Category Archives: 08) Waders

Juvenile Semipalmated Plovers: variability of key features

by Guillermo Rodríguez

Semipalmated Plover is arguably one of the rarest nearctic shorebirds in Europe, although it has been suggested that its rarity is partly due to the challenge of separating it from Common Ringed Plover. The key identification features, such as the bill shape and the presence of white in the gape, are widely known and well described in several papers and field guides – so nothing new here – but I thought it would be interesting to take a detailed look at the variability of these characters for an identification refresher!

Let’s start with a couple of classic juvenile Semipalmated Plovers to illustrate the typical features. On these birds, note the:

– white above the gape

– yellow orbital ring

– generally delicate structure, with a very narrow rear part of the body

– small, rounded head

– relatively narrow and unbroken breast band of homogeneous width

– short, stout bill with a broad base and a typical triangular shape

– orangish to reddish patch at the base of the bill

– pattern of the upperparts with a broad pale fringe on the feathers of the wing coverts, which contrast with the scapulars and mantle where the feathers have a narrower pale fringe and a dark subterminal line, giving a tricolored appearance (a Cackling Goose-like feather pattern)

– and, of course, the semipalmation.

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Semipalmated Plover, juvenile. October 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

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Semipalmated Plover, juvenile. October 2016. Massachusetts. Guillermo Rodríguez.

Variability of key features

Keep in mind that these are all juveniles! Photographed in Massachusetts, September/October, 2016.

White gape: this feature, first noted by Killian Mularney, is extremely reliable. Typically there are two main facial patterns: one in which the dark cheek patch merges with the dark lore line, forming a sharp angle (the “very obvious white gape” type); and the other in which the cheek patch directly touches the bill, but only the upper mandible, forming a small vertical white band surrounding the gape. In the second case, the dark cheek patch approaches the bill at an angle, whereas in Common Ringed it tends to look more horizontal. Practically all Semipalmateds present some white in the gape; however, in around 15% of birds the amount of white is limited or can look dirty, so that it isn’t very obvious and often requires a close inspection. Birds with truly dark gapes are quite rare and they might represent around 1% of the total (see below for an example); even in these birds the brown patch touches the bill at the matching point between the upper and mandible, but never (or at least extremely rarely) touching the lower mandible. It is important to bear in mind that some Common Ringeds do show a similar white gape, as Dani explained in this BF post a couple of years ago.

gapes

Bill: this feature is quite variable, although it’s true that most birds present a stout, short bill, with a broad base, which often creates a concave upper contour to the bill. Nevertheless, in many birds it doesn’t look noticeably different from Common Ringed at a distance, and a few individuals show bills that would be quite typical for Common Ringed. The proportion of birds with an orangish to reddish patch at the bill base is very high, c.90%, and in many birds the patch extends to the bottom of the upper mandible.

pico

Orbital ring: this is another feature which is quite consistent and shows limited overlap with Common Ringed. Most Semipalmateds present a fine but obvious yellow orbital ring, which usually looks bright in direct sunlight. The number of birds in which the eyering looks dirty or darkish (and thus similar to the brightest eyerings of Common Ringed) is low. In the compilation below I show some examples of the darkest end of the range of variation.

orbital

Semipalmation: contrary to what the literature usually states, I think this character is quite variable and perhaps even overlapping somewhat with Common Ringed – or at least, in some birds the difference cannot be assessed in field conditions. Roughly, the semipalmation between the middle and inner toes is very obvious in around 50-60% of birds. But with other individuals, I have had a hard time finding the semipalmation even when observing from only a few meters away, since they show just a minute piece of skin, very similar to the hint of semipalmation that some Common Ringed show. The plate below depicts birds with minimal, moderate, and obvious semipalmations, respectively, from left to right.

montaje_semipalms

Breast band: this is another highly variable character, as shown below, with many birds showing a very fine band or simply a narrow line in the middle of the breast, and others showing an unbroken broad band of uniform width or even a band with two deep rounded patches on each side of the breast, similar to Common Ringed. Instead of shape, I’d highlight two different aspects of the breast band: (I) the colour, which is typically brownish in Semipalmated, and is often concolorous with (or only slightly darker than) the back, only rarely showing the really blackish tones that are common in Common Ringed; and (II) the “density”, as in Semipalmated the band is uniformly densely coloured and the dark-white transition is sharp, creating a well-defined band contour. In many Common Ringed, the feather tips in the band show some whitish fringes, leading to a kind of diffuse pale barring, and the dark-white transition at the centre of the breast (where the band is broken) is more diffuse.

