Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Western Sand

Just one spread of the Western Sandpiper at Cley.  I really could have gone all-out with this one and compiled a highly detailed composition, but I would have needed all day.  At least I had reasonable views, although I'd like to go back and have another look at it and to study it at leisure...
An interesting bird, it sure looks like a Western Sandpiper to me (based on my broad field experience, sample size of one!, the Brownsea Island bird in 2004).  This individual is a 1st winter moulting to adult winter.  I guess most British birders will be unfamiliar with this plumage unless they happen to have been in the States at this time of year.  That said, Western Sand moults earlier than Semi-p, so maybe it's not impossible to see birds like this in say in August, perhaps?  I was really stuck by its long-billed appearance and the head pattern too, both when I first saw the photos and when I saw it in the field.  I'm not familar with any images of the longer-billed form of Semi-palmated Sandpiper - well apart from the famous Felixstowe stint of 1982 that I've read about: I think that was later decided to be a long-billed Semi-p (again, must read the paper by the late Peter Grant in BB dealing with the ID of that individual - it will be educational).  The patterning of the retained juvenile scaps and tertials are different too to juv. Semi-p.  Photos show the bird having rufous in the retained juvenile upper scapulars which I don't think semi-p would have. I wasn't able to discern this colour in the field however.  I really must have a look in Chandler's amazing photographic guide  to Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere... 
It's all very well for me to say it's a Western Sandpiper: actually being confronted with it in the field would have been a whole different experience with all kinds of uncertainty and doubt, and lots of patience to get the views and photos to conclusively identify it.  It's hardly surprising it took several days for the identification to be firmly nailed.

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