Just a plover...

On 22 and 23 September 2013, a strikingly small ringed plover stayed with Common Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula at IJmuiden. I am still not sure exactly what it was... but I know much better now what to look for!

Since the bird was clearly much smaller than all the other ringed plovers’, I checked for additional features, hoping it would prove to be a Semipalmated Plover C semipalmatus. I also made a sound-recording of the birds in flight.

It is common knowledge that Semipalmated Plover is very similar to Common Ringed Plover in all respects and that close-up views are needed to assess the subtle differences in plumage and bare parts. Small size is a feature of Semipalmated, however, there is much overlap with Common Ringed, especially with the small subspecies C h tundrae. Many Semipalmated Plovers also show: 1 a dark loral stripe reaching the bill above the gape; 2 a narrow yellowish orbital ring; 3 a short bill; 4 a narrow breast-band and; 5 webs between the front toes.

Apart from its small size, the IJmuiden bird did not look like a (classic) Semipalmated Plover to me, nor did I find any interesting calls in my recording. However, it was only after studying more images of both species, that I fully realised how difficult the identification of certain individuals can be. The variation shown by both species is considerable.

I am even more aware now of the importance of excellent photographs to document minute differences. Based on the above photograph you might come to the conclusion that the IJmuiden bird did not have webs between the toes. In contrast, the Common Ringed Plover depicted below clearly has substantial webs between the middle and outer toes. But what  you really need is a good photograph showing the middle and inner toes!...

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is to try even harder to hear the flight call of any odd ‘ringed plover’ (Semipalmated sounds a bit like a Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus)! I guess that is the easiest way to clinch the identification.

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Published 11 September 2018