Ian’s Irregular Bird – Green Sandpiper

The last irregular bird, Nordmann’s Greenshank, could have had a sub-heading of The Joys of Twitching. In it, I confessed to being a Twitcher at heart, discarding the respectable facade of “Wildlife Photographer”. Here follows the justifications, or at least illustrations of why it can be enjoyable. The background to this particular obsession/passion was the fact that, worldwide, there are thirteen species of Tringa sandpipers, or Shanks, characterised by different coloured legs. I had reasonable photos of all of them except the rarest, Nordmann’s Greenshank, since 2008 (when I photographed the second last one, the Willet of North America). That is, the seven-year itch twice over.
If you are, or ever were, a stamp collector, you would know the feeling. Suppose the following stamps are from a set of 13 stamps of Queen Victoria, including the first ever stamp, the Penny Black and imagine you have all of them except the rarest, the iconic Two Penny Blue, issued shortly after the first ever stamp, The Penny Black, in May 1840.
Imagine the thrill when you finally lay your hands on one, as I did in the 1960s. This one is a rather daggy example, but it is one from the original two plates issued until February 1841 and lacking white lines under “POSTAGE” and above “TWO PENCE”. The much commoner later series called ‘white lines added issue’ continued until 1858.  I’m still a kid at heart, and the subtlety of distinguishing different series of Two Penny Blues has a similar appeal to separating Common and Nordmann’s Greenshank.CHA-Scol victoria0730-01
Alternatively, maybe you were or are a card player. Suppose you’re playing a game in which you the best hand is an entire suit of cards, say a complete Straight Flush, as opposed to a mere Royal Straight Flush in Poker, but you lack the Queen.
At long last, after fourteen nail-biting years, you finally get the missing card. I’ve chosen the Queen as it’s number twelve (if you have the Ace as the first rather than the last in the suit) and Nordmann’s Greenshank is also the twelfth Tringa if you follow the IOC classification of birds. Continuing the metaphor, I’ve chosen Spades as the Queen of Spades is the most valuable card in the game Hearts. The metaphor fails if you go any further, because in Hearts, a vicious game which we loved as kids, the aim is not to win points and to force your opponents to get a high score, It’s Whist in reverse. Clearly, I also have a passion for Queens.

After that it’s just a question of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. An introvert gets a deep personal satisfaction from achieving a complete collection, an extrovert gets a sense  of triumph in beating the competition. Of course, you may be a bit of both: I’m mainly an introvert, but publishing all this stuff as the Irregular Bird, showing off obviously, is characteristic of extroverts.

So, back to Tringas. Waders (birdway) are fascinating birds, not least because many of them migrate extraordinary distances. As a consequence, they’re of special interest to twitchers when avian GPSs go awry and they end up in strange places. Many species, however, are hard to distinguish in non-breeding plumages, which is how we usually see them in temperate and tropical latitudes except just before the migration back to the breeding zones. Most, but not all, of the Shanks are fairly easy to identify because of their coloured legs; many of them having corresponding common names as you can see in the IOC table. Four of them, comprising the two Redshanks and the two Tattlers, have featured as Irregular Birds in the past, so I want to do a series on the remaining eight and I’ll do them in the IOC order shown in the table at the beginning of this article. The first is the Green Sandpiper.

Green Sandpiper by Ian

The breeding range of the Green Sandpiper stretches right across northern Eurasian from Norway to Siberia and it winters mainly in tropical Africa, South and Southeast Asia, around the Mediterranean and, to a lesser extent in Western Europe. It’s mainly a bird of fresh water marshy areas even in the non-breeding zones. I’ve photographed it only once, in India in 2003, though I had seen it in England in the 1960s before I came to Australia.It’s even rarer in Australia than Nordmann’s Greenshank with only one confirmed record, near Darwin in 1998. There are a few unconfirmed records but care needs to be taken to distinguish it from the closely related Solitary Sandpiper of America and the Wood Sandpiper.
In fact, I mistakenly identified the Indian bird as a Wood Sandpiper, reasonably common in Australia and also a fresh water species, and posted it as such to the website, and only years later did the twitcher in me take a closer look and realise happily that it was actually a Green Sandpiper. Distinguishing features of the Green Sandpiper include larger size, bulkier appearance, short white eye-stripe ending at eye, longer bill, shorter, greenish legs, sharp gradation from streaked breast to white belly and, particularly in breeding plumage like this one, darker, greener rather than brown upper parts.

