ID Guide: Red-necked Stint

Red-necked Stint
Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis, near Pudong Airport, Shanghai, May. (Craig Brelsford)

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis is one of the more common shorebirds migrating along the Chinese coast. Some overwinter on southeast coast as far north as Shanghai. Regularly reported inland. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Migrants on mudflats and around coastal lagoons and marshes. Often in flocks, sometimes large, often mixed, walking briskly and pecking constantly. ID & COMPARISON Once considered conspecific with Little Stint C. minuta. Summer mostly rufous-orange on head, neck, throat, and upper breast. (Throat of Little Stint always white.) Fairly dense streaking on crown, light streaking on back of neck and ear coverts, rest of rufous area largely unstreaked (unlike Little). Forehead and chin white. Arrowheads cover top of upper breast below rufous hood; in Little, small arrowheads are always contained within the wash on upper breast. Sometimes arrowheads form necklace around upper breast; in Little markings more often confined to sides. Mantle and scapulars largely black with rufous and white fringes and tips; “V” of mantle usually absent, conspicuous in Little. Tertials and wing coverts mainly grey, contrasting with rufous mantle and scapulars; no obvious contrast in Little, as wing coverts and tertials also fringed rufous. Underparts below necklace white. Breeding Sanderling C. alba is a third larger than Red-necked, has shorter wings and longer and thicker bill, is red-brown on throat mottled with black, and lacks hind toe. Non-breeding more uniformly grey above than Little, which is usually a shade browner and has larger dark feather centers. Underparts white with grey on breast sides; usually well defined in Red-necked, sometimes extended as a complete breast band of diffuse speckles in Little. Little usually shows more streaking in grey on head and breast (but lighter than in summer); both have obvious white supercilium. Juveniles largely lack rufous coloring and have buffish breast-sides with diffuse speckling. Juvenile Little has rufous and white fringes to all of mantle, scapulars and wings. Non-breeding Western Sandpiper C. mauri has longer legs and more distinct, fine streaking on breast sides; breeding Western bright rufous on scapulars and ear-coverts and has rufous wash to crown (but not on breast) and chevron-shaped black markings on breast and flanks. In flight, shows typical calidrid pattern of narrow white wing bar and white uppertail coverts divided by black central band from rump to tail. BARE PARTS Feet short, black, unwebbed; Long-toed Stint C. subminuta and Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii have yellowish legs; Western Sandpiper has partly webbed toes. Bill blunt, black. Red-necked Stint has shorter legs, blunter bill, and more elongated body than Little Stint. VOICE Kreep or kreek call, longer, deeper, and more trilling than Little Stint, somewhat reminiscent of Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea. — Craig Brelsford

PHOTOS

red-necked-stint
Red-necked Stint, Jiangsu, China, September. (Craig Brelsford)
red-necked-stint
Jiangsu, August. (Craig Brelsford)

RESOURCES ON CALIDRIDS

Click the links below for coverage on shanghaibirding.com of species related to Red-necked Stint:

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot C. canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Spoon-billed Sandpiper C. pygmaea
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Little Stint C. minuta
Pectoral Sandpiper C. melanotos

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for my Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which the species description above is drawn.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. (2006). National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

Brazil, Mark (2009). Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Brazil, Mark (2018). Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides, London.

eBird (2020). eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Red-necked Stint (https://ebird.org/species/rensti). Accessed: 29 May 2020.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Message, Stephen & Don Taylor (2005). Waders of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm Field Guides, London.

Svensson, Lars, Killian Mullarney, & Dan Zetterström (2009). Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. 2nd ed. HarperCollins, London.

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ID Guide: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata, Jiangsu, China, September. (Craig Brelsford)