montaje_pechos

Wing bar: the wing bar is known to be a supporting character, with Common Ringed showing broader and longer white bars than Semipalmated. On average there is a difference, but the overlap seems to be considerable (especially with some Common Ringed that showing short bars). Typically the difference is found on the inner primaries, where the bar is narrower in Semipalmated.

montaje_wingbars

From left to right, three Semipalmateds and a Common Ringed (picture by Pablo Gutierrez) for comparison.

Tail pattern: usually not described in the literature, I find this feature slightly more reliable than the wing bar. In both species the innermost pair of rectrices is dark and the outermost is white, with increasingly large white tips from t2 to t5. The size of the white tip, particularly in t2 and to a lesser extent in t3, is much smaller in Semipalmated, so that the total amount of white in the tail is less. In Common Ringed, the increase in white on the feather tip from t1 outwards looks more gradual. However, this feature is usually unnecessary, as pretty much every time you see the bird spread its tail it has also called!

colas

Bottom left picture shows a Common Ringed for comparison (picture by Pablo Gutierrez).

General coloration: most records of Common Ringed Plover in the States highlight how pale they are above compared to Semipalmated. I don’t find Semipalmated strikingly dark, so perhaps the difference is only obvious with side-by-side comparisons (or it could be due to plumage variability of Greenland birds, supposedly the ones that reach the States).

Some difficult birds

It’s time to take a closer look at a few examples of birds in which some of the features are (at least partially) missing:

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 This bird completely lacks white in the gape, and the bill is relatively slender and longish. It does present other typical features such as a bright orbital ring, red at the base of the bill reaching the bottom of the upper mandible, a uniform breast band roughly concolorous with the back, and a typical pattern to the upperparts.

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This bird shows a somewhat narrow and long bill, limited white in gape and bulky structure. Again, the eyering, red patch at the base of the bill and breast band are quite typical.

5

The reduced and dirty white above the gape, all black bill and Common Ringed-like breast band make this individual slightly confusing, but the presence of the eyering and the bill shape are quite diagnostic. The pale fringing in the crown is also more typical of Common Ringed, but quite variable.

6

 This is one of the most Common Ringed-like Semipalmated Plovers I’ve seen; the size and shape of the bill, pronounced and blackish breast band, and apparently dark gape are all quite reminiscent of Common Ringed, and likewise, the eyering is likely within the species’ range of variation.

These are likely the most “conflictive” birds I’ve seen during the 2016 autumn migration in the States, out of several hundred birds studied. Therefore, the combination of white gape, consistent eyering and stout bill seems to apply to the vast majority of birds, and it’s very rare that the three characters are lacking on the same individual.

Check out, for comparison, these juvenile Common Ringed Plovers from Spain:

chorlipablo

Common Ringed Plover, juvenile, Galicia, Spain, October 2015. Pablo Gutierrez.

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Common Ringer Plover, juvenile, Madrid (Spain), September 2015. Miguel Angel Serrano Rubio.

This last Common Ringed is partially reminiscent of Semipalmated, with its delicate structure, stout bill, and marked upperparts. However, the dark gape, lack of yellow eyering, and the blackish, broken and less dense/diffusely barred breast band easily clinch the ID.

Another Red-necked Stint – in Iceland!

By Yoav Perlman

Just a few weeks ago, before we all became obsessed with fancy Dunnocks, a 1cy Red-necked Stint was amazingly discovered in Norway, the first live individual identified in Europe. I am really glad that this individual sparked interest and attention in the birding community, that resulted in the next individual found, this time in Iceland. Somewhat similar story to the Norwegian find:

On October 13th one of Iceland’s top birders Gunnar Þór (Thor) Hallgrímsson went birding on his way back home at Bakkatjorn on the outskirts of Reykjavík. He spotted an interesting peep that attracted his attention. Gunnar had only bins with him, and no camera, so his views weren’t great. Based on what he expected for the time and place he identified it as the ‘default’ for this part of Europe in autumn – Semipalmated Sandpiper, as it clearly wasn’t a Little Stint nor a Western Sand. Gunnar headed back home, grabbed his camera and focused on getting some shots of the bird. He promptly alerted several local birders and sent this back-of-camera photo:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

