Category Archives: 08) Waders

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

Revealed: Mongolian Plover – First for Israel

Unearthed from August 2000

Itai Shanni and Martin G.

Following the wrestles with the very recent Lesser Sand Plover in Israel, Itai Shanni dug out an old slide. Looks like a first for Israel!

Itai wrote: “See attached the photo that I took on 10th Aug 2000 at K20 next to Eilat (just before I left the country).”

Lesser Sand Plover_10_08_2000_K20Mongolian Plover, K20, Eilat, August 10th 2000. Photo: Itai Shanni

MG’s response to photo:

“I have had time to read your email and digest the content this am a bit more. I have also followed up on my impressions of your photo.
From what I can see I am quite convinced this is a Mongolian (mongulus/ stegmanii) as opposed to Lesser Sand Plover (atrifrons group).
First of all I read the date you saw it- so clearly much more pro Lesser/Mongolian than Greater. I didn’t notice that detail first time around. Secondly the overall appearance puts me immediately in mind of Mongolian rather than Lesser.
So to be more specific, 3 things:
The Head Pattern- particularly forehead show 2 small white dots either side of thin black divide = ‘spectacles’. Where the pattern is reduced white it is more pro stegmanni than mongolus (larger area of white on average) but I am not convinced the taxonomic difference is especially valid- just marginally clinal. More importantly on male Lessers ‘atrifrons’ this is THICK black divide. Indeed it’s really a different pattern of all black forehead or black forehead with couple small white spots which are well separated and don’t look like spectacles. the head pattern on your bird is wrong for atrifrons.
The Underparts – deep colouring extends solidly down the breast. It then appears to break up into spots/ splodges of colour which then continue seemingly along just beyond (at least) mid flanks (say about 3/4 way along length of flanks. This pattern of underparts colouring is wrong for atrifrons- in which the colouring remains solid and fades  a little towards the lower part of the breast. In doesn’t show obviously breaking up into distinct dark splodges and doesn’t normally extend so far along the flanks as it appears to on this bird.
The Black Necklace – I am a little circumspect about this as the ‘crease’ where the breast colouring reaches the white throat can appear to show a thin black dividing line which in reality is not really there. When definitely confirmed a black line is found in mongolus but not atrifrons. This bird does at least appear to show a black dividing line.
Thus unless there are other records hidden away, this look’s like Israel’s first Mongolian Plover.
Cheers Martin”

Ian Lewington also commented along very similar lines, and he felt that while the light was harsh and may create some artifacts, the forehead pattern was Mongolian, the upper and underpart tones and extent of plumage all seem to indicate Mongolian and the black neck line could be ‘shadow’ but may well be real. Overall view- “Looks like Mongolian Plover”.

Too compare. The recent Mongolian Plover in Ireland:

A KellyAdult male Mongolian Plover, Pilmore Strand, Cork by Aidan G. Kelly.

Understandably, the issues of Sand Plovers and their identification has generated lots of positive and lively discussion amoungst the Israeli birding community of recent days. Hadoram Shirihai kindly sent these photos of male and female Mongolian Plover, fresh from a trip in the far east:

>>>>Mongolian (Lesser) Sand Plover, Mongolia, June 2013<<<<

Mongolian, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers


by Martin G.

Given Yoav’s excellent posts below on this 3rd, 4th or 5th* record of Lesser Sand Plover for Israel, and a Mongolian Plover in Scotland seemingly heading south and to become Ireland’s first,  I thought it apposite to add to the discussion, Ian Lewington’s stunning plate below.

Ian lew sand plovers

 Mongolian Plover (top 4),  Lesser Sand Plover (middle 4), Greater Sand Plover (ssp columbinus – bottom 2). Monchrome tails etc. bottom right – Mongolian Plover on left and Lesser Sand Plover on right. Plate by: the legend that is…Ian Lewington

Ian, the late Russell Slack and myself looked into the ID issues of Sand Plovers quite extensively, culminating in article published in Birding World magazine:

Garner, M., Lewington, I. and Slack, R. (2003) Mongolian and Lesser Sand Plovers: an identification overview. Birding World 16(9): 377-85.

I concur with Yoav’s comments on the Israeli Lesser Sand Plover. * At the moment Israel has two accepted records (1983 and 2001). There are three records under circulation by IRDC – 2000, 2010 and this one. So this sand plover could be 3rd, 4th or 5th (per Yoav P!).

I would add a few points based on my notes and our research for the Birding World paper. Please make you own mind up. Here are  my thoughts, hoping some might be helpful or next time:

The recent Lesser Sand Plover in Israel seemed to me to have the overall ‘gestalt’ of an atrifrons Lesser.

