Discussion of Identification of claimed Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China:
Nial Moores, December 27th 2011
Sometime during 2011, I found myself added to an English-language mailing list sharing some wonderful bird information from along the Chinese coast. While much of the discussion has been focused on separating apparent dealbatus (“Swinhoe’s” or “White-faced Plover”) from nihonensis Kentish Plover, a recent mail was of even greater interest. It included some very low resolution stills and video of two or more shorebirds tentatively identified by the finder (Jonathan Martinez: JM) as Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurhynorhynchus pygmeus (SBS). The birds were found at an apparently excellent estuarine wetland discovered by JM at Xitou near Yangxzi on December 17th in southwest Guangdong, China. As all Birds Koreans know, the SBS now has a world population of probably fewer than 100 pairs and is classified as Critically Endangered. Birds Korea is responsible for collating records in the ROK (as part of the international SBS Task Force), and like all others focused on this species’ conservation, we have a special interest in its distribution and in the status of sites it uses. Finding a new site for overwintering SBS is not just great for the finder – it would be great news for the species.
In his mail describing finding the birds, JM wrote (kindly quoted with permission, and edited for easier reading):
“Then a huge flock of Dunlin (about 400 birds) mixed with Kentish Plover arrived…I noticed a few Red-necked Stint and an obvious Sanderling… At about 200 meters range in much better light, I noticed 4 birds contrasting with the Dunlin with a more pale greyish mantle. My first impression was that they were probably Sanderling, but the birds weren’t pale enough and they were foraging in a curious way…they didn’t pick up prey by up and down movement but held their bill in the shallow water and moved it a bit horizontally for a short period (it was a bit similar to what spoonbill “platalea“) can do. The distance didn’t allow me to pick up more features (especially the bill shape that I know is quite difficult to catch at big distance) so after having made a few digiscope images and a short video, I decided to approach them, but the group flew away and I wasn’t able to locate the birds again”.
Lacking prior experience of SBS, JM attached two heavily-cropped video stills and 12 seconds of digiscoped video of the birds, and asked those on the mailing list (including several of the region’s “big names” in bird ID) to give their opinion on the identity of the birds. The responses he received (apparently six positive, two negative and one undecided by Dec. 25th) were considered sufficient to tentatively support the ID as SBS.
We are posting the images and video clips here in order to give more people an opportunity to add their own comments.
So, SBS or…?