All birders who saw the first image felt something was not right for semi-p. Yann Kolbeinson from Birding Iceland immediately thought the bird could in fact be a Red-necked Stint. An initial identification discussion among the small group of local birders began. Yann quickly replied to Gunnar by text: “Please tell me you can see webs between its toes…”. Gunnar’s heart skipped a heartbeat. A few minutes later Gunnar sent through the next photo:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

Obviously Yann’s jaw hit the floor. Luckily Yann had the images of the Norwegian Red-necked Stint still fresh in his mind, so he knew what to look for: the overall grey and plain appearance, small bill, long rear and round body, short legs – these features clicked. The Icelandic birders were somewhat worried about the dark ear coverts and seemingly darker markings on wing coverts, so back-of-camera images were sent to Killian Mullarney for his opinion. Killian replied quickly, and supported Red-necked Stint, but wanted to check the original images rather than back-of-camera to finalize the identification. Soon the original images were circulated and everyone agreed on the identification. Within a couple of hours after discovery, it was identified as Iceland’s first Red-necked Stint. Amazing!

Over the next few days it was seen by most Icelandic birders, including Yann who drove down from northern Iceland where he lives. As of today (18/10/16) it is still present. Here are some more photos of it. In my previous post I provided the full details for separation from Semi-p and Little Stint. Here I will just highlight the main features.

Note general structure. Long rear – like Norwegian bird primary tips not projecting beyond tail. Plump body and short legs:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Þór Hallgrímsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Þór Hallgrímsson.

Very grey and plain unmoulted coverts and lower scapulars. Coverts with hardly any pattern on them; scapulars with limited dark shaft streaks and limited dark tips:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Sigmundur Ásgeirsson

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrimsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrimsson.

Generally unmarked mantle pattern with limited braces:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 13 October 2016. Photo by Gunnar Thor Hallgrímsson.

Tiny bill:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 14 October 2016. Photo by Yann Kolbeinsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 14 October 2016. Photo by Yann Kolbeinsson.

Nice grey smudge on breast sides with indistinct streaking:

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 14 October 2016. Photo by Yann Kolbeinsson.

Red-necked Stint 1cy, Bakkatjorn, Reykjavík, Iceland, 14 October 2016. Photo by Yann Kolbeinsson.

Originally I had a quick look and speculated that the icelandic bird might be the same individual as the Norwegian bird. However, Killian Mullarney did a much more thorough job than me, and they clearly are different individuals, based on differences in state of moult of scapulars and mantle feathers, and position of primary tips comapred to tail. Many thnaks to Killian for allowing me to use his annotated comparisons between the two birds:

Annotated comparison of Red-necked Stints from Norway (top, photo by Trond Ove Stakkeland) and Iceland (bottom, photo by Yann Kolbeinson). Created by Killian Mullarney.

Annotated comparison of Red-necked Stints from Norway (top, photo by Trond Ove Stakkeland) and Iceland (bottom, photo by Yann Kolbeinson). Created by Killian Mullarney.

Annotated comparison of Red-necked Stints from Norway (top, photo by Trond Ove Stakkeland) and Iceland (bottom, photo by Yann Kolbeinson). Created by Killian Mullarney.

Annotated comparison of Red-necked Stints from Norway (top, photo by Trond Ove Stakkeland) and Iceland (bottom, photo by Yann Kolbeinson). Created by Killian Mullarney.

Many thanks to Gunnar, Yann, Sigmundur and Killian for the information and photos, and congratulations for such an excellent find and identification process. Surely there are more lurking somewhere in Europe. Keep your eyes open boys and girls – now you know what to look for.

Juvenile Red-necked Stint in Norway!

