Wednesday 16 November 2016

A snapshot of September stints

I've recently been going over my images of Little Stints taken over the past couple of years... images of Little as well as possible / probable Little to be more precise. September juveniles seem relatively easy, but there is the odd bird that isn't so straight forward. By mid-October ongoing moult to non-breeding plumage leads to even more reliance on structural differences when trying to pick one out from a flock of local Red-necked. My experience with Little in the UK is so long ago to be meaningless and I'm trying to identify these birds from an Asian standpoint with Red-necked as my baseline stint. However living inland, I don't see Red-necked as often as I'd like and still consider myself very much a beginner when it comes to birds that don't come up to field guide expectations.

All the following images (except one) were taken on September 15.

A trio of Red-necked. These birds are very typical; short-legged and and long-winged giving them a long and low appearance, steep forehead and stout bill, the golden tint of the scapulars, grey wing coverts (when visible) and smudgy breast markings.

Little Stint (right) and four Red-necked, though only two easily seen and relevant. A distant shot and not all the birds are but importantly it gives a good feeling for how strikingly different fresh Little and Red-necked can look in the field. The long-bodied, short-legged Red-necked and the longer-legged less attenuated Little. Typically distant Red-necked look rather sandy and uniform in mid-September but Little is much darker above and altogether more contrasty.

Now a few closer shots of typical Red-necked...

A standard Red-necked. Richly marked centre crown with greyer sides, greyish breast with ill-defined spots, golden-fringed upper scapulars, mainly grey lower scaps with blackish centre line expanding into a subterminal teardrop with white tip, grey wing coverts with dark centre line, similar tertials with slightly golden fringes.

A brighter bird than the first.

A bright but pale bird. On this date no birds had replaced any juvenile feathers and few had even dropped any. 

Another bird with gaps in the lower scaps. This bird is very pale overall and lacks the brighter golden tints.

Scapulars and coverts are variable, this bird has Semipalmated-like anchors in the lower scaps. One day I may find a Semip but this bird is a very standard Red-necked in all other features. (Sept 9)

Getting into trickier territory here. Blacker upper scapulars lacking prominent golden fringes, largely black and white-fringed lower scapulars as well as distinct rusty spots on the breast sides might all suggest Little Stint. Nevertheless I think this is a Red-necked with worn upper scapulars reducing the golden fringes, the lower scaps are maybe at the blacker end of the scale but not impossible for Red-necked. The coverts are contrastingly paler, basically grey with just a darker centre line (and pale fringes), typical of Red-necked. Structurally it looks bang on for Red-necked, the main points being the blunt-tipped bill, short legs and the primary projection. Ignoring the longest primary, which is just visible, there are two primary tips beyond the tertials the next longest falls easily short of the longest tertial; this is the gold standard of Red-necked in my, admittedly limited, experience. In earlier images you'll find one bird with the third visible primary tip level with the longest tertial this seems to be as long as it gets. Little has a much longer primary projection often, but not always, with three feathers projecting beyond the tertials and clearly longer spacings between the feathers.   

Another shot of the same bird. The bill looks slimmer-tipped from this angle and the coverts much darker. Additionally the crown is more uniform with a hint of a split supercilium and the breast sides are distinctly marked with warmer than usual spots. On this view alone I'd be very tempted to call this a dull Little but I'm sticking with my Red-necked identification until someone with plenty of experience tells me I'm wrong.

A real Little on the same day for comparison. Notice how the warm breast streaks (rather than spots) are on a much whiter ground. Even at this angle the legs look longer, as does the bill. 

A nice comparison despite the Red-necked being out of focus. Typical Red-necked is warmer and more uniform, fresh Little a far more contrasty black and white. Having said that the breast side markings of Little are warmer. The difference in primary projecton is apparent, both the greater overall length and longer spacings of Little. The longer legs of Little are also obvious.   

I think this is a quite good example of how misleading single images can be. This shot shows a typical comparison with a sandy (or golden) Red-necked in the foreground showing its grey wing coverts and dull breast band. Structurally it is short-legged and has a shorter, blunter-tipped bill. The long-legged, long, slimmer-billed Little is typically boldly marked with strong contrasts. The next image is of the same two birds.

Suddenly this Red-necked is looking as long-legged (note the ring) as the Little. After mentioning the difference in primary projection this Little has a wing structure in the overlap zone with longer-winged Red-necked. In this shot the Red-necked primary projection matches typical Little but this is largely due to it stretching forward and it didn't give this impression in the field. 

An unambiguous comparison.

The next comparison shocked me at the time; I was focused on the Little Stint and didn't notice the other bird in the background until I looked at the images. The bird is so strikingly different to the typical Red-necked that my first emotion was fear, dreading that I'd missed a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it's just a very different-looking Red-necked.

A mystery stint hove into view (finder), very thick billed, very uniformly dull, short-winged(?)...sadly that head pattern knocks any thoughts of Semip on the head. However I'm left with a very interesting and different Red-necked Stint.

Thank goodness I got a lucky second shot alongside the Little. I'd put this birds appearance down to being more worn than the other birds but it may be that the fringes are simply narrower than normal.

Little can look like a 'Stilt Stint' at times. 

Everything I'd hope for in a September juvenile Little Stint.

The third visible primary from the tip is conveniently fringed white, falling equal to the longest tertial it would be distinctly long for a Red-necked but is certainly within an overlap zone, and they do come even shorter.

The main reason I haven't shown any adults is because I didn't see any. However I seem to see only adults in August when they very dark in worn breeding plumage.

An adult Red-necked in early August.

Temminck's Stint is scarce in Kansai and I see more birds during winter or on spring passage than I do in autumn. Long-toed Stint is reasonably common at this time of year but they are more difficult to find tending to be in ones or twos on fields with more vegetation. In any case they don't present any identification difficulties... unless you're hoping for a Least Sandpiper, but that would definitely be another story.

Long-toed Stint, 10 August.

Long-toed Stint, 8 September.

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