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

With breeding grounds high in the Siberian Arctic and a winter range extending as far south as New Zealand, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata is a champion long-distance migrant. In China migrates mainly along coast but regularly recorded inland. Common passage migrant Shanghai. HABITAT & BEHAVIOR Migrants often in marshy areas with vegetation as well as on intertidal mudflats. Juveniles strictly on coasts. ID & COMPARISON Breeding shows distinct rufous crown streaked black, a white eyebrow that often flares at the end and that is streaked black or brown, chestnut ear coverts, dark lores, and a thin white eye-ring. Upperparts black or brown with rufous and dull white fringing to feathers. Bold black spotting or streaking on neck and breast turning into chevrons on otherwise white lower breast, flanks, and undertail coverts. Breast has buff wash that is less clearly demarcated than Pectoral Sandpiper C. melanotos. Juveniles have blackish feather centers above, with rusty fringes (more buff on wing coverts), giving scaly appearance. White lines along mantle and scapulars usually prominent (but less so than Pectoral). Head pattern of Pectoral less contrasting; supercilium of Sharp-tailed cleaner (especially behind eye) and chestnut crown more prominent. Juvenile Sharp-tailed is bright and has prominent orange breast and breast streaking limited to a narrow band on upper breast; rest of underparts white. Winter adult a toned-down, greyish version of summer adult; distinct rufous cap present, but duller, with streaking usually restricted to sides of breast. In flight shows typical calidrid pattern of narrow white wing bar and white uppertail coverts divided by black central band from rump to tail. Streaking on white sides of rump make rump look darker than Pectoral. Juvenile Long-toed Stint C. subminuta appreciably smaller than Sharp-tailed. Male larger than female. BARE PARTS Bill short, slightly curved, black, with pale base to mandible; feet greenish-yellow. Legs shorter and posture usually more horizontal than Pectoral. VOICE Shrill, continuous twittering. Also soft, repeated “plipp.” — Craig Brelsford

RESOURCES ON CALIDRIDS

Click the links below for coverage on shanghaibirding.com of species related to Sharp-tailed Sandpiper:

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris
Red Knot C. canutus
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus
Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea
Temminck’s Stint C. temminckii
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta
Spoon-billed Sandpiper C. pygmaea
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis
Sanderling C. alba
Dunlin C. alpina
Little Stint C. minuta
Pectoral Sandpiper C. melanotos

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for my Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which the species description above is drawn.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alderfer, Jonathan, ed. (2006). National Geographic Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.

Brazil, Mark (2009). Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Brazil, Mark (2018). Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides, London.

eBird (2020). eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (https://ebird.org/species/shtsan). Accessed: 29 May 2020.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Message, Stephen & Don Taylor (2005). Waders of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm Field Guides, London.

Svensson, Lars, Killian Mullarney, & Dan Zetterström (2009). Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. 2nd ed. HarperCollins, London.

Reach us: info@shanghaibirding.com

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The Day Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler Appeared at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler at Cape Nanhui is one of the best sightings of my birding career. Ours is the only record on eBird of the species at Shanghai’s top birding spot. Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and I were in the defunct wetland reserve. The Middendorf’s was at the base of reeds along a canal. We observed the bird for several minutes. The date was 21 May 2015.

The specimen above is clearly a Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler Helopsaltes ochotensis and not either of its two most similar congeners: the less contrastingly patterned Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler H. pleskei and the more contrasting Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler H. certhiola. Nor is it the heavily streaked Marsh Grassbird H. pryeri.

Our team was delighted with the find, for Middendorf’s on migration is an elusive tick. There is, however, evidence that Shanghai is a place of some importance on the migration route and that enterprising birders can find the species here. La Touche in 1912 reported Middendorf’s as being common in late May and early June on Shaweishan, near Chongming Island (Kennerley & Pearson 2010, 261). On its spring migration, Middendorf’s follows a north to northeast heading from the Philippines, its main wintering grounds, to the breeding areas in Hokkaido, the Kurils, Sakhalin, and the mainland Russian Far East. Many go due north from Luzon to Taiwan before making the northeastward turn toward Japan. Some continue still farther due north from Taiwan, crossing the East China Sea and making landfall at the first part of mainland Asia they hit, namely the eastern bulge of China around Shanghai (261).

Shanghai not only is a likely part of the migration route of Middendorf’s; it is possibly also the very best place on the Chinese coast where migrating Middendorf’s may be found. As springtime records of Middendorf’s in north China are scarce, experts presume that most Middendorf’s that reach the central Chinese coast migrate not northward but northeastward, again crossing the East China Sea to Japan. Note too that south of Shanghai, for example in Guangdong and Hong Kong, records of Middendorf’s also are few (Kennerley & Pearson 2010, 261; eBird 2020).

Our Middendorf’s was silent, but some call, and Shanghai birders hoping to tick the species should be listening carefully in late May. “[The call of Middendorf’s] is often the only indication of presence away from the breeding areas,” write Kennerley and Pearson (2010, 259). Care needs to be taken to distinguish the “kit” or “chit” call of Middendorf’s from the similar call of Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, which is known to call and even sing on migration in Shanghai (Brelsford 2017). Distinguishing the call and song of Middendorf’s and Pallas’s can be difficult, even for expert birders (Moores 2018).

In summary, I believe that the records of La Touche from more than a century ago were accurate and that in certain coastal areas in Shanghai, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler was a common late-spring migrant. I believe furthermore that despite the massive transformation of the Shanghai coast since the time of La Touche, Middendorf’s may still be common in late May and early June at places such as Cape Nanhui and Chongming Dongtan. Birders should be on the lookout for Middendorf’s in Shanghai.