By Yoav Perlman

On September 23rd, Sigmar Lode, a Norwegian birder, was on his favourite patch at Nærland, Rogaland, in southwestern Norway. He had American peeps on his mind, especially after the decent arrival in Ireland and UK in preceding weeks. Just before leaving, he spotted a small 1cy peep, that structurally was clearly not a Little Stint. Sigmar had two Semipalmated Sandpipers at the same site 4 years ago, so naturally that was his first thought. He knew he needed photos, especially of the webbing between the toes. He fired off some OK shots, but they did not show any webbing! Then he got some more shots of the bird, and thought he saw something like webbing between the toes . Sigmar was happy – that are only few Norwegian records of Semipalmated Sandpiper. He uploaded his images on Facebook and his initial ID was generally accepted.

A few days later, sharp-eyed Tor Olsen, Oddvar Heggøy, Bjørn Olav Tveit and Geir Kristensen noticed further photographs of the bird by Trond Ove Stakkeland that emerged online – these excellent sharp photos shown here courtesy of Trond:

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

NO WEBBING!

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

Juvenile Red-necked Stint, Norway, September 2016. Image by Trond Ove Stakkeland

[First a quick hats-off to Tor – he is a member of the Norwegian Rarities Committee (NSKF). He has had a great autumn so far – he found an (apparent) Alder Flycatcher just over a week ago – the bird was trapped, and DNA samples will hopefully confirm the ID]

Back to the stint: Tor and his peers Oddvar Heggøy, Bjørn Olav Tveit, Kjell Mjølsnes, Simon Rix, Egil Ween and Geir Kristensen reviewed the new images and became certain this is not a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but rather a juvenile Red-necked Stint! It was a real team effort that led to this outstanding ID. Also Harry Hussey from Ireland was involved in the ID process. When Harry sent the photos to me I had no access to literature but my jaw dropped instantly. I will use Martin’s language – BOOM! Or to be more precise FLIPPIN’ MEGA BOOM!

Red-necked Stint is another rare bird in Norway, with four previous accepted records, typically of adults in June – July. But a record of a non-adult is almost unprecedented in the WP – the only other record involves a juvenile Red-necked Stint found dead on Fair Isle in August 1994.  So this is possibly the first European record of a living juvenile! Finding a WP young Red-necked Stint in the field remained the Holy Grail of bird identification for many years. I know it’s easy in retrospect, but looking at these photos – it really is possible to ID them in the field. This record needs to be accepted first by the Norwegian rarities committee, but my vote would be YES!

There are two main confusion species – Little Stint and Semipalmated Sandpiper. A good review of the identification of juvenile peeps was written by the late Russell Slack in 2006 – here on Birdguides. Identification of this bird as Red-necked Stint involved both a ‘holistic’ view of structure and jizz, and meticulous scrutiny of feather tracts. I will try to summarise the main features that caught the Norwegian team’s eyes:

General structure

Compared to Little Stint, this bird in shorter-legged, and longer reared. In some literature it is mentioned that wings always projects beyond tail tip, but there is much variation in this feature and the short projection of the primary tips beyond the tail is alright for Red-necked Stint. Red-necked Stint is also longer-reared than Semipalmated Sandpiper. Semipalmated has longer legs than flat-bottomed Red-necked, and has a shorter wing projection beyond tail, giving a less long-reared impression. Red-necked has a unique combination of a long rear and a rather full chest.

Bill structure

This bird has a short bill, thicker than Little Stint but thinner and not as blunt-tipped as Semipalmated. It must be noted that all peeps show huge variation in bill length and structure, very much related to sexual and age-related variation.

Check these longs legs and long, thin bill of a typical juvenile Little Stint:

Juvenile Little Stint, Ashdod, Israel, September 2010. Photo by Yoav Perlman

Webbing between toes

Practically none! Again, some Semi-p’s show less developed webs, but the Norwegian bird had less webbing than any Semi-p can show. Many thanks to Steve Duffield for this excellent semi-p shot below – he has lots more on his website. Note here the toe webbing and powerful, blunt-tipped bill:

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, Gualan, South Uist,Outer Hebrides. Photo by Steve Duffield.

Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper, Gualan, South Uist,Outer Hebrides, August 2016. Photo by Steve Duffield.

Moult

This bird has already replaced some scapulars and mantle feathers to 1st-winter plumage (which is essentially similar to adult winter plumage). This is typical for 1cy Red-necked Stint, but would be very unusual for Semipalmated – semi-p’s rarely start moulting (or molting…) before mid October. Some Little Stints already moult in September, but their moult would be on average less developed, and their replaced winter-plumaged feathers are not as pale grey and plain as shown by the Norwegian bird, but have more prominent shaft streaks.

