Re: Lake Murphy Mystery Wader

To: "Birding Australia" <>
Subject: Re: Lake Murphy Mystery Wader
From: "Chris Coleborn" <>
Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2006 16:23:13 +1000
Hello All,

I reckon Russell has me mixed up with another 'Chris' who better fits his
description of an experienced birdo than I do! However, I am a keen birdo
and have been all my life. The thing is one can still easily make mistakes -
I do at least - and it often seems the more one knows the more one realizes
he does not know. There is always something more to learn - especially with
birds like waders.

Thanks to all who responded to David and my queries about the mystery bird.
Various suggestions were made as to what it could be. For  reasons of size
and shape of body, bill, legs etc as well as plumage and distribution etc. I do not believe it was a variety of birds suggested. I do appreciate the trouble to
which different one went to try to help - thanks again.

After consulting some 'real experts' on waders, most feel that it is an unusually marked and coloured Wood Sandpiper with a longer than ordinary bill.

I have no doubt that the bird is one of the Tringa - though the Stilt Sandpiper is described as 'more like that of a Tringa than a small calidrid' by HANZAB. There certainly are things going for it to be a Wood Sandpiper. The size, leg size and colour, the tail bobbing, the white rump and clear supercilium, as well as it being found in this area, and especially common around here this year, as well as it not being able to clearly identify it as another species, all argue for a Wood.

There are some points to me however, that do not seem to fit it being a Wood
Sandpiper. I suppose I have had good prolonged looks at about 25
Wood Sandpipers over the last couple of years. So, while I have not had a lot
of  sightings,  especially in intermediate breeding/non breeding and
juvenile plumage etc, I  feel reasonably confident that when I see a
Wood Sandpiper, I would recognize it straight away. When I saw this bird, it did not happen that way - no way did I think of it as a Wood Sandpiper. The problem was it was difficult to get it to fit any species of which we could think. The following points are
the ones that made us think it could not be a Wood Sandpiper.

1. Wood Sandpipers are said to have a short, straight bill. This bird
definitely had a longer bill with an observable swollen tip. (David and I observing it for about one and a half hours at all angles both agreed that it was longer than the width - base of bill to back of head - of the bird's head by about a quarter, and had a slight but pronounced 'turn down' at the end with a blunt, swelling not a point. I measured the bills of some of the photos and the distance between the base of bill to the back of the head. Try measuring the bills on my photos and note the shape.)

2.The wing length of Wood Sandpipers at rest is level with the tip of the
tail. While the photos may not show this, on several occasions it was seen
that the wing length was longer than the tail.

3. This one is most puzzling to me. All the Field Guides, Photographic
books and HANZAB etc as well as every observation I have had (at least to
this date) show Wood Sandpipers with very distinctive paler spotting. This bird
had clearly no spotting. It was very dark with only a small white or pale
grey/brown edging to the feathers.

4. While a Wood Sandpiper has a greyish wash on the breast and dark
streaking on the neck and breast and some barring on the fore-flanks, none of the 7 or 8 reference books consulted show or describe the clear cut Pectoral Sandpiper type 'bib' . Also the markings on the fore-flanks were not as any reference showed for a Wood Sandpiper.

5. Wood Sandpiper's also give a series of calls - this bird gave only a single note call.

6. There are some other inconsistencies such as a Wood Sandpiper being shy
and nervous and easily flushed. This bird was very much the opposite. The Wood Sandpipers I have seen generally were feeding in mud at the edge of the water or fairly shallow water. This bird was feeding in deeper water, at times up to the belly of the bird.

I can appreciate that the plumage differences could be a bit out of the
ordinary because of the change of seasonal or age plumage. One wader expert
said he saw a Wood Sandpiper over Broome way awhile back and would never
have believed it to be one initially because of the markings. Allowance must be made for this. However, I am troubled by the structural difficulties in it being a Wood Sandpiper such as the length and shape of the bill and behaviour of the bird in particular.

While a couple of good wader birdos we have approached have yet to offer an opinion, most generally feel it is a somewhat abnormal Wood Sandpiper. The opinion is expressed that it is perhaps a Stilt Sandpiper?

An aspect of birding is at times coming across a mystery bird - that is part of the interest and challenge of birding I think. Well, unless we get some more clear sightings of it by some other experienced birdos, or the 'experts' can clearly resolve the matter for us, I think we may have to leave it as a mystery bird. Could perhaps be a 'funny' Wood Sandpiper and maybe a Stilt Sandpiper.

Thanks again to all contributors to the discussion.

Happy birding to all,

Chris Coleborn


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