Category Archives: 08) Waders

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

Oystercatchers of subspecies longipes

from further east

Martin Garner  

Oystercatcher ID doesn’t get much press in western Europe, though they are spectacular looking creatures. Those who delve into variation and races will know of two subspecies. Of interest to European birders is the form longipes. But how do you identify one? Can they even be identified in the field? Here’s the start if my own explorations
 

This blog post is just for me- to remind myself what I have learnt should I need it again. I have known for quite a while to look for ‘browner-backed’ Oycs. It’s early stages of exploration in trying to understand what might qualify as a legitimate claim of longipes Oystercatcher.

Breeding as near as the Adriatic and north-east Mediterranean per Chandler (Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere) – and migrants reported reaching Austria and Hungry (BWP). So not too far from the ol’ North Sea. Those in the far east will encounter the taxon osculans which looks like an incipient or valid species by the way we classify these things.

In a nutshell longipes is said to have

1) browner and paler upperparts
2) longer bill and legs (though much overlap in both)
3) nasal groove more than half bill length (less than half in nominate ostralegus)
4) broader white throat strap in winter plumage
4) a cursory look at photos also shows longipes has more white in the wing especially on the outer primaries

oyc15

South Landing

So here’s a juvenile Oystercatcher (juvenile because it has large area of dark tipping on bill dull dark iris and orbital ring and some of those brownish  upperpart feathers have pale buffy fringes) on South Landing beach at Flamborough that caught my eye in early October (1st to 5th). It was a little browner (and paler) above than the other Oystercatchers, including another juvenile it kept company with. The brown tones morphed darker/lighter according to light/angle. Compared with the other juvenile it was also a tad longer billed, looked a tad longer legged and had more white in the wing…

oyc11

It’s a subject I have never really delved into. So at moment I am adopting the default position that this Flamborough bird is probably just normal variation within nominate ostralegus.

What intrigued me was this bird did stand out a bit and the nasal groove reached to just about or just a tad longer than 50% of the bill length. But then some other pics of ‘western birds’ show similar length of nasal groove.

René Pop has been a great help with photos and discussion re. longipes from Oman; Richard Millington also on the discussion front. The exploration continues. Might do follow up on the wing patterns.

Few more pics of the local bird that I’m learning from: oyc7 oyc5 oyc2

 

THIS 2cy BIRD photographed o the Azores in February 2013 was hailed as longipes– which it does seem to be. The white collar is huge and it certainly has more white in the wing than typical 2cy ostralegus. But the nasal groove is only just longer than 50%. So at the very least if one can reach the Azores… (to be cont’d)

orientalis Curlews near Bankok

to compare

Dave Gandy

Grateful thanks to Dave who sent these images following this post.

Check out the photos, especially the variation in flanks pattern with some showing the lines of thin pencil streaks, and others with more obvious cross bars on flank marks. Also the Slender-billed Curlew-like dark underside to outer primaries is apparent (barred dark/ pale in western Curlews). Nice white lower breast and belly, some have dark marks at tips of axilliaries and tail pattern– just visible in one or two shots.

“Dear Martin,

I was out at Khok Kham (the nearest Spoon-billed Sandpiper site to Bangkok) yesterday afternoon and bumped into a flock of Curlew.

Having seen that you’ve recently raised some interest in the ID of orientalis on BF I banged off a few shots in case you wanted some additional reference material for birds in mid July. The best shots are attached here (sorry, nothing on the deck as these birds were a bit unapproachable).  Those really are gleaming white underwings!

Best wishes, Dave”
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European Wader -a first for North America?

and which subspecies?

An unprecedented arrival of European Waders is occurring in Newfoundland, NE Canada, Up to 72 Golden Plover, Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank are headlining. Less salubrious, perhaps but maybe even rarer, Alvan Buckley (Alvan’s blog) noticed this Dunlin which looked different…
  

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Alvan Buckley

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Alvan Buckley

Hello Martin,
I’m looking for some thoughts on a Dunlin that Lancy Cheng and I found at Cape Spear, Newfoundland today (May 3, 2014).
As you may know, there’s been a legendary influx of European shorebirds to Newfoundland over the last couple weeks. So when I saw this Dunlin I immediately thought that it was going to be one of the Eurasian subspecies especially since Dunlin are extremely rare migrants to NL in the spring, I’m not even sure if there are any records on the Avalon during spring migration.
The bird clearly has a shorter and straighter bill than the hudsonia (North American) subspecies, and also has a less complete dark underbelly. I think hudsonia can safely be ruled out.
The two most likely European subspecies are schinzii & arctica. I’m leaning towards schinzii because of the extent of dark underbelly (more than arctica). However, I’ve received a few comments that the extent of streaking on the chest is more indicative of the arctica subspecies.
I’ve attached a few of my photos but other local birders got better pictures than I did and their links are below.
Thanks for any insight you can provide!
Alvan
apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Lancy Cheng

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Lancy Cheng

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Peter Shelton

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Peter Shelton

Also see more of Peter Shelton’s photos HERE.

 

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Alvan Buckley

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Alvan Buckley

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Peter Shelton

apparent European Dunlin, Newfoundland, May 2014. Peter Shelton

 

I agree it looks like one of the 3 European races rather than the bird of the central flyway of North America- hudsonia. Below some presumed schinzii Dunlin from late May in Shetland where they were busy displaying and presumable breeding somewhere on moorland nearby. Quite variable.

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

Dunlin, Fetlar, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

Dunlin, Fetlar, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii

 

So if European which is it. Not an easy subject! The scapulars hold some interesting information. They are essentially sold black centres (small exceptions) with rather warm orangey fringes and paler almost white tip. The pattern is too richly coloured and the pale tip in combination seems wrong for ‘arctica’ Dunlin (photos and blog posts HERE). That pattern is reminiscent of some nominate alpina. However the bill is rather short looking and the pattern not especially stand out. I agree with that perhaps schinzii- similar to ones I have photographed in Shetland or possibly? a southern alpina fits the bill. A lot of schinzii have more internal markings in the black scapulars and usually no obvious pale tip- though they are variable-see photos here But then again stand out alpina have nice long bills and very white ground colour to underparts with sparser streaking. Hmmm…

Still, I think its European, closest to schinzii and therefore very rare/ a first for North America!

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii though with pattern of scapulars approaching nominate alpina

Dunlin, Gutcher, Shetland, late May 2012. presumed ssp. schinzii though with pattern of scapulars approaching nominate alpina

 

And did you read about that striking bird in North Norfolk in spring several years ago. Initially mooted as an American hudsonia– but I think fits the taxa from the Asian Pacific rim much better- and others agree.