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Another shorebird! In this case, placing the bird into the correct group of shorebirds is relatively easy. While we can't see this bird's feet, we can tell that this is a short-legged wader. The compact neck and body further add to the impression that this is one of the small Calidris species, often called peeps. A few other small shorebirds that aren't in the genus Calidris may have a similar overall shape as our bird, but each has a completely different bill shape (e.g. Spoon-billed Sandpiper or Broad-billed Sandpiper).
One of the first steps in identifying shorebirds is to correctly age the bird. A fresh-plumaged bird in late August (such as ours) with some rufous highlights and crisp feather edges is going to be a juvenile. The majority of adults at this time of year would have feathers that are worn. Many adults at this season have a mix of "breeding" or "alternate" plumage with some "winter" or "basic" plumage. These winter plumage feathers are fresh, but they are generally plainer, less colorful, and unlike the crisp neat patterns of a juvenile shorebird. So in this case, we are dealing with a juvenile.
Among the genus Calidris, there are several species that aren't your classic small peeps and don't closely resemble our bird:
As we have noted in a rather roundabout way, our bird is largely grayish with some rather subtle rufous highlights. This pattern is quite different from the following species, each of which has extensive rufous patterning a more brownish (or rufous) appearance: Least Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, and Temminck's Stint.
Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers are the most widespread grayish peeps in North America. But the patterning on our bird is somewhat in-between that of a classic juvenile Western (which has extensive rufous patterning to the upper scapulars) and a classic Semipalmated Sandpiper (which is scaly, but does typically not show much rufous). The bill of our bird is also troublesome. It appears too short for even the shortest-billed Western Sandpiper, and yet the tip seems too fine, without the thicker (more bulbous) tip of a Semipalmated Sandpiper. The face pattern is also unlike a Semipalmated Sandpiper, which would show a paler supercilