Ian’s Irregular Bird – The Tattlers

The next two birds in the IOC list of Tringas are the two Tattlers, the Wandering and the Grey-tailed, so called one assumes because they are fairly vocal.

I did a comparison between the two species in Irregular Bird #195 in January 2007 (or Bird of the Week as it was called then). Here it is:

This week’s bird – or birds as I’ve included a relative for comparison – the Wandering Tattler is for those who appreciated subtlety, or at least acknowledge the challenge in identifying waders.  The Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) in non-breeding plumage is very similar to its much commoner (in Australia) cousin the Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes).  I’ve put numbers on the image of the Grey-tailed Tattler to highlight the differences:

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) by Ian

Grey-tailed Tattler by Ian

In the Grey-tailed Tattler, the white eyebrow extends behind the eye (1) and forward across the forehead (2); the cheek is whiter (3); the flanks are whiter (4); the bill is longer and more slender (5) and the wing tips, relative to the tail, are shorter (6).  The Wandering Tattler is darker overall and particularly on the back and crown and to me looked browner rather than grey-brown.  If you think this is all too hard, the calls come to the rescue, being quite different.  The Wandering has a trilling call of 6 – 10 accelerating notes, while the Grey-tailed has a drawn out 2 syllable call.

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) by Ian

The Grey-tailed Tattler is a (southern-) summer on the coast all round Australia on mudflats and reefs, while the Wandering is an uncommon summer visitor to the east and north coasts, with a preference for wave-washed rocks on the island of the Great Barrier Reef.

Since then I’ve photographed them in breeding plumage, when it’s easier to distinguish the two species. Both are barred on the breast and flanks, but only the Wandering has barring on the belly. The Grey-tailed retains the white belly even in breeding plumage. The one below in the third photo is feeding in a typical habitat in shallow water on a mudflat.

Here’s another Grey-tailed in breeding plumage swallowing a small crab at sunset. This might look more like the habitat of the Wandering Tattler, but it’s actually a stony area on a beach rather than a rocky headland.

This Wandering Tattler, below, is feeding in a typical habitat for this species, on a rocky foreshore with plenty of invertebrate prey on a Pacific Island. The tourist literature about Norfolk Island says that the name Slaughter Bay isn’t as ominous as it sounds, being derived from an “Old English word” meaning “slow-moving water”. Given that strong currents are reported in Slaughter Bay, that I could find no aquatic suggestions for “Slaughter” in dictionaries or online, and that Norfolk Island has a turbulent history as a convict settlement, I suspect that this is an explanation of which the Kremlin could be proud.Wandering Tattler by Ian

Wandering Tattlers in Australia are most likely to be seen on rocky islands, but they do turn up occasionally on the mainland as well, with records all on the east coast from Cape York to eastern Victoria. The one below was one of a pair that spent some time on the Townsville Breakwater in 2008 and there are more recent records there in 2010 and 2022. This photo clearly shows the grey patch on the forehead between the two short white eye-stripes.

The Grey-tailed Tattlers in this photo are also perched on rocks and pretending they’re Wandering Tattlers.  In fact they are waiting for the tide to go out so they can feed on the neighbouring mudflats. The one on the left is in transitional plumage with barring developing on the breast.

CHA-Scol Grey-tailed Tattler by Ian 7

Grey-tailed Tattler by Ian

Both species are accomplished migrants, breeding in northern latitudes and spending the northern winter in the tropics and southern hemisphere. The Grey-tailed Tattler breeds in inland northeastern Siberia and western Siberia and winters across a wide range from the Bay of Bengal and Taiwan through southeastern Asia to Australia and New Zealand. The Wandering breeds in Alaska and in neighbouring parts of Canada south to northwestern British Columbia. It winters all along the west coast of the Americas from southwestern British Columbia to Chile and across Pacific coast and islands from Japan to New Zealand, through Micronesia, Polynesia to Pitcairn Island and Easter Island.

In terms of conservation, the Wandering Tattler has a status of Least Concern, while the Grey-tailed has been uplisted from Least Concern to Near Threatened in 2014. This reflects some decline in numbers, probably as a result of land reclamation along the migratory stopovers in China.

Greetings,

Ian
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au

Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/


Lee’s Addition:

Thanks, Ian, for another informative post about this Tringa clan. I have to admit that I was a little tickled by their name. It reminded me of a verse about young widows becoming “tattlers.”

