Saturday 16 April 2016

That short-billed Long-billed Dowitcher again

I posted about a short-billed Long-billed Dowitcher on November 27 last year, both it and the two other Long-billeds present at that time have wintered in the same location. Though I never doubted this was just a Long-billed (Short-billed would be a mega in Japan), Peter Pyle was, as ever, a mine of helpful information when I was puzzling over concrete features to separate Long- and Short-billed Dowitchers in juvenile and basic plumage. Some of his comments encouraged me to try to get further views of this bird but it wasn't until last month that I was able to go back to take another look at the bird.

Just as its rusty juvenile plumage set it apart from the two adults in early winter, its slightly earlier moult into alternate plumage this spring rendered it equally eye-catching compared to its duller

Compared to the bird behind it the mantle and scapular moult is more advanced, hence blacker. Most old tertials have or are being replaced whereas the other two birds are still largely in basic gray.

Apart from being noticeably small and short-billed, which was so obvious last time, better views this time show that it's relatively long-winged. In early winter I mentioned the noticeable primary projection but was unsure whether this was due to growing teritals - thinking about it that seems unlikely given age and time of year. Growing tertials were a consideration this time but it was possible to see that the primary tips fall beyond the tail, unlike most Long-billed which usually have primaries equal to or falling short of the tail. So perhaps this bird is both at the shorter end of the bill length range and at the longer end of the wing length range.

As close to a head profile as I could get; the bill is clearly at the shorter end of the Long-billed range but not a record breaker, the shape could change a little but it's generally straight lacking any downward kink that might be hoped for in a Short-billed, it isn't particularly deep-based and the loral angle is shallow. The body is marginally less square-on here but nevertheless the slight primary extension beyond the tail can still be seen. That the tarsus (and tibia) frequently looks distinctly short is no doubt simply because this is a much smaller bird overall.

Long-billed at a comparable angle showing its significantly longer bill and primaries not reaching the tail tip.

Another interesting feature to me is that the outermost rectrices are essentially black with a central white zig-zag line centrally from the base breaking into spots closer to the tip, rather than narrow white bars on black. Thus darker even than the expected pattern of Long-billed, while Short-billed show far more white. I don't know whether this pattern is unusual or merely not well documented in the literature.

The outermost rectrices are usually hidden but here it's possible to see they are largely black with a central zig-zag white line and a couple of spots in the distal third.

With the tail less spread the visible edges of t5 and t6 are uniformly black.

Another view of the tail with a Spotted Redshank leg intruding from the right.

Another identification feature to look out for seems to be barred or unbarred marginal coverts on the inner arm; barred for Short-billed and unbarred for Long-billed. My mini survey of just three birds supports this but here in Japan I may have to wait an awfully long time to check a Short-billed!

No question about uniformly white inner marginal coverts on one of the longer-billed Long-billed.

A less helpful shot of the shorter-billed bird but those inner marginals are clearly unmarked. The unbarred outer tail feathers are safely tucked away and hidden, as is normally the case. 




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