General plumage patterns

Compared to Little Stint, the Norwegian bird has much less distinct saddle V’s, and the fact that it has less black on the scapulars and coverts creates a much less patterned impression.Also the juvenile coverts are very pale and uniform, which is spot-on for Red-necked Stint. The beautiful grey smudge across the breast-sides and into the breast, with indistinct streaking, is also typical for Red-necked Stint. Little Stint has fine, normally warm toned streaks on the breast sides. Semi-p has also more defined streaking on the breast.

The Norwegian bird shows a nice brown cap, warmer toned than normal Semi-p’s. However, I found much variation in this feature checking online images, so I am not sure whether this is an important feature. Semipalmated normally shows dark and well-defined ear coverts, but see the South Uist bird above… I also don’t like the split supercilium stuff- really variable and depends on position of the bird. IMO very difficult to interpret from photos.

Scapulars pattern

Semi-p is known for its anchor-shaped dark tips to juvenile lower scapulars. Little Stint has typically very full, dark scapulars (see in the photo above). The Norwegian bird showed a typical pattern for Red-necked Stint:  thin dark shaft streaks and limited V-shaped dark tips, resembling Semi-p but generally the scapulars are paler and more uniform.

Call

I don’t know if anyone heard or sound-recorded the Norwegian bird, but it should be the best way to identify peeps. Red-necked Stint has a call very different from Little Stint – to my ears lower pitched and softer, somewhat recalling Dunlin. Listen here and here. Little Stint has a higher-pitched and clearer flight call. Semipalmated Sandpiper has funny, drawn-out and soft calls.

So to conclude:

The brilliant ID skills of the Norwegian team allowed this breakthrough in WP Birding Frontiers! They demonstrated that with good views and understanding of the important structural and plumage features, it is possible to identify non-adult-summer Red-necked Stints in the WP. Hopefully their confidence will motivate more keen birders to find further juveniles. Now is the time!

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe identification

By Yoav Perlman

Swinhoe’s Snipe and Pin-tailed Snipe are a notoriously difficult species-pair. In fact they might be the only birds in the WP that even in perfect field conditions cannot be identified. In this post I will try to spotlight some potential ID features. Jari Laitasalo, an intrepid Finnish birder and ringer, has kindly allowed me to publish these images of a Swinhoe’s Snipe he took in May 2016 at Baikal Bird Ringing Station on the shores of Lake Baikal in eastern Russia. I will highlight here what little is known about their field identification (in fact I just need an excuse to show here Jari’s perfect images).

WP status

Both species breed right in the northeastern corner of the WP, in the northern Urals. In this context both are potential vagrants to the UK and western Europe. If I am not mistaken there are a few UK reports of ‘dark-underwing no trailing edge’ snipes – Martin once told me about one he had on Shetland some years ago but he couldn’t nail it. Swinhoe’s Snipe was recorded only once in the less extreme parts of the WP – a displaying male was in southeastern Finland in June – July 2008. It was identified by its unique display song, and during its display flights it did fan the tail and the characteristic outer tail feathers were seen well. Pin-tailed Snipe has been recorded twice in Italy (Sicily) – if I am not mistaken the only European records away from Urals. In the Middle East it is more frequent. In Israel it is a very rare but regular autumn visitor, just about annual in recent years, with 10 records up to late 2015. The situation in Israel is slightly awkward: three of these ten records involved ringed birds, and they were all Pin-tails (see some images below). All other seven records could not be separated positively from Swinhoe’s in the field. Until there is further evidence about how to identify them in the field, they are regarded by IRDC as Pin-tailed ‘by default’. Similarly, in eastern Arabia and Persian Gulf Pin-tailed is also a rare but regular visitor. If I am not mistaken there are also a couple of records of Pin-tailed Snipe in Sinai, Egypt. I must say that from the images I found online of Middle Eastern birds that were not trapped, the possibility that these were Swinhoe’s Snipe could not be eliminated.