Green Sandpiper by IanI mentioned when discussing the unusual arboreal nest building habits of Nordmann’s Greenshank that the Green and Solitary Sandpipers also nest in trees, but use the old nests of thrushes.  Coincidentally the name Tringa comes from a description of a thrush-sized waterbird by Aristotle (“trungas”). He didn’t distinguish it further but later authors have suggested it was a sandpiper, a Wagtail Motacilla or a Dipper Cinclus. Thanks very much. While we’re at it, ochropus means pale-yellow footed, while the specific identifier of Normann’s Greenshank, guttifer, means spotted, which isn’t very illuminating either. Aristotle preceded the taxonomic and evolutionary ideas of Linnaeus and Darwin, and “thrush-like waterbird” is a reasonable description, except for the length of the legs. He was interested in biology, classified 500 species of animals in the work later known by philosophers as the Scala Naturae and would have been familiar with the Song Thrush, below, in Greece. The Scala Naturae was approved by the Christian Church (and probably all others) as it is hierarchical in form with man at the top, towering above all the lower species.

On the subject of passion and obsession, I’ve decided that the difference is mainly one of perception. A person might think they (in deference to gender fluidity) have a passion for another person and, if not reciprocated, the other party might regard it as an obsession. My cousin in Ireland suggests that obsessions have a negative effect, so maybe it’s more than just perception. Either way, I’ll continue the passion for Tringas next time with the closely related but geographically distinct (“allopatric”), thrush-nest-using, Solitary Sandpiper of America.
You can’t reply directly to these emails, so if you want to write to me, use my email address below. I’ve recently had occasional problems with receiving emails to ian@birdway.com.au, so ianbirdway@gmail.com is preferable.

Ian Montgomery,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ianbirdway@gmail.com

Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

Seems that Ian is getting active again with his birdwatching. He, like the rest of us, was quite for awhile during all these lockdowns. I have another of his articles coming soon. Stay tuned.
“As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” (Proverbs 27:8 KJV)

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Good News

Ian’s Stamp of the Week – Antipodean Albatross

Ian’s Stamp of the Week – Antipodean Albatrosses ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 9/13/14

The reference to Stamp of the Week in the subject line isn’t a typo: I’m celebrating the issue of a stamp set by New Zealand Post on 3 September which includes a photo of mine in the design of one of the stamps.

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) Stamp by Ian

Here is the original photo, taken north of Macquarie Island when we were returning to Hobart at the end of a Subantarctic Islands trip in November 2011 that started in Dunedin. This was the same trip on which I photographed the Fiordland Penguins that featured as last week’s bird.

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni ) by Ian

If you’re not familiar with Antipodean Albatrosses and think it looks like a Wandering Albatross, you may be relieved to hear that it’s all a matter of taxonomy and reflects the recent split of the Wandering Albatross into four species, one of which is the Antipodean. In fact this same taxon, for want of a better word, was bird of the week in November 2006 as Wandering Albatross after I’d photographed some on a pelagic trip off Wollongong south of Sydney. If we follow this split, and BirdLife Australia does, then most of the erstwhile Wandering Albatrosses in Australian waters are Antipodean and breed on the islands south of New Zealand, mainly Antipodes Island, Campbell Island and Adams Island in the Auckland Islands.

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) by Ian

The Antipodean is one of the smaller of the Wandering Albatross group but they are still enormous: up to 117cm/46in in length with a wing span to 3.3m/11ft and weighing up to 8.6kg/19lbs. Look carefully at the second Albatross photo and you’ll see a grey and black Broad-billed Prion completely dwarfed by the Antipodean Albatross. The prion is about 30cm/12in in length with a wingspan of 60cm/2ft. You can get an impression of the size in the third photo taken on that Wollongong trip – look at the bow wave!

ntipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) by Ian

The Antipodean Albatross itself comes in two varieties, the nominate Antipodean which breeds on Antipodes and Campbell Island and ‘Gibson’s Albatross’ which breeds in the Auckland Islands Group. The various Wandering Albatross species all look rather similar and are difficult to identify in the field. They vary in size and they differ in the rate and extent of development of white plumage in adult birds – juveniles are mainly brown. The ones in the first two photos are very white and are probably older males of the race gibsoni. The bird swimming in the third photo shows less development of white plumage – not the darkish cap and the dark vermiculations on the neck, breast and shoulder and may be a younger male or female and could be either nominate Antipodes or Gibson’s: all too hard.

