Thursday 21 April 2022

Little Curlews

 I neglected my usual winter patch in the Matsusaka/Tsu area this year. I say winter but could easily add spring and autumn, there's always something going on. And instead, I head up to Lake Biwa whenever I had free time in search of Lesser Scaup. Successfully in search of Lesser Scaup I might add... unbelievable! This obsession was the result of a female being seen in December. I never found it but what must the odds have been against finding a different bird in the same area? I wonder how many rare ducks are overlooked on Lake Biwa or along coasts where massive aggregations occur. Maybe I should focus on finding a Redhead next winter? Yeah, right.

Anyway, it was good to be getting back to my old stomping ground but each time I went I felt the place hadn't quite lived up to expectation. There weren't the concentrations of winter gulls I'd been looking forward to and the spring build up never really took off. The spring wader passage was slow taking off too, it still hasn't really got going. Plus trying to find habitat in the right condition at the right time has been hard work. 

Moan, moan, moan. But looking back at the five visits I've made since 23 March there's actually been a stand out bird each and every time. There was a Thayer's Gull on that first visit and, by two days, my earliest ever Latham's Snipe on 30 March. Into April and the 7th, 13th and 19th produced a totally unexpected Pallas's Reed Bunting, a patch tick singing Japanese Robin and two Little Curlews respectively. It's not to be sniffed at, is it?

So, finally, on to the title birds. I was on the seawall checking the landward side pools for any Garganey which should be arriving now (zero), or any stints along the muddy edges (zero), when my eye was caught by a couple of large waders circling the field behind one of many solar farms that blight the area. They looked as though they'd been put up and were aiming to re-settle, these Far Eastern Curlews in turn led me to notice two much smaller waders, likewise circling and ultimately dropping to the fields. I've seen enough Little Curlews trying the Pacific Golden Plover ploy, Whimbrel ploy even, not to be fooled for a second. Though they'd gone down probably no more than about 600m away as the bird flies, seawall roads don't allow for much choice of direction and the ones currently on offer were of no help at all. So after touring the district I edged along the narrow road between the fields hoping they hadn't moved.

They were active and wide ranging, this is the only shot showing them together. One is very obviously paler than the other, convenient for keeping track of which is which as they move around the fields, but more unusually it also has a clearly noticeable primary extension which is at odds with descriptions I've read of the species. 

The primary extension is clearly noticeable, the primary projection itself is longer than typical for the species.

The darker bird with a shorter primary projection and no extension.

The expected short projection clearly visible. 

Though the overall pattern of the greater coverts, median coverts and tertials always seems the same 'oak-leaf' pattern there is more variation in the lesser coverts, some have a distinct 'oak-leaf' pattern while others only very slight or a broad even fringe. This bird is 'oak-leaf' throughout.    

The paler bird has broad even fringes on many lesser coverts with only a very slight indication of 'oak-leaf' on some. 
The paler of the two with a quite pale Far Eastern. They aren't called Little Curlew for no reason!

The darker of the two with it Far Eastern dark counterpart.

The two Far Easterns together.

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