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Shorebirds can present even the most seasoned birder with identification challenges. This is particularly true when we can't see an entire bird well. Most field guide poses illustrate birds from the side, so when we see a bird from behind, it can present us with even more difficulties.
Luckily we can see most of the bird quite well. Most importantly, we can see the structure and coloration of our bird's bill. This bird has a slightly decurved bill that is relatively short (compared with something like either yellowlegs or a dowitcher) but certainly longer than a plover. The general shape is similar to some species in the genus Calidris. Some Ruff may appear similar to our bird, but the tertials on an adult Ruff would have dark bars, unlike our bird, while a juvenile would have extensive pale edging to all of the upperparts.
We also see that the base of the bill is appears pinkish becoming darker toward the tip. Most peeps have all dark bills. White-rumped Sandpipers, often show a pale base to their bills, but not as extensive as this individual. Furthermore, White-rumped Sandpipers, are grayish overall, not warm brown coloration like this bird. Looking carefully, we can also see the legs of our bird appear yellowish, or at least not black. This may call to mind a Least Sandpiper, which has upperparts that are similarly colored. But Least Sandpiper would have a finer bill that is uniformly black.
We could start thinking about Long-toed or Temminck's Stints (which we would eliminate for similar reasons as we eliminated Least Sandpiper), but before jumping to rarities, we should consider one other common Calidris: Pectoral Sandpiper. Structurally this bird looks perfect for a Pectoral Sandpiper, with a body that appears stockier and a neck that appears a bit longer than on, say, a Least Sandpiper. The blush of rufous on the crown and auriculars are also perfect for an alternate-plumaged bird. Some observers may consider Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, but most Sharp-tailed would have a much more prominent rufous crown, and all would show more extensive rufous on the scapulars. I also suspect that on an alternate plumaged bird, we would be able to make out at least some dark chevrons on the bit of undertail coverts that we can see.
This adult Pectoral Sandpiper was photographed in April outside Concan, Texas.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the April Bird Photo Quiz—Pectoral Sandpiper:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.