mystery bird revealed

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: mystery bird revealed
From: "Robert Inglis" <>
Date: Sun, 5 Nov 2000 06:49:55 -0800
Hello all,

The mystery bird on my web site ( see: is actually a Curlew
Of course this means I can't add Broad-billed Sandpiper to my Life-list after

This mystery bird exercise has been very interesting to me as it has generated a
fair response from various parts of the world.
Apart from the emails I received from within Australia, there was one from
Wales, one from Ireland and one from the US of A.

So, be aware that what we say on Birding-Aus is being read all over the world.

Now then......
What makes this bird a Curlew Sandpiper and not, say, a Broad-billed Sandpiper?
(Note: the following comments are a result of my own experience, comments from
other people and limited personal research.)

This bird was amongst a flock of definite Curlew Sandpipers.
It was basically the same size and shape (body) as the Curlew Sands around it.
Broad-billed Sand, on average, is significantly smaller than Curlew Sand.

The legs were the same length as the Curlew Sandpipers.
Broad-billed Sand has significantly shorter legs than Curlew Sand.
Also, Broad-billed Sand legs are generally lighter in colour than Curlew Sand
which has black legs.
However, some texts say that Broad-billed's legs can appear blackish from a

Although the Broad-billed Sand has a longish bill with a 'down-curve' at the tip
end the Curlew Sandpiper has a longer bill, on average, with a much more uniform
pronounced curve.
Head-on the Broad-billed bill is wider over the entire length than the Curlew
Sandpiper bill but this is apparently hard to see in the field.

Although this bird appears to show a split supercilium reminiscent of
Broad-billed Sandpiper, this may be a natural effect as birds change from
breeding to non-breeding plumage.
It has been suggested this may be a juvenile bird.
I have noted this apparent split supercilium before on birds I have concluded
were Curlew Sandpipers.
It seems that other people have noted this before as well.
Also, I have been told other species can also appear to have a split

Other comments (from me):
Broad-billed Sandpiper is a regular visitor to Australia.
The largest numbers visit North West Western Australia and the south east corner
of the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland.
Broome Bird Observatory would seem to be a perfect place for this species.
Darwin has regular visits in good numbers.
Small numbers (ones and twos) visit south east Queensland.
Over the years I have been interested in birdwatching only a few SE Queensland
sightings have been published in the Queensland Ornithological Society's
Broad-billed Sandpiper (2)    7.11.82.     Clontarf     D. Redhead
Broad-billed Sandpiper         24.1. 84      Clontarf     Anita Smythe
Broad-billed Sandpiper         30/1/1984   N Stradbroke   W.& H.P.Horton
Broad-billed Sandpiper         4/2/1984     Scarborough - D.Redhead
Broad-billed Sandpiper (1)   24/3/1984   Thorneside -T.Palliser
Broad-billed Sandpiper         23.3.91       Thornside      S Harding
Broad-billed Sandpiper         25.1.92       Lytton Tip     T Tarrant, B James
                                                                single bird
Broad-billed Sandpiper         4.1.92         Bishop Island     R Dowling, G
                                                               Long      4 birds
Broad-billed Sandpiper         30.3.96       Fisherman Islands, Brisbane
A&S Keates, P&L Cross       3birds
Broad-billed Sandpiper         2.11.97       Dux Creek, Bribie Island, SEQ
P & L Cross, F Bigg          with Sharp-tailed Sandpipers
Broad-billed Sandpiper         14/3/99       Manly Harbour SEQ       P Nichols
                                               et al.
Broad-billed Sandpiper         14/9/2000   Donnybrook      J Noyce

Thornside used to be the area most quoted as the best place to see Broad-billed
Sandpipers around the 'Brisbane area' but it is at least 10 years since I
personally have done any serious
birding in that area and I am told it has been spoilt by all of the usual

Australian Field Guides:

Slater: The bills of Broad-billed and Curlew Sandpipers are poorly depicted and
look almost identical.
Simpson and Day: The only one with a drawing showing the Broad-billed bill
'front-on'. I would have thought this was essential considering the bird's name.
Pizzey and Knight: Broad-billed bill better depicted, not too sure about the
Morcombe: Broad-billed bill shape seems ok; non-breeding Curlew Sandpiper looks
like 'my' bird.

I think I would go for Shorebirds of the World, Hayman etc, 1986.

Books with photos:
Excellent photos of Broad-billed Sandpiper appear in 'The Shorebirds of
Australia', John Douglas Pringle, The National Photographic Index of Australian
Wildlife, 1987. The series that this volume comes from contains many very good
photos of the birds of Australia even if the text is open to doubt in places.
This particular volume should be in every wader enthusiasts collection. Might be
hard to get, though.

Readers Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds. This has a mediocre photo of
Broad-billed in breeding plumage but the shape of the bill can be discerned.

Reader's Digest Photographic Field Guide, Birds of Australia has a strange photo
of Broad-billed sandpiper in non-breeding plumage but the end of the bill is
masked by a large blob of water.

Misc books:
Shorebirds in Australia by Brett Lane and illustrated by Jeff Davies (who also
did the illustrations for these sandpipers in HANZAB) contains some very good
illustrations and information.
HANZAB and the previous publication also do not show detailed drawings of the
Broad-billed Sandpiper's bill.

An odd note:
Lloyd Nielsen, in his book Birds of Queensland's Wet Tropics and Great Barrier
Reef, on page 188, says that Curlew Sandpiper may be confused with Broad-billed
However, he also says that Broad-billed Sandpiper may be confused with NONE.
I guess that says it all!

Good birding,

Bob Inglis
Woody point SEQld, Australia.
27 deg 15min S; 153 deg 5 min E

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