Ian’s Bird of the Week – Asian Dowitcher ~ by Ian Montgomery
This is something of a postscript to a presentation on wader identification that I gave last Saturday to a workshop organized by the Townsville Region Bird Observers Club as part of the Shorebirds 2020 Project ( http://www.shorebirds.org.au/ ). Of the 45 species that we considered, I lacked photos of just one: the Asian Dowitcher. So you’ll understand why I and a friend jumped into the car after the practical session at Bushland Beach, near Townsville, on Sunday and drove to Cairns, where an Asian Dowitcher had recently been reported, for an overnight visit. They are regular visitors in small numbers to northwestern Australia (e.g. Broome in Western Australia) but occur only as irregular vagrants on the east coast.
The mudflats on the Esplanade are very flat, so the window of opportunity provided by an incoming tide is very short and it wasn’t until Monday afternoon that that happened. Even so, I would probably have missed it if Guy Dutson hadn’t alerted me to its location. It’s a bird that’s easy to overlook among the Great Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits when they’re all in non-breeding plumage, thank you, Guy! The first photo shows it among Great Knots. The body size is similar, so the key Asian Dowitcher features are the very long, straight, dark bill with a bulbous tip rather like that of a snipe, long dark legs and dark loral stripe (between the bill and the eye). Body length in waders is confounded by bill and leg length, so weight and wing-span are more useful. These are – Asian Dowitcher: 127-245g and 59cm/23.2in; Great Knot: 115-248g and 58cm/22.8in.
The second photo shows the Asian Dowitcher on the left with a smallish – probably male – Bar-tailed Godwit on the right (Bar-tailed Godwit male 190-400g female 262-630g, span 70-80cm/28-32in) and the third photo shows the Dowitcher with a larger Bar-tailed Godwit and lots of Great Knots and in this photo you can see the barred flanks of the Dowitcher compared with the plain flanks of the Godwit. The bill of the Dowitcher was always the most obvious distinguishing feature, but the bird would often have a snooze, tucking its bill under a wing, and magically disappear. What’s more, the mud on the Cairns Esplanade is very gluggy, so the pink bases of Godwit bills are often covered, but the different shape is usually still apparent.
When I was preparing the presentation and checking carefully on distinguishing features, I found that a wader that I’d photographed in India in 2003 and posted to the website as a Wood Sandpiper was actually a Green Sandpiper. This a bird, rare in Australia, that I had long wanted to photograph, so I was pleased to find and correct the error: http://www.birdway.com.au/scolopacidae/green_sandpiper/index.htm .
The Asian Dowitcher is part of the Scolopacidae Family which is in the Charadriiformes Order that consists of Shorebirds and their allies. To see Ian’s Birdway website of the Scolopacidae – Click Here.
He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” (John 9:11 ESV)