Paul Holt and I have just returned from a weekend at Nanpu, near Tangshan, in Hebei Province. Nanpu is a vast area of fish ponds, salt works, reclaimed mudflats and even a prison. During migration season the area hosts tens of thousands of shorebirds. Being on the Hebei coastline, not so far from the migration hot-spot of Beidaihe, it is also on the flyway for birds hugging the coast on their journey south. So, in addition to the waders, visible migration can be superb.
I’ll post fuller details of the trip in due course, including about the resident Reed Parrotbills, the visible migration and the astonishing numbers of Brown Shrikes but this post is about the star bird of the trip – a Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula).
Picked out by Paul, this wader is rarer than Spoon-billed Sandpiper in eastern China. With fewer than 30 records away from Xinjiang in the far west, it was a great find. Of course, when finding a ‘Common Ringed Plover’-type, it’s important to rule out the very similar North American species, Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus). Call is a great way to separate the two (Semipalmated Plover has a more Spotted Redshank-like call) but, in the absence of a calling bird, there are some subtle plumage differences that allow identification if views are sufficient.
First, one of the most reliable features on Semipalmated Plover (SPP) is that the lower dark mask in the loral area meets the bill above the gape line, whereas in Common Ringed Plover (CRP) it meets at the gapeline, or slightly below. This seems to be a trustworthy feature, provided that the birds are not in active moult.
Second, the eye-ring. SPP usually shows a clearly visible pale-yellow eye-ring.
Third, the breast-band. SPP usually shows a relatively narrow breast band compared with CRP.
Additionally, SPP usually shows a slightly shorter bill and a very small (sometimes absent) white patch to the rear of the eye.
As its name suggests, SPP has some webbing between the toes but this is extremely difficult to see in the field, especially when clinging mud or wet sand can create a similar appearance.
We were fortunate with this bird in that it called several times before we were able to sneak close enough to confirm the plumage features. Incredibly, the next day, we saw and heard a flying Common Ringed Plover some 7km from the site of the original sighting. It was probably the same bird but who knows whether this species is under-recorded in this under-watched part of the world…?
Common Ringed Plover breeds on the beach close to my parents’ home in Norfolk, England, and it is a bird with which I am very familiar. Seeing one as a “rarity” was a little weird… but that’s birding!