in the East Coast!

For comparison, look at this typical Dunlin from N Spain, still in mainly juvenile plumage in September:

european_dunlin_1

Dunlin, first year, Galicia, N Spain, September 15. Photographer: Pablo Gutierrez.

and a slightly more advanced bird (October), with extensive replacement on mantle and scapulars but still retaining juvenile head and breast feathers.

european_dunlin_2

Dunlin, first year, Galicia, N Spain, October 3. Photographer: Pablo Gutierrez.

Finally, check out this individual from the Canary Islands, identified as a (potential) Hudsonian on grounds of the flank streaking. The Spanish RC studied and eventually rejected this record. I think the bill does not look particularly good and the breast is too neat for Hudsonian, but undoubtedly a difficult bird!

A-G-P easy as… actually maybe not!

Dan Brown

I’ve always thought that golden plover ID was relatively straight-forward given good views, but it turns out not all individuals fit nicely into our pre-defined boxes!

A couple of weeks ago I had a pleasant but not too noteworthy couple of days in Caithness. The weather was stunning and there thousands of birds around. Goldcrests were in every bit of vegetation that could support them, and some just on the rocks! The odd Yellow-browed and Sibe Chiff brightened up the birding. I checked the fields at the Quoys of Reiss. They are great for plovers, and in the past I’ve had Upland Sandpiper and American Golden Plover here. The first day revealed a small flock of Golden Plovers but nothing more. On the second day the flock had tripled in size and one bird instantly smacked me in the face as being different. A ‘lesser’ Golden Plover and no doubt an AGP. The light wasn’t brilliant and I rattled off a few DSLR shots from inside the car whilst parked up on the verge.

I stopped to check the images and during my chimping the whole flock rose and headed down slope and over the brow of a shallow hill, out of sight. This was the last I saw of the bird. All that remained were the few images I had. I hadn’t even seen the underwing colour.

Whilst the bird had struck me as being different something didn’t feel right for it being a ‘lesser’ and it prompted me to look into it further. Both Paul French and Nils van Duivendijk provided some great feedback (thanks chaps) which has provided both answers and questions.

The bird in question: lower-centre right. Small, sleak, & contrasty. A pale forehead and dark crown and generally very grey toned.

The bird in question: lower-centre right. Small, sleak, & contrasty. A pale forehead and dark crown and generally very grey toned.

Whilst I frequently see cold grey Golden Plovers, they always look just that, standard EGPs in a cold tone. At first glance this bird has a slightly smaller and more rangy in appearance than an EGP, longer legs, and a slightly more attenuated rear end. The crown is very dark and the face very pale, all pro ‘lesser ‘ GP features.

The treats support this being an EGP - too finally notched, yet the primaries are still surprisingly long. The bird also appears too golden for an AGP yet the mantle patterning is very pro-AGP

The treats support this being an EGP – too finally notched, yet the primaries are still surprisingly long. The bird also appears too golden for an AGP yet the mantle patterning is very pro-AGP

A closer look though reveals the tertials to be too finely notched for either American or Pacific, and the bill looks pretty standard for an EGP. The mantle feathering is dark and coarsely notched, more AGP than EGP.

So what is it? It’s not a ‘lesser’ Golden Plover that’s for sure, and the most likely explanation is that it’s an aberrant European Golden Plover, however with the number of AGPs that arrive in the UK each year the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded.

What it is will remain a mystery but the most likely explanation is an aberrant EGP, however the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded

What it is will remain a mystery but the most likely explanation is an aberrant EGP, however the possibility of a hybrid should not be excluded

Hybrid Pacific x American have been frequently recorded in the USA especially Alaska where breeding ranges overlap, but to date there are no instances of European x American Golden Plover (Handbook on Avian Hybrids of the World 2006).

This article in Birdwatch deals with some pitfalls of EGPs and ‘lesser’ GPs and also mentions a possible hybrid in Somerset in 1987-88.

Hybrid Golden Plovers should definitely be on the radar when faced with an unusual Golden Plover in future, but hopefully for your sake you’ll be faced with a stonking clear-cut PGP!

Scary Little Stint

Grey and very eye-catching!

For me at least. Don’t think I have quite seen one like this before. 40 years looking at Little Stints- national hotspot was at Frodsham Marsh where I grew up…Photographed by Ben Moyes with other fresh juvenile Little Stints at Hollesley, Suffolk, UK on 20th September (3 days ago)…  he put the pics on his Twitter feed and I couldn’t help but get drawn in. Wow! What a curious looking bird. The very grey appearance, including and especially some coverts with some disconcerting little scapulars with orangey fringes made me think of some juvenile Red-necked Stints. It’s didn’t like quite right either but to make sure- belt and braces – I asked Ben to send the original pics for closer study. I also sent them to Nils van Duivendijk for a conflab. I/we do think it’s a Little Stint if one with a WOW factor 🙂

Why?

Why was it attention grabbing? Very grey plumage – unusual in mid-Sept, grey-centred tertials, no mantle white V’s, head pattern wrong for Little in mid Sept., orangey upper scapular fringes contrasting with greyness below. BUT. It’s long-legged, bill bit long and curvy, plumage not really strikingly Red-necked-like. No white broad French manicure scapular fringes, breast side pattern like a Little Stint etc. etc.

It has already begun moult to grey winter plumage which is a factor in its appearance- all those mantle feathers have been renewed together with some upper scapulars. Scary!

Anyhow- here it is.

See what you think: all photos by Ben Moyes- thanks Ben- good job!

Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 2 (1 of 1) Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 8 (1 of 1) Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 10 (1 of 1) Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 11 (1 of 1) Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 9 (1 of 1) Grey Little Stint Ben Moyes 1 (1 of 1)

 

 

Digiscoping in the Golden Hour

Justin Carr

Last Sunday saw me arrive at Flamorough before the sunrise ( not the norm for me ). It was a clear starry morning soI headed for Thornwick Pool to wait for the sun to come up. The next 6 hours or so where spent in the great photography hide, part of the mutli-facted new vision of Flamborough Bird Observatory. Anyway back to business. As it got light I could see there was a juvenile Knot present. Ss it got lighter the bird came to within a few metres of the hide.

The shots below shows images taken from before the sunrise through to the harsh light of midday for me its interesting to see the effect the light has on how the bird looks.

just as the Sun is rising

just as the Sun is rising

Knot doing a Turnstone

Knot doing a Turnstone.

in the golden light

in the golden light

Knot 7 (1 of 1)

Harsh light of late morning

Harsh light of late morning

I hope Iv’e inspired all the budding Photographers to get up early just once in a while the results might just be worth the effort.

All images taken a Swarovski ATX 85.

 

 

Dunlin, Calidris alpina

Patterns of white in the wing and origins.

Agh- the glorious annual autumn wader fest continues. yesterday was dominated by flocks of Knot flying south from High Arctic breeding grounds pasting over the head at Flambrough. Thornwick Pools continues as a hot spot of excellent variety and great views of with Wood and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwits, Knot etc.

knot (1 of 1)

Knot flying south past Flamborough yesterday- probably originating in Greenland!

 

Dunlin Treat

My little treat was watching a  flock of fresh baby Dunlins as various stage of moult from their bright fringed juvenile feathers into duller plain greyer ones on the upperparts Most I suspect now with slghtly longer bills are nominate alpina. One piece of plumage information which is interesting to record is the pattern of white in the primaries.

Basically on the 3 Dunlin taxa regular in W Europe- schinzii, alpina and arctica, white marks are separated from the feathers shafts (which are also whitish ) by dark feathering.

However in (some)  eastern taxa including e.g centralis and pacifica and as well as the North America hudsonia, the white joins of the feather meets the shaft (‘rachis’ in old money) producing a bigger whiter looking, Sanderling- like wing – bar.

Summat else to look for, especially with what our cameras can do now.

Dunlin 3 (1 of 1)Dunlin s landing 16th (1 of 1)dunlin5 (1 of 1)dunlin10 (1 of 1)

 

 

 

A little wing stretch reveals the white pattern in the primaries

 

dunlin6 (1 of 1)dunlin7 (1 of 1)

 

And some other glorious shorebirds on me patch…

 

juv-Ruff-1-of-1 ad litle stint 4 (1 of 1) ad Little Stint (1 of 1) mix of waders b (1 of 1) ruff 3  1500 (1 of 1) wood sandpiper (1 of 1)

.

Them Woodcock are Back

At Flamborough

by Martin G. reblogged from 2013

A rare sight! In case your interested… at least 2 Woodcock can be seen again day roosting and sometimes feeding in South Landing ravine, Flamborough. Just view about half way down road to Lifeboat station and South Landing beach.

woodcock s landing a2 11.03.2013

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough, March 2013

Capturing a moment… and the details. I guess that’s ultimately why I love taking photos. I have lots of stories of mediocre photography and failed efforts! ‘Digiscoping’ is undoubtedly the realm of bird and wildlife photography I have struggled with the most.

Fundamentally the art is to take photos with an ordinary ‘family’ camera by placing the camera lens up to a high powered birding telescope so that the ‘scope effectively becomes a super lens for the camera. I did ‘OK’ about 10 years ago by hand holding a Nikon Coolpix up to my scope. However with new cameras, heralded as the route to new heights of photo quality- I only seemed to get worse despite careful coaching by friends.

Honestly, I was ready to give up. It seemed too complicated, the results often poor and seemingly interfering with ‘birding’. More recently however, spurred on by the quality of images and especially video which James Lees (Slimbridge WWT warden) was achieving and with regular encouragements from Paul Hackett and others, I opted to have one more go. Over the last couple of years I feel like I have broken through- a little. For a lot of photography I use DSLR camera – a Canon 7D with 400 f5,6 lens It does an amazing job.

However sometimes the birds are simply too far away. Then the digiscoping kicks in. Furthermore, with digiscoping, I love that you can do video!

woodcock-s-landing-a-11-03-2013

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough (above and top). A lovely looker with American Woodcock-like grey strips.

January 2014

Up to 2 birds are again roosting on the far side of the ravine. When they first appeared in 2013 it was a good test of my digiscoping abilities, being very windy, with variable light from grey cloud and snow showers to odd bursts of sunshine. And the birds were in open or under poorly light canopy. It was too far to get a really nice DSLR shot (see below). I used a Canon S95 Camera taking photos through a Swarovski ATX95 ‘scope. There camera is held securely in place by a gizmo called the DCB ll swing adaptor.

On Video: Woodcock and Worms

.

woodcock s landing bird b 11.03.2013Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough. A more typical looking browner bird which kept to the deeper shaded zones.

Amazes me what can be achieved. No the bird above wasn’t a ‘half-bill’. In fact the bill tip is covered in mud.

Perspective

watching woodcock

Watching and digiscoping Woodcock Illustrating the view and distance The Woodcock were and again are mid-way up the far slope.

In Comparison:

To compare digiscoping with normal photography I include 2 shots of the first bird above, but this time taken with the Canon DSLR and 400mm lens. Acceptable, but heavily cropped due to the distance and I don’t think the results are as good. Also don’t think I cold get anything like the same quality of video!

woodcock 7d

Woodcock, South Landing, Flamborough.  Using ‘normal’ technique with Canon 7D and 400mm lens.

in association with Swarovski Optik