A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Monday, 5 October 2015

Semipalmated Sandpiper at Slimbridge WWT

With a Semipalmated Sandpiper having been present at Slimbridge WWT in Gloucestershire over the past week, we cancelled our planned trip north to Spurn on Saturday and instead headed south instead to try and catch up with what is beginning to become a bit of a bogey bird.

Having previously dipped a Semi-p a few years ago at Hoylake, with another individual (again at Hoylake) never confirmed as to whether it was a Western or a Semi-p, there is still a gap in my British Sandpiper list where Semi-p should sit.

Arriving at Zeiss Hide, we were disappointed to see that the group of waders were extremely distant and only just visible (the fog wasn’t helping), being nowhere near close enough in such bad light to make out the level of plumage detail required to confirm Semi-p ID. 

As the fog started to lift and the light became a little better, a juvenile Little Stint was picked up amongst the many Dunlin present, along with a second small grey bird – thought by some to possibly be the Semi-p. Throughout the afternoon, the whole group of birders in the hide watched and observed this individual, split in two minds as to whether this was an adult Little Stint or the Semi-p. It was far too distant to get any details on the scapulars (the Semi-p would show a dark tip with a central line to the feathers, whereas a Little Stint would show the centres being all black), while the colouration (difficult to see through the fog) could fit that of both Little Stint and Semi-p. Whilst the bird did look larger than the juvenile Little Stint present, some adult Little Stints can look exceptionally large - like an individual we saw at Burton Mere a day later which was also initially mistaken for a Sandpiper sp. in poor light due to the size.

Whilst several people left happy and ticking the bird as a Semi-p and a lifer, I personally will not be. The bird was far too distant and in bad light to get the level of detail required to 100% say either way that this was the Semipalmated Sandpiper and not an adult Little Stint.

Having had amazing views of Semipalmated Sandpipers just a few feet away in New York earlier in May, I was struck by how long and thin bodied they looked, and how the legs were positioned quite far back along the body creating a front heavy look. 
Semipalmated Sandpipers - Jamaica Bay, New York
The Semipalmated Sandpipers from New York back in May this year
Semipalmated Sandpipers - Jamaica Bay, New York
I just didn’t get that impression from the bird at Slimbridge, which created some reservations personally about confidently calling it as a Semi-p. The overall structure also created more of a “Little Stint” impression to me than that of a Semi-p, and while the plumage could fit that of a juvenile Semi-p, I’ve seen several photographs of Little Stints looking identical. Whilst there is every chance that this was the Semipalmated Sandpiper, especially with it being seen in the two days that followed, I personally don’t feel comfortable ticking a bird when there is even the smallest element of doubt.
Semipalmated Sandpiper - Jamaica Bay, New York
Adult Semipalmated Sandpiper in New York - the bird at Slimbridge is a juvenile
Semipalmated Sandpiper - Jamaica Bay, New York
This experience also demonstrates to me that you should never really tick a bird on the basis of someone else’s opinion as to its identification unless you are 100% certain yourself and can see all the reasons as to why a bird is what it is. At one stage, the whole hide started watching a very pale and bright Dunlin for up to 10 minutes, convinced it was the bird we had been watching all day and convinced it was a Semi-p, some even leaving having ticked it as such.

To me, ticking a new bird on views like we had where there is a sense of uncertainty defeats the object of twitching in the first place – the whole purpose being to admire, watch and learn about new species as opposed to just getting a tick in a box next to a name. Hopefully, another Semi-p will come around soon providing much better views and allowing us to finally and confidently add it to our British lists.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up & kudos for not ticking a distant blob.


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