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) Stamp by Ian

Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis) Stamp by Ian

Here is the complete set of stamps. New Zealand Post wanted to pay me to use the albatross photo, but I so like the idea of having one of mine used in a stamp that they agreed to send me first day covers and a presentation pack instead and that arrived yesterday. Antipodean Albatrosses rate as Vulnerable/Endangered because of their few nesting sites and long-line fishing which leads to the death of adult birds as by-catch. The total population is perhaps 16,000 pairs but there is hope that the population has stabilised after significant declines at the end of the 20th century.

Anyway, I’m off to Dublin via Dubai on Monday to visit family and friends. I’m spending 3 nights in Dubai having found it, to my complete astonishment, ranked as #75 in a book on the top 100 places in the world to go birding. Because of its location at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, it’s an important staging post for birds migrating from Asia to Africa in the northern spring and autumn migrations (i.e. now). I have two target species: the Crab Plover and the Cream-coloured Courser. The first because it’s an unusual and beautiful black and white wader in a family all to itself and the unusual looking and named Courser – a member of the Pratincole family – because it caught my eye in my Field Guide to the Birds of Britain in Europe when I was a teenager in Ireland half a century ago, below. So, I need your spiritual energy and goodwill to help me. You haven’t failed me in the past!

This was supposed to be a short bird of the week as I really should be packing but I almost forgot to mention that Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland is now available through Kobo Books. I really like the Kobo ebook reader: I have it on both my Mac computer and my iPad/iPhone but Kobo reader software is also for Android tablets and phones, Blackberries and Windows computers and phone. A friend of mine has expressed concern over the complexity of ebook software/apps, devices/computers and methods of purchase/download etc. so I’m preparing a page to add to the existing one on publications on the website: http://www.birdway.com.au/publications.htm which already has links to Apple, Google Play and Kobo Books and a little bit about the differences. Something to do on the plane.



Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/

Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. (Isaiah 52:13 NASB)

Wow! Our Ian is famous. That is quite an honor! I was thinking of Ian as well as the Albatrosses when I picked the verse.

The Albatrosses are a members of the Diomedeidae – Albatrosses Family. There are 21 species in the family. (From CreationWiki) “Albatrosses have very long wings and large bodies. Their bills are hooked and they possess separate raised tubular nostrils. Their bodies range from sizes between 76 and 122 centimeters long (2.5 to 4 feet); and their wingspan ranges from 3 to 6 meters across(9.8 to 19.7 feet). The wings are usually darkly colored on the upper side and are pale colors or white on the underside. Albatross wings allow it to take advantage of the abundant winds across the surface of the sea. The birds make use of the fact that friction with the sea slows some of the wind down so that right above the surface of the water, the wind is relatively weak and slow. Then, as the bird climbs up from the surface, the speed and strength of the wind increases as well (around 50 feet or 15 meters above the surface of the water the albatrosses will reach their full flight speed).

Albatrosses’ wings are designed for a specified type of gliding. Being very long and somewhat thin in width, the wings are used best in the albatrosses’ cycle of flight. This cycle allows the bird to move great distances without once flapping it wings. What a great Creator!


Antipodean Albatross – Ian’s

Ian’s Diomedeidae Family

Albatross – CreationWiki

Diomedeidae – Albatrosses Family

Ian’s Pratincole Family. 


United States Songbirds On Stamps – Re-post from Dear Kitty


The U.S. Postal Service celebrates ten melodic voices with the Songbirds stamps: the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides), the western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), the painted bunting (Passerina ciris), the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula), the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus), the scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea), the rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), the American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), and the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).

Each colorful bird is shown perching on a fence post or branch … (The rest of the article)
This is from Dear Kitty. Some Blog

See United States songbirds on stamps.