MAP & PHOTOS

middendorf-map
Map showing major migration patterns of Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler in spring. From its wintering areas mainly in the Philippines, Middendorf’s moves north into Taiwan (Arrow 1), where winter records of the species also are numerous (eBird 2020). Some Middendorf’s may bypass Taiwan and head northeastward through the Ryukyus to the main Japanese islands (2). From Taiwan many Middendorf’s head northeast to Japan (3), while some continue northward and reach mainland Asia near Shanghai (4). Middendorf’s that reach the Shanghai region presumably migrate northeastward, crossing the East China Sea to Japan (5). In Japan they traverse Honshu (6, 7) en route to the breeding grounds in Hokkaido and the Russian Far East. Red dots indicate areas in the Shanghai region where Middendorf’s has been recorded on eBird (includes autumn records). Data for this illustration from Kennerley and Pearson 2010, pp. 260-1; Brazil 2018, p. 304; and eBird. (Google/Craig Brelsford)
Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler
On 21 May 2015, this Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler appeared at Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui. Elaine Du, Kai Pflug, and Craig Brelsford found the warbler at the edge of a reedbed in the defunct nature reserve. The coordinates of the spot are 30.915306, 121.967074. The encounter with the elusive migrant remains the sole record on eBird of Middendorf’s at Shanghai’s top birding spot. (Craig Brelsford)
Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler
Migrating Middendorf’s are often found ‘in reedbeds and along riverbanks’ (Kennerley and Pearson 2010, 259). This individual was treading carefully along the edge of a canal, in conformity with the authors’ description. In spring Middendorf’s departs the winter quarters late and performs ‘a rapid northward migration with a limited number of stopover points’ (261). This individual may have flown nonstop from Taiwan, crossing the East China Sea and making landfall around Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)

SOUND-RECORDING

Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Verkhoturova Island, Russia (59.593602, 164.674460). Song with element of call at beginning. Recorded 27 June in lowland grassland/tussocky tundra near northernmost extension of breeding range. (0:29; 683 KB; Christoph Zöckler)

RESOURCES ON HELOPSALTES AND LOCUSTELLA WARBLERS

Click the links below for coverage on shanghaibirding.com of locustellid warblers.

Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler Helopsaltes fasciolatus
Marsh Grassbird H. pryeri
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler H. certhiola
Lanceolated Warbler Locustella lanceolata
Brown Bush Warbler L. luteoventris
Baikal Bush Warbler L. davidi
Spotted Bush Warbler L. thoracica

OTHER LATE SPRING MIGRANTS IN SHANGHAI

In addition to Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, late spring brings passage migrants such as these to Shanghai:

Kamchatka Leaf Warbler recorded at Shanghai’s Cape Nanhui in June

Pechora Pipit singing at Cape Nanhui in May

— Scarce migrant and regional breeder Asian Koel recorded in May and June, singing Common Cuckoo breeding at Cape Nanhui, and singing Lesser Cuckoo in Jiangsu: The Cuckoos of Shanghai

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brazil, Mark (2009). Birds of East Asia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Brazil, Mark (2018). Birds of Japan. Helm Field Guides, London.

Brelsford, C. (2017). “One of My All-time Ornithological Highlights” (https://www.shanghaibirding.com/all-time-high/). Post to shanghaibirding.com, published 17 May 2017; scroll down for report and sound-recording of singing Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler at Cape Nanhui, Shanghai (accessed: 1 Jun 2020).

eBird (2020). eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler in China (https://ebird.org/species/migwar/CN) and Taiwan (https://ebird.org/species/migwar/TW). Accessed: 27 Apr 2020.

Kennerley, P. & Pearson, D. (2010). Reed and Bush Warblers. London: Christopher Helm.

MacKinnon, John & Karen Phillipps (2000). A Field Guide to the Birds of China. Oxford University Press.

Moores, N. (2018). eBird Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S53240665. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Ithaca, New York. See note under entry for Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler: “Heard only – listed as Possible as confusion with Pallas’s Grasshopper a decent possibilty” (sic). (Accessed: 27 Apr 2020)

Pearson, D.P. (2006). Family Sylviidae (Old World Warblers). P. 615 (Middendorf’s Warbler) in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Christie, D.A. eds. (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 11. Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

REVISIONS

1. Sound-recording of Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler by Christoph Zöckler added 28 April 2020.

Featured image: Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler Helopsaltes ochotensis, Cape Nanhui, Shanghai. (Craig Brelsford)
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