  • Bill nail length. I think the bill does look small and it appears to me from the photos that the ‘nail’ section is (clearly) less than half the total bill length. The nail should be half or even more than half  of the bill length in Greater Sand Plover.
  • Breast and head pattern. The fading and worn orangey area over the beast is even, smooth and I think too broad for most Greater Sand Plover. GSP with extensive breast colour does not normally show such a broad even band,-rather it tends to break up along the flank line. A soft feature maybe, but it think it adds to the Lesser ‘feel’. With the extensive black mask, seemingly as Yoav mentions, perhaps just beginning to break up through moult, this is a head pattern/ breast pattern combo which is very ‘Lesser’.
  • Wing Pattern. I agree with Yoav that the wing pattern may be a little use, we certainly found previous statements on the usefulness of the wing pattern conflicting and not borne out by the evidence.
  • Tail Pattern. What we did find a potentially very useful feature was the tail pattern. Greater has dark tail band which is matched by Mongolian but not by Lesser. On Lesser the terminal area of the tail is virtually concolorous with the rump and upperparts- thus no dark tail band. Furthermore the white tail sides were more extensive in Greater and Lesser Sand Plover than they were in Mongolian Plover. Hence a slightly but helpfully different pattern of tail and rump sides each species (see Ian’s monochrome illustration).
  • Projection of toes beyond tail. Maybe a project for someone. Greater does/can have obvious toes projection in flight, beyond tail. So can Mongolian Plover (seemingly slightly shorter). This needs much more research to clarify vaariation but Lesser may have little or no toe projection…
  • Feathering and tibio-tarsal joint. Brian Small makes interesting observation on Surfbird forums which may a feature worthy of further study.

It’s wonderful to be able  to compare what are surely 2 good, full species (as we advocated in the BW paper) at the same time, both vagrants in the Western Palearctic. Here then is Ireland first Sand Plover of any kind:

A Kelly

……..Adult male Mongolian Plover, Pilmore Strand, Cork by Aidan G. Kelly.

Aidan commented on his very nice digiscoped photos and the video which were taken using the new Swarovksi ATX 95:

“Yes, photo on Surfbirds and YouTube clips all taken with ATX95  with TLS APO using a Canon 7D.   Have  had a few Irish birders  who were on site with me using DSLR and prime lenses  (and with variable results due to distance /heat haze) being  surprised at the quality which I got with the new kit! First twitch with the new scope and lot of birders who hadn’t seen it before,  were very  impressed with it yesterday.
 Great bird to see. Finally our first ever Sand Plover in Ireland! Now for a Greater…..”  


Lesser Sand-plover

Israeli sand-plover resolved

I hope Martin forgives me for turning this into my personal blog. But this bird stirred a fascinating discussion among some top birders, and deserves one last post.

Lesser Sand-plover
Lesser Sand-plover

 So after lots of thinking and reading and discussing, the concensus on this bird now is that it’s a good candidate for atrifrons. This happened after seeing more images of the bird, better illustrating its petite size, and understanding that wing pattern and bill structure are highly variable in both species, and identification shouldn’t be based on these features only. This bird showed a wing pattern normally associated with greater (bulging white wingbar on inner primaries), as mentioned in literature. Well, not anymore. 

Also, this bird showed a bill structure similar to the bird from Kenya in my previous post – long and rather thin, with slightly bulbous lower mandible. Again, according to literature this is not very good for lesser, but better for greater.

So what do we have on this bird?

1. Timing of moult – lesser moults later than greater, which is a good pointer for lesser – at least in Israel a bird in summer plumage in late July or August should be lesser. I know little about how eastern leschenaulti moult.

2. General size and structure – small. Not the most ‘delicate’ atrifrons in the world though.

3. Leg colour – basically dark (though often hard to tell in the field).

4. Head pattern – massive black mask.

5. Dull grey mantle. Greater normally has brighter rufouns mantle, but surely this is affected by wear?

At least my understanding from recent days is that some features widely mentioned as distinguishing between greater and lesser are invalid or at least very variable, such as wing pattern and bill structure. More work is needed on separation of columbinus and western atrifrons, that appear to be very close to each other.

And a couple of lessons for me – 1) always be extra cautious about identifying birds from images without seeing them and 2) never be definitive about such difficult taxa; always use indefinite terms such as ‘looks like’, ‘good candidate’ etc.

I want to thank all the people who contributed to this discussion, in Israel and overseas.

Always learning!