Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Luck Of The Irish

Wednesday 29th July 2009 - Low tide 11am High tide 5.15pm

With no migrants around patch the Houb seemed like as good a place as any to check, especially as i still needed Sanderling and Knot as patch ticks. A few visits were made throughout the day, but all that was on show was plenty of Redshank, Ringed Plover, Turnstone together with 8 Whimbrel and a dozen or so Dunlin. It was on on a check of the Houb mid afternoon i found a small pale 'peep' on the far side. Decent scope views were obtained but was to far for any photographs so i walked down the track to gain better views and get some photos. I maybe watched it feeding alone for 15-20 minutes before it flew off. I checked later that afternoon but unfortunately there was no sign. There was maybe a slight doubt at the time regarding my initial identification so printed off the photo montage below and consulted Dr Marshall. With all the relevant id books in front of us we checked it against various peeps but it seemed to fit Little Stint best. I sent the record into the Nature in Shetland website where it was also recorded as Little Stint, until now.

A 'peep' that caused discussion on its identification recently was the Semi-P at Port Carlisle present from the 28th July to 5th August. Initially identified as a probable Semi-P, its identity was called into question with Little Stint being mooted but as is generally the case better photos produced a more conclusive id and Semi-P was confirmed. Fortunately it was during the investigation process for the Cumbrian bird that my 'peeps' id was called into question? Whilst searching Google for images of Little Stint, Killian Mullarney came across the photos i had taken last year and immediately questioned its identity.
Hi Jason,
My reason for contacting you is to let you know that you probably found a much rarer bird on 29th July last year than you realise! This morning, while doing a search of Little Stint images using Google, I came across a couple of nice photographs of a bird you found last July. In short, it looks like a very convincing Semipalmated Sandpiper to me.
All the best,
Killian Mullarney
As you could probably guess i was slightly bemused and excited at the same time. I had missed out on a BB rare last year now Dusky Warbler is no longer considered? So was this my reward? I then received an email from Killian with some detailed explanations.
Hi Jason,
I attach a couple of your photos, with the more important ID features annonted.
The fine streaking on the underparts/flanks is something that i have never seen on Little Stint, but is characteristic of Semi-P (though not shown by all birds). 

The capped appearance, without and light lateral crown stripes or pronounced dark 'ridge' in the centre, is characteristic of Semi-P. The comparatively dull upperparts and the subdued mantle stripes (even before any moult of mantle feathers has commenced) are also strong pointers to Semi-P (though contrary to what is stated in the literature, it is not unusual for Semi-P to have reasonably obvious light mantle stripes, especially in late summer when the lighter parts of these feathers have faded to white).

With these features pointed out i set about some investigations of my own. Searched plenty of images and came across this bird present last August in Northumberland, this was probably the closest i got to an identical match but couldn't find any Little Stint images that came close to my bird. I have had plenty of feedback regarding this bird it all seems to point towards Semi-P with further pro Semi-P features being noted and explained. I have had no previous experience with Semi-P so my knowledge was limited to nil before this came to light. Massive thanks and a free pints go to Killian Mullarney, without his sharp eye and vast experience this bird could have lived out its days on here as just another Little Stint. Unfortunately there is a down side to this also? Semi-P was a first for Whalsay and for no reason that i can explain i didn't contact Dr Marshall, John Lowrie or Jon Dunn? Sorry.


Hugh Harrop said...


KM writes "The fine streaking on the upperparts (SURELY HE MEAN UNDERPARTS???) /flanks is something that i have never seen on Little Stint, but is characteristic of Semi-P (though not shown by all birds)."

IMHO moulting adult Little Stints can show flank streaks (some of which extend to the ltcs) so the feature is not 100% diagnostic for Semi-P; I observed 2 adult Little Stints in Norway in July 2007 which showed reasonably obvious streaks and and also photographed a moulting adult here in Shetland in 2006 which showed very obvious streaks; see the 3 August 2006 entry at

and also Roger Riddington’s images at

and at


Hugh Harrop

Jason said...

Hi Hugh,

Thanks for pointing the mistake. I had copied Killians email but it didn't paste correctly so i retyped it, my mistake. As for the streaking, i found some pictures of moulting Adult Little Stints (including yours) with streaking to the flanks, this was something Killian had never seen? I agree it is maybe not a diagnostic ID feature, but coupled with the rest of the features it points towards Semi-P. An interesting bird that like i said would have remained a Little Stint if it wasn't for Killians sharp eye.


Hugh Harrop said...

Indeed - did you manage to find the original images of this bird so that they can be enlarged and feather tracts examined a bit better?

Currently some very interesting discussion of the ID Frontiers newsgroup right now regarding Little Stint and Semi-P. See



Jason said...

Couldn't find the original images, maybe on an old HDD (though i doubt it) may have to take you up on your offer! Just had a quick look re the Azores bird i presume, if those guys are stumped what hope is there for us mere mortals!!

Hugh Harrop said...

Credit where credit is due for KM picking this up but if it wasn't for us mere mortals then some would have Redhead on their Shetland list and people would still have a solid biro mark next to the "Eastern Olivaceous Warbler" at Boddam ;-

See if you can dig out those originals...