“And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies,….” (1 Timothy 5:13 KJV)

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Ian’s Irregular Bird – Solitary Sandpiper

You may remember from the last Irregular Bird (Green Sandpiper) that the plan is to work through all the waders in the genus Tringa, the Shanks and relatives, in the order used by the IOC, below.  This is the next one the Solitary Sandpiper.

It’s fairly similar to the Green Sandpiper and they were originally treated as a single species. In fact, they are easy to distinguish in flight as the Green Sandpiper has a white rump and a tail with side to side barring, while the central feathers of the rump and tail of the Solitary Sandpiper are brown creating a longitudinal stripe. These features are visible under the flight feathers in the first photo and shown in a drawing later.
Solitary Sandpiper by Ian
In practice you can also use their ranges as the Green Sandpiper occurs in Eurasia and Africa, while the Solitary Sandpiper is an American species. It nesting range is almost entirely in Canada and Alaska.  It migrates through the United States and winters in Mexico, Central America, and in northern, central and eastern South America as far south as Peru in the west and northern Argentina in the east.
I haven’t got photos of either species in flight so here is a crude drawing to illustrate the difference in flight pattern. Don’t take too much notice of anything except the different rumps, tail and length of the legs. The latter are longer and protrude farther beyond the tail in the Solitary Sandpiper. So, if you’re a dedicated twitcher, as I am now, keep a beady eye out for something special if you are in a place where either or both of these birds don’t usually occur. There are a few records of Green Sandpipers in northern Australia and a few records of Solitary Sandpiper in Siberia and Western Europe.
Solitary Sandpiper by Ian
There isn’t much difference among the plumages of breeding adults, non-breeding adults, and juveniles though there is less streaking in juveniles and the spots on breeding adults are whiter, rather than buff and more conspicuous. I think the bird in the second photo in Trinidad is a juvenile, the one in the third photo in Brazil is an adult but I don’t know about the one in the first photo. If you’re an expert on the plumages of Solitary Sandpipers, I’d be happy to get your opinion: ianbirdway@gmail.com.
Solitary Sandpiper by Ian
Actually, I misidentified the two in Trinidad as Spotted Sandpipers in non-breeding plumage but maybe I had Spotted Sandpiper on the brain as I’d seen the one in the third photo in Tobago eleven days earlier. Non-breeding Spotted Sandpipers don’t have spots (go figure, as they say), just a little barring on the wings but they have conspicuous long white eyebrow stripes and shorter, much yellower legs, so I lack a reasonable excuse for the confusion.
Spotted Sandpiper by Ian
Like their Eurasian cousins, Solitary Sandpipers breed in trees and shrubs using the old nests of thrushes. It so happens that the range of perhaps the commonest thrush in North America, the American Robin, overlaps the range of the Solitary Sandpiper in Canada and Alaska. The Robin, despite its name which is based on colour not taxonomy, is a Thrush and a close relative of the Eurasian Blackbird and is the most likely candidate as a provider of nests, though not much is known about the breeding behaviour of the Sandpiper.
American Robin by Ian
So how does the Solitary Sandpiper get its name? Amazingly, unlike most waders which believe in safety in numbers, it migrates either alone or in small groups and often appear at stopovers or at the destination in ones or twos. It migrates mostly at night. I don’t know whether juvenile birds instinctively know where to go or whether the adults teach them. The mind boggles at what we don’t know about bird migration.
Jeff Larsen sent me this lovely photo of two birds together in Washington state, so they’re clearly not completely antisocial. He calls them Solitary Chickens, which appeals to me and he gave me permission to share this photo with you.
Solitary Sandpiper by Ian
Solitary Sandpipers are birds of freshwater and are usually found on small ponds or in marshy areas, even in winter. We spotted the one in Brazil in a roadside pond in the Pantanal.
Next time we’ll talk about the Tattlers, two rather similar species that are next on the IOC list.
Greetings
Ian


Google Groups “Birdway” group.
Write to him at ian@birdway.com.au, or visit this group at http://groups.google.com/group/Birdway


Lee’s Addition:

Here is the next Sandpiper in Ian’s “Tringa” series. He has promised more. Stay tuned.
He mentions the sameness of these birds:
“But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.” (Psalms 102:27 KJV)
See:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Good News

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.
Greetings,
Ian


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)
See:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Good News