Category Archives: 08) Waders

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


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…


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”
DSC_7019-3 DSC_7019-3-3 DSC_7020-3

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!
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.



The Red Snipe Files – unanswered questions

The Faeroe Snipe ssp. faeroeensis

Hypothesis. The Faeroe Snipe is restricted to… the Faeroes. Bird in Iceland, Shetland and Orkney are labelled as faeroeensis as part of late 20th century ‘lazy lumping’ in the field of taxonomy.

Martin Garner

Appeal for a bit of help – literature and photos… Examples of Faeroe Snipe look very distinctive indeed- almost like a different species. And you don’t see many off them. The ideal time to compare like for like in plumage is adult and young bird in autumn- in fresh plumage. I am really keen to see photos of snipe on Faeroe in autumn- and any other photos in autumn of birds looking outstandingly like/ assumed to be faeroeensis.

I also want together hold of the old literature that spells out studies and status- from C.L Brehm (1831)! onwards. Any pointers much appreciated.

 “Although the colour and markings of the Eurasian Common Snipe vary in its wide distribution from the British Isles to Kamchatka in East Asia, in only a single population have these variables been sufficiently stabilised to be recognised as a geographical race or subspecies. The Faeroe Island population of Common Snipe was first described as a distinct species by C. L. Brehm in 1831”. Tucker 1972.


This Snipe flew in to Britain's northernmost patch off ground at Skaw, unst. You can juts make out how this the white scapulars fringes are and intricate reddish markings. all photos below of same bird in murky light.

This Snipe flew in to Britain’s northernmost patch off ground at Skaw, unst. You can juts make out how this the white scapulars fringes are and intricate reddish markings. all photos below of same bird in murky light.

While most/all literature now states that birds of Orkney, Shetland, Iceland and Faeroe are all the same. I don’t believe it!

Currently the population of Iceland, Shetland, Orkney and Faeroes are all lumped under faeroeensis. Two previous studies found only the birds of Faeroes represented a sufficiently discrete population defined as faeroeensis, and that Icelandic birds, “while slightly more buffy than a series from the continent, and are closer to the latter than the Faeroes birds. In fact the Iceland birds were indistinguishable from some specimens from Sweden, the location of the nominate form.”


faeroeensis snipe 9 skaw unst auutmn 2013faeroeensis snipe 6 skaw unst auutmn 2013

faeroeensis snipe 5 skaw unst auutmn 2013 faeroeensis snipe 3 skaw unst auutmn 2013


BOOM! Hudsonian Whimbrel in Israel

nr Ma’agan Michael

SENSATIONAL! Now that’s a long way from home!

Found yesterday, 6th February 2014. Yoav the Perlman got in touch yesterday to say a dark-rumped Whimbrel had been seen, during the day, at Nakhsholim beach, Carmel coast. One might expect the east Asian variegatus to be the more likely choice. However I think, gut reaction, it is hudsonicus with that lovely buffy ground colour to underwing and flanks – flanks should be bit more barred and underwing and flanks should be whiter for variegatus and the back is wholly dark (usually some white on variegatus)- plus nice big whiter supercilium. Adult like feathers over upperparts but would need to look into aging more.

Flippin’ well done Rei and Tuvia Khan. Let the superb photos of Rei Segali do the talking.


!cid_ii_1440b8db8ee14236!cid_ii_1440b8e09c615672!cid_ii_1440b8ea5a6ded93all photos Rei Segali, 6th Feb. 2014, Nakhsholim beach, Carmel coast, Israel


Pintail / Swinhoe's Snipe

Swintail or Pinhoe’s?

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

Pintail / Swinhoe's Snipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Snipe at Spurn

The Bird and The People

15th September 2013

Click through TWICE on any snipe image to see it much better, up close and personal

Great Snipe 13 Kilnsea 15.9.13

1st winter  (I think). Central belly rather plain white with little barring (fully barred on adult) and wing coverts look nice and fresh but would need to look into it ‘properly’

Great Snipe Kilnsea 15.9.13

Guiding with Yorkshire Coast Nature, we reckoned our best bet on day 3 would be Spurn. Ian Smith’s photos of the Great Snipe from the previous afternoon were gripping enough; and the bird had been reported showing early. Don’t think anyone was disappointed.

Great Snipe 15 Kilnsea 15.9.13

findersFantastic! Very pleased for these 2 dudes, John Cooper and Pete Wragg. Both were guides on the Spurn Migration Festival the previous weekend. John Cooper saw the bird briefly on the deck and in flight on morning on the 14th and quickly reported it but it couldn’t be relocated. On hearing his description first hand in the afternoon, Pete Wragg returned to the area, quite convinced John indeed had seen a Great Snipe. After a fruitless scout around the field Peter returned to the road on Beacon Lane to find the bird just sitting- right out in the open- on the grass verge.

Great Snipe 11 Kilnsea 15.9.13

.watchers 4

Great Snipe 3 Kilnsea 15.9.13Great Snipe 17 Kilnsea 15.9.13

Great Snipe 6 Kilnsea 15.9.13

above – a bit of detail :)
.watchers 2

birdNice! Pinched from John Hague’s Facebook post. he’s got me at full stretch photographing the mighty beast (back right corner in full boring birder green olive and grey- you can hardly see me ;)

watchers 1

gangOur Yorkshire Coast Nature group in celebratory mood, just before a welcome cuppa in the Blue Bell cafe (thanks for photo to John Hague).

Great Snipe 18 Kilnsea 15.9.13

Great Snipe 7 Kilnsea 15.9.13

enough for now- night night:

Great Snipe 8 Kilnsea 15.9.13