Great Knot  not even in the field guide

One day, my brother Marcel bought the popular and ground-breaking field guide, which was at the time commonly known as the ‘Tirions’ (Ferguson-Lees & Willis 1987). It meant the world to us. I repeatedly spent hours studying the plates and species accounts, learning key features of as many species as possible. It took a while before I realised that three of the book’s editors – Arnoud van den Berg, Dirk Moerbeek and Gerald Oreel – were actually birding the same places we were.

On Saturday 21 September 1991, Frank Dorel discovered a Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos from the bird hide at Spaarnwoude that Marcel and I so often visited. Unfortunately, the sun had already set when the news reached us. According to the Tirions, Pectoral Sandpiper had been seen only c 15 times in the Netherlands. Now one had turned up only three km from home, I was too excited to sleep. Much to our relief, the bird stayed a couple of days.

The next afternoon, while still euphoric about the Pectoral, Marcel and I got a ride from Michiel van Breugel and his parents to a much rarer sandpiper: a Great Knot C tenuirostris at Oostvaardersplassen. In fact, this species was so rare in Europe that it was not even in the Tirions. It had been discovered by Klaas Eigenhuis on 19 September and was still showing (Eigenhuis 1992). Although I enjoyed watching the bird and the ecstatic birders, who clearly had a better knowledge of wader identification than I did, I struggled to make up my mind about this sighting. It was only after gaining access to publications about Great Knot’s features and distribution, that I fully realised what I had been looking at.

In all plumages, Great Knot is identified by a combination of large size (slightly bigger than Red Knot C canutus), plump body, long primary projection and obvious wing projection, rather long and thick-based bill and greenish legs. No other Calidris sandpiper except Red Knot approaches its size and structure. Great Knot, however, typically has a slightly longer bill, patchy breast band and spotted (not barred) flank. In summer plumage, it lacks the orange underparts of Red Knot but has orange-and-black scapulars instead. It is found as a breeding bird in north-eastern Siberia and as a winterer in coastal areas from the Arabian Peninsula to Australia. The status of Great Knot in Europe has not changed all that much since the Tirions was published. Pectoral Sandpiper, however, is not seen as a rarity anymore; from 2000 onwards the species is no longer considered by the CDNA (van der Vliet et al 2001). 

Great Knot intobirding.com

The second Great Knot for the Netherlands was found by Diederik Kok on Texel on Friday 13 May 2016. This time, I was well prepared and knew exactly what to look for!...

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Published 15 March 2018