Tuesday 12 September 2017

A belated Least Sandpiper - third Axe record in two years!

At the end of my last post I mentioned a 'Little Stint' that was present here last Thursday evening (7th), and how I wished I'd had the chance to see it and give it a closer look. Well now I really wish I'd had that chance! Here's the bird again...

(c) Phil Abbott

Phil is one of our most experienced birders, I was at work when I read this text from him last Thursday evening, and I shuddered...

"Stint sp. probably little juv from tower hide distant"

I knew from that wording Phil wasn't happy with it, and although his views of it all that evening were extremely distant and only in dull light, after it got dark I received another text from him...

"not 100% convinced, rubbish light but bill looks wrong for little stint"

Sadly I couldn't find the bird anywhere on Friday morning, but it was obviously still playing on Phil's mind as it wasn't even 7am when he texted me asking whether I'd seen it yet!

Fast forward four days and photos appear online of the Lodmoor Least Sandpiper - Phil recognised the bird immediately from Brett Spencer's excellent photos.  He then went through all his photos of the Axe bird, including the very worst ones, and came across this...

(c) Phil Abbott

It had yellow legs!

In the field the birds legs looked dark, which is why Phil was thinking more down the Western Sandpiper route than anything else. But this is the game changer, and he was so right to have those niggle, which only comes from a birder with experience. It's got to be a Least Sandpiper - third Axe record in just two years!

Because the views were so poor, so are the photos (which has made this all so much harder!). But I've highlighted a few things visible in Phil's photos...

(c) Phil Abbott

1. Pale V down the birds mantle, which enables us to confidently age this bird as a juvenile.
2. Apparent faint streaking on upper breast.
3. Lacking an attenuated rear end which is shown by Little Stint.

(c) Phil Abbott

4. Slightly longer, more tapering and decurved bill than Little Stint. Personally I thought Least Sands had beaks similar to Little Stint, but they can indeed look like this. This is the feature that bothered Phil the most.
5. This could just be a photo artifact, but notice that dark line around the birds neck. Least Sands do have darker faces than Little Stints, and there are photos online showing juvenile Least Sands with this almost collared look.

(c) Phil Abbott

6. Unequivocally yellow legs, well at least one anyway!
7. Although again picture quality is poor, looks to me like the tertials pretty much reach the wing tip and it lacks any obvious visible primary projection, unlike Little Stint. Rear end also looks quite short, it's clearly not a long-winged bird.
8. Obvious dark ear covert spot.

And although the picture quality doesn't match Brett Spencer's excellent photos of the Lodmoor bird (thanks for use of photo Brett) here's the Axe and Lodmoor birds side by side...

(c) Phil Abbott (left) (c) Brett Spencer (right)

Well they look pretty similar to me! Same bird? Discuss...

Whether there is enough on the Axe bird to gain acceptance by BBRC I am not sure, this would be a shame but what can we do. I really am so so gutted to have missed it but full marks to Phil Abbott for all his hard work and not letting those niggles rest.

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