Whilst looking at Bob Hazell’s Twitter feed recently my attention was drawn to a photo of an adult Common Sandpiper taken on 18/04/16 at Draycote Water which showed a projection of the tail beyond the folded wing tip that was pretty much identical to that of Spotted Sandpiper. The bird was correctly identified by Bob as a Common Sandpiper. Spotted Sandpiper completes its moult later than Common Sandpiper, by mid April/early May so would be likely to have at least some spotting on the underparts by that date. Additional features confirming the identification include dull legs, a bill pattern typical of Common Sandpiper, densely marked upperparts and a fairly solid breast band whilst the bird lacks the pale face and particularly well defined supercillium of Spotted.
Adult Common Sandpiper, Draycote Water, 18/04/16, by Bob Hazell.
Common Sandpipers with short tails are known to occur, a well-documented individual spent the winter of 2014-15 on the Hayle Estuary in Cornwall and Alan Dean has pointed out that the measurements for tail length of the two species do overlap. I immediately called John Judge to discuss the Draycote bird and the conversation reminded him that in October 2015, whilst John was on Scilly and I was in Brazil, Bob had found a Juv./1stW bird which he thought was a Spotted Sandpiper. Bob had been reticent to ‘go public’ with the news before getting a second opinion but had struggled to get anyone interested in the bird, which spent several days in the vicinity of Windsurfers. This immediately piqued my interest as Bob’s opinion is not something to take lightly. Luckily there is a photo, taken by Bob, and when I saw it I could find no reason to doubt that it was indeed a Spotted Sandpiper (though the photo has been taken in poor light and is not of the highest resolution). I looked immediately at the tertials which appear plain, though one or two pale spots are perhaps visible at the tips if the photo is blown right up. The rest of the upperparts are also remarkably plain except for the coverts which are heavily and coarsely barred in strong contrast. John agreed, but lacking confidence as ever I sought a second opinion from Martin Elliott. This went along the lines of ‘Spotted Sand., bolted on’. Alan Dean also thought the identification sound. In addition to the features mentioned, attention was drawn to the bright yellow legs (though I have to say I have seen Common Sandpiper with bright yellow legs), the weakly defined breast band, pale face, well defined supercillium and eye ring. Obviously the short tail is another feature and taken in combination the field characters result in a bird of fairly distinctive appearance. The only surviving photo is reproduced below and should hopefully be sufficient to get the record accepted by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) in spite of the fact that the call was not heard and the wing pattern not noted (the bird very seldom flying).
Juv./1st W Spotted Sandpiper, Draycote Water, October 2015, by Bob Hazell.
If accepted this will constitute the sixth record for both Draycote Water and Warwickshire. Bob found the fifth, a summer plumaged adult in May 2014 and this record has been accepted by the BBRC and is due for publication in the 2014 report of the West Midland Bid Club (WMBC). It should be made clear that Bob made his opinion that the bird was a Spotted Sandpiper known at the time and I feel he should be commended for his caution. On the pitifully few occasions I have been in a similar position I have always sought confirmation that I have not gone barmy, or allowed the desire to find something rare cloud my judgement. In the case of the Lesser Scaup I found at Draycote in 2010 it was Bob who came to my assistance and I am only too pleased to return the favour, albeit (and unfortunately for me) retrospectively.
Thanks are due to Martin Elliott and Alan Dean for comments on the photographs and content of this post.