Some clues towards identification

When you find a ‘dark underwing no trailing edge’ snipe in the WP, try to catch it! Please use a mistnet and not a gun as happened with the first Pin-tailed Snipe for Sicily that was shot by hunters (if I am not mistaken – couldn’t find anything on it online). In the hand first check the outer tail feathers. The outer tail feathers of Swinhoe’s Snipe are nice and broad, gradually broadening from the outermost pair inwards:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

The outer tail feathers of Pin-tailed Snipe are very different – all outer tail feathers (normally 8 pairs but varies between 6 and 9 pairs) are of equal width, about 1.5 – 2 mm. This is a scan of a slide (over-saturated, sorry) I took of the 2nd Pin-tailed Snipe for Israel I took in November 1998:

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

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

And here’s another example, of a bird ringed at Tsora, Israel by Yosef Kiat:

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Pins indeed.

But what to do with birds in the field? It may be possible that in exceptional images of a landing or preening bird, the shape of the outer feathers can be identified. However I have not had success with this yet. Andrea Corso told me that he found a difference in the tail shape in flight: Pin-tailed Snipe has a more diamond-shaped tail (similar to Raven), as a result of the short pin-feathers at the base of the tail. Swinhoe’s should have a more square- or gently rounded-shaped tail. I have tried to check this on images online but there are very few rear flight shots, and anyway in most it is impossible to say whether they were identified correctly. This is how Jari’s Swinhoe’s  looks like in a view similar to flight – square tailed?

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

And Yosef’s pin-tailed in a similar view, when those pin-feathers are clustered: raven-shaped?

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars - inner webs buff, outer webs white.

Pin-tailed Snipe, Tsora, Israel, November 2011 (Yosef Kiat). Check also the scapulars – inner webs buff, outer webs white.

This is something that is certainly worth looking into, especially in birds of known identity. In general, I find Pin-tailed to be less-patterned above, with narrower fringes to scapulars and mantle braces compared to more boldly patterned Swinhoe’s. However this must be very variable, depending on wear and age.

Some more images of Jari’s Swinhoe’s:

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars - inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo). Check the scapulars – inner and outer webs both buff toned.

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe's Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Swinhoe’s Snipe, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Vocalisations

Both species are rather silent, much less vocal than Common Snipe. Paul Leader and Geoff Carey discussed the possible differences in length in their excellent BB article, but they admitted that even to an experienced ear telling them apart is not straightforward. They suggested that Swinhoe’s is even more mute than Pin-tailed. Both species give soft take-off calls, though it is possible that calls of Pin-tailed are higher-pitched and clearer, while Swinhoe’s gives a lower-pitched, hoarser call. The bottom line is that it is worth sound-recording suspicious snipes, though it is not easy (I have tried several times but if the snipe did call it was very faint).

If you are lucky enough to be in an area where they breed and encounter a displaying bird, then display songs are sufficiently different. The song of Swinhoe’s is harsher and contains more ‘rrr’ notes, while Pin-tailed contains softer, more nasal notes. Check this educational post by Magnus Hellström.

What else?

Not much at the moment. Studying a large sample of birds in the hand in Hong Kong, Leader and Carey found no consistent differences between the two species other than outer tail feathers and perhaps vocalisations. They demonstrated that both species show considerable morphological variation in almost all features. Previous publications discussed features such as bill length, tail projection, overall patterns and pattern of scapulars, loral stripe and a few others. There might be something in the pattern on the scapulars: in Swinhoe’s, a higher proportion of individuals showed same-coloured outer and inner webs, while in Pin-tailed more individuals had white outer webs and buff inner webs. Check the images of the individuals above – in these individuals here this works but this is a tiny sample size and it is really about percentages of birds and does not apply to a single bird. And it would be very difficult to judge this on worn birds in the field, as WP vagrants would probably be.

This is a bird I photographed in November 2013 – hard to tell what it is. So frustrating.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe's) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, November 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013. This bird was silent. Scapular pattern? Hard to say on this worn bird.

Lior Kislev has kindly allowed me to use his flight shots of this same individual. Not easy to tell what the tail shape is. In some it looks more pointed and narrow, in others it looks more rounded and fuller.

 

Nice wing pattern:

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

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Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

And here it does look more pointed with a distinct ‘bulge’ at the base of the tail: pins?

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Can I see pins here when its landing? BTW there is a Spotted Crake in this image too…

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev)

Pin-tailed (or Swinhoe’s) Snipe, Maagan Michael, Israel, October 2013 (Lior Kislev).

