Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Would You Call This A Western?

This bird in question, a WESTERN SANDPIPER, was called out on our trip to Poplar Island this week by J.B. Churchill. But before any of us could get a solid look, a nearby WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER quickly stole everyone's attention. The rest of the day, despite a bus full of birders searching, there were no WESTERNS spotted.
NOTE: This may or may not be the bird that J.B. initially called out. The photo was taken of the general area, but let me just say there were peeps as far as the eye could see.Take a look at the peep on the right in the photo that is standing next to the Yellowlegs. After the WHITE-RUMPED excitement, all of us birders just jumped back on the bus. There was much excitement, as we wondered what rarity might be foraging in the next location. Plus we had a boat to catch!

Whoops. No one confirmed the identification of the WESTERN, so we did not add it to our trip list. By some stretch of luck I accidentally snapped this photograph of one of the candidates, in between shots of the WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER.Here is a closer look. Feel free to add your thoughts and comments. This bird certainly has that de-curved bill one would expect on a WESTERN.The plumage is hard to judge, and the photo (as well as the bird's angle) leave a lot to be desired, but...

What do you think?

But first, how about some details about the WESTERN SANDPIPER?

Despite it's being one of the commonest shorebirds in North America, according to ABC, the WESTERN SANDPIPER is a, "Rare Yellow List Species." They vocalize with simply a thin 'jeet', breed in Alaska and winter anywhere from the Southern United States, South to Peru. WESTERN SANDPIPERS are most often found on shores, beaches, mud flats during migration and in the summer, if you're in the area, you can find them on the dry tundra way up North!

-Dan

5 comments:

John said...

Dan, I see a yellowlegs, and I see the semipalm, but I don't see the western. Am I missing something?

Nervous Birds said...

Perhaps not. That is why I'm asking. If you look at the bigger photo, you can see a difference in the bill of the SEMIPALM more towards the center of the shot. The peep on the far right has a droopier, slightly longer bill (or so it would seem).

But, of course, that's the reason I ask such fun questions.

Thanks for chiming in on this one John. I appreciate it.

-Dan

Nervous Birds said...

Some others have added their thoughts on the bird, names withheld of course, to protect the innocent.
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This is fascinating. I think the bird Dan has zoomed in on might be a Dunlin. The bill is long and decurved and looks heavier than a peep bill. Its back looks pretty plain, which would be good for Dunlin in basic plumage. It is definitely larger than the 2 birds (peeps) close together in the center of your expanded photo.

The bird behind my putative Dunlin is a (Greater?) Yellowlegs, a species we saw very few of at Poplar, most being Lessers.. Note that the bird with a visible bill in the center of the shot (which you think might be a Semipalm. Sandpiper) is actually a better candidate for Western. It has a droopy bill and is clearly smaller than either of the 2 birds on the right of the picture. The slightly smaller bird in front of it, facing away, is very brown on the back and is probably a Least.
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Dan,
It is probably a Western Sandpiper. Note the long drooping bill for one. The legs are likely dark as well. The back pattern on Least should have a faint V-shape as well. Semi- would have a blunt bill at the base (not seen) and tends to be more straight.
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Dan,
My work continues as well but this is good exercise. The one way off to the right (to the left of the Lesser Yellowlegs) certainly has a long bill and it looks somewhat de-curved to me (though its a bad angle to judge that kind of thing. Western Sand usually shows a bit of a droop at the "tip" of the bill and this angle makes that very difficult to judge. I typically see more rufous in the scapulars (but that was also missing on the 1 or 2 that were seen on the island). I think the gray scapulars on this bird indicate that its already starting to molt into winter plumage which could/would explain the lack of any color. The one in the middle of the photo (with what looks like "possibly" a juvenile peep standing in front of it) is clearly a Semi. It has the classic "blunt-tipped" bill. I think the bill on that bird on the right looks too good (especially in comparison with the Semi) for an adult Western to dismiss it as being something else and if this were a photo quiz (it kinda is ... isn't it ?), I would call it a Western (so that is my call). I sometimes suck at photo quizzes but I DID get the one in the beginning of the most recent issue of Birding 100% right ! and that quiz was quite relevant here.
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Please everyone... keep 'em coming. We will all be smarter for it. (or perhaps just slightly more confused?)

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Sorry, I am not making a comment or determination about your bird. I just wanted to say nice blog. I live in the next county and I am impressed with your annual list of 2008. I am going to live vicariously through your blog until I can make the effort to get to Poplar Island and other AACO spots. I am a new birder, about 4 years but this is my first serious year. Again, very nice.

Michael

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