An Educational Sandplover

During my aborted trip to the Hebei coast last week, one of the birds with which I enjoyed a close encounter was this juvenile sandplover.  The recovery from my appendectomy gave me some time to examine the photos and video to try to work out the identification.  I found this bird tricky.  It wasn’t particularly long-legged, the ‘bulge’ on the culmen wasn’t very pronounced (suggesting Lesser) but the overall gait – including the horizontal stance – suggested Greater.  I was confused.  So I sent this image to Dave Bakewell who has lots of experience with sandplovers and has written extensively about them on his excellent Dig Deep blog.

A juvenile Sandplover at Nanpu, Hebei Province, 2 August 2014.  But which species?
A juvenile Sandplover at Nanpu, Hebei Province, 2 August 2014. But which species?

His view is that this bird is a juvenile Greater.  Why?  This is what he said:

“Not surprised you are struggling with this one! I do find that leg colour is more reliable as a feature for juvs than adults. And, although the bill may not be fully grown (affecting the proportion of the swollen culmen), I do find the tip shape very helpful – slender and more pointed on GSP and blunter on LSP. By now you will know what I think it is! Despite the apparent dumpy, short-legged, round-headed shape, I think this is a very young juv GSP.”

Just when I thought I was getting to grips with sandplovers, I encounter a bird that makes me think again…  and that’s what makes birding such a brilliant hobby – always so much to learn!

Here is some video of the same bird, just edited from footage I took last week.

Please let me know what YOU think!

EDIT: Dave Bakewell kindly sent me a link to a similar-aged juvenile Lesser Sandplover (of the atrifons group).  You can see it here.  It’s a darker plumaged bird overall with noticeably darker legs, darker centres to the coverts and showing a subtly different bill shape.

8 thoughts on “An Educational Sandplover”

  1. Also would ID as a short-billed Greater, based on heavy head and bill and grey plovery type feel in motion; paleness of underparts (most Mongolians here are much more deeply saturated below than this bird); whiteness of fringes, esp. on wing coverts (often form contrasting panel in GSP, much less contrast usual in MP here at least); strongly yellow-toned legs.

  2. Thank Nial for taking the time to comment and for your reasoning, which is extremely helpful. Hoping to see more of these juveniles later this week when I return to Nanpu.. will be good to compare. Thanks again, Terry

  3. I would echo what Nial has said about the relatively restricted amount and intensity of buff on the underparts and the paleness of the upperparts being useful plumage features of juvenile Greater Terry. Added to this is the impression we get of considerable depth and bulk to the bill when the bird turns head on.

    1. Thanks Dave.. I very much appreciate you taking the time to comment on this individual. I also think the bird looks a little longer-legged in the video, which is suggestive of Greater. The pale panel on the coverts that Nial refers to is new to me but something I will look out for from now on. In about one hour from now, I will begin my journey to the coast for more waders… so I am very much hoping I can find some more juvenile sandplovers (am I a masochist?).

  4. A minor comment on the detail of this bird is the observation that in Lesser SP the bill length is usually less than the distance from the base of the bill to the rear of the eye. The bill in this bird just about exceeds that criterion although I do not know how often those who see both species often use it.

  5. Phil, this often-quoted feature may be useful for separating the eastern (mongolus) group of LSP from GSP (mongolus is presumably the commoner group you get Terry?), but it is of little use when faced with the longer-billed western forms of LSP (the atrifrons group). The bill shape and depth at the base are of more use than the relative length in these cases.

  6. Thanks Phil and Dave. I don’t see too many sandplovers on the Hebei coast but the Lessers that I do see are usually ‘mongolicus’. I am just back from another trip to Nanpu where we saw only one adult sandplover (a Lesser still in full summer dress) and three juveniles (one definite Lesser and two unassigned due to distance).

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