Some more information about Baikal Bird Ringing Station

Capture

This exciting ringing project started in 2012. If I am not mistaken they ring there only in Spring. Check their blog! They catch there mouthwatering Siberian species such as this stunner:

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

Siberian Blue Robin, eastern Russia, May 2016 (Jari Laitasalo)

You can find more great images Jari took there this year on his Facebook page, and other images from previous years in his Tarsiger gallery. Many thanks to Jari, Lior and Yosef for allowing me to use their images.

Juvenile Red-necked Stint

with the White French Manicure

well it’s one way of remembering 🙂

These rather stunning images of a juvenile Red-necked Stint were taken in eastern Mongolia by John (‘Johnny Mac’) Mcloughlin in Mongolia this month (Sept. 2015). I think they superbly capture what a more straightforward young Red-necked Stint would look like- if one should deem to reach Western Europe again.

This next week Sharon and I get to stay with one of our favourite couples. Agnes and Roger Riddington. Roger found the ONLY juvenile Red-necekd Stint known in W Europe. Unfortunately it was deceased, on Fair Ilse

Time for a live one, and it helps me to remember that the white tips to the scapulars (and little mantle feathers) are vivid in thickness and pattern and sort of remind me of a White French Manicure

What will you remember?

Red necked Stint JM1 (1 of 1) Red necked Stint JM3 (1 of 1)

Compare with the recent grey Little Stint, which still looked scary among its congeners, but not really quite like this bird.

 

 

 

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Lesser Sand Plover on Lanzarote

Adult female of atrifrons group

Discovered two days ago (7th August) by Francisco Javier García Vargas and David Perez on Lanzarote, Canaries this delicious sand plover immediately raised (usual) the question of its identification. Is it a Greater or a Lesser Sand Plover and then which taxon does it belong too after that? It’s not that hard…

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Thanks to Juan Sagardia who passed on the info and in discussion with the Spurn Migration festival celebrity speaker, Yoav Perlman, we are pretty happy it’s a Lesser.

Found on August 7th at  las Salinas de Janubio, Lanzarote
All pictures  below by  Francisco Javier García Vargas and David Perez with grateful thanks for sharing.

Reply from MG

Here are my personal thoughts. Any readers have more thoughts to add or disagree?

“Hi Juan and Yoav

I agree with Yoav. Structurally the bill and head immediately cry out Lesser. The bill lacks the slightly longer flattened tip of Great- which is even found on the small columbinus of the Middle east in a usually obvious way. Nice blackish legs – slightly encrusted (with algae) sometimes I think?

A big bonus is also that it clearly has some retained summer plumage in early August. This is MUCH better for both Lesser groups than any of the Greaters as their moult strategy is about 2 months later than Greaters (quite well known feature). So this it is NORMAL for Lesser (atrifrons and mongolus) to show variable summer colour plumages on the underparts in August. However it is rare/ very rare/ hardly ever happens in Greaters. They are in full grey and white winter plumage by August.

Adult female of ‘atrifrons’ group

I would even be confident that you can say that the Lanzarote bird is of the ‘atrifrons’ group as the two Lessers are really two separate species anyway, an adult female I guess (all written up the old Birding World article. See Ian Lewington’s plate below).

Cheers Martin”

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Original plate by Ian Lewington illustrating Greater, Lesser and Mongolian Sand Plover ID based on our pioneering research at the time. Gorgeous!

 

Sandplover plate Ian Lew

Wilson’s Snipe or not?

Corvo,  Azores

Polish birder Radak Gwóźdź has been in touch. He and his mate Martin Solowiej were on Corvo, Azores in the 2nd week of October. Classic migration/arrival time for Wilson’s Snipe- and they photographed a snipe sp.- only views from underneath. Both Wilson’s and Common Snipe have been found on the Azores, so which was this one?

I’ve already expressed an opinion to Radak and solicited a response from snipe King Ash Fisher. What do you think?

Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4882.JPi Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4885.JPGi Gallinago5_Corvo_Caldera_03102014_MRS_4871.JmPG

Lots more on ID of Wilson’s, Common and Faeroe Snipe in the Challenge Series: AUTUMN