Ian’s Bird of the Week – American (and Pacific) Golden Plover ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 11/29/13
Before we get onto Golden Plovers, here is some good news. The Pizzey and Knight Birds of Australia Digital Edition has now been published. The Windows PC version is available from www.gibbonmm.com.au and the iPad, iPhone and iPad version is available from the iTunes store. You can check it out here: www.gibbonmm.com.au/tour/PKBA_iOS.aspx and here: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/pizzey-knight-birds-australia/id714625973?mt=8. The Android version has not yet been published but is due before Christmas.
It has been a long time coming, but a quick look at the reviews will show why. It’s very much more than just a field guide, though even the Field Guide/Bird Guide modules set new standards with very thorough descriptions, both illustrations and photos (including many of mine) of more than 900 bird species, sounds of more than 700 species, maps showing subspecies and seasonal variation and breeding and modules for Similar Birds, Identification, My Location, My Lists and Birding Sites. Check it out for yourself!
I’ve just been down to Bowen and Ayr checking out locations and taking photos for the digital version of Jo Wieneke’s Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland, and have visited beaches and mudflats I had waders on the brain when I was considering the choice of this week’s bird. So when I noticed in my iPad version of Pizzey and Knight, that the 2009 record of an American Golden Plover at Boat Harbour NSW – second photo – had been accepted by the BirdLife Australia Rarities Committee (Pizzey and Knight is very thorough!) I thought Aha, let’s do a comparison of Pacific and American Golden Plovers.
Waders in non-breeding plumage are often rather drab and very confusing for identification but some of them are sartorially quite splendid when breeding. To see Northern Hemisphere waders in breeding plumage, Australian birders need to be either lucky just before the birds leave Australia in March or follow them to their breeding grounds. I first photographed the American Golden Plovers beside an icy lake in Barrow on the northern tip of Alaska in June 2008, first photo. Gorgeous birds they are with striking black and white and gold spangled upper parts and black bellies and faces with a broad white band along the sides of the neck and upper breast.
In March the following year, I was in Sydney and visited my accountant in Sutherland at a time when there was an unconfirmed report of a non-breeding American Golden Plover at nearby Boat Harbour on the Kurnell Peninsula near Botany Bay. This bird was in a flock of about 30 Pacific Golden Plovers, the species that is the common one in Australia in the southern summer/northern winter. Non-breeding Golden Plovers are notoriously difficult to separate from one another and at that stage 5 out of 7 reports of American Golden Plovers submitted to the Rarities Committee had been rejected. Having both species together made it much easier, as one bird stood as clearly different from the others, with much greyer plumage and white rather than buff facial markings (comparing photos 2 and 4).
Plumage is variable, of course, and not enough for definite identification in this case. The situation was complicated by the Pacific Golden Plovers beginning to change into breeding plumage. The bird in the third photo, for example, is in nearly complete breeding plumage, though the black plumage still has grey patches. In this plumage, the most obvious field mark is the white band along the neck and breast. In the Pacific, it is narrower and much more extensive than the band in the American one and extends down the side of the lower breast to the undertail coverts.
There are differences in size too, the American being larger, heavier-billed and relatively shorter-legged but these are variable too and only reliable if you have birds in the hand and a statistically large sample. So, at the end of the day, the committee wanted to know about relative lengths of tails, primary and tertiary wing feathers of resting birds. These can be judged from photos as well as in the hand and the submitters of the rarity report included one of my photos. The wing tips of Pacific Golden Plovers do not extend much beyond the tail, but the wing tips of American ones extend about 50mm beyond it.
So, those are the lengths you need to go both literally and figuratively sometimes to identify rare birds! The Pacific Golden Plover nests mainly in northern Russia but its breeding range does extend to western Alaska and overlaps with that of the American Golden Plover, so there is no doubt that they are separate biological species. If all this seems a bit arcane, don’t worry: just enjoy the photos. Golden Plovers of any hue are lovely birds and I always enjoy seeing them.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 KJV)
Thanks, Ian, for more lessons on how to identify birds, especially these two plovers. I have had the privilege of seeing the American Golden Plover, but not the Pacific one. It does look like specks of gold on their wings. The only bird mentioned with golden feathers in the Bible is the dove.
Though you lie down among the sheepfolds, You will be like the wings of a dove covered with silver, And her feathers with yellow gold.” (Psalms 68:13 NKJV)
Ian didn’t mention their songs, but here are the two from xeno-canto. Both by Andrew Spencer.
American Golden Plover – song
Pacific Golden Plover – call and song
There are actually three Golden Plovers:
- European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)
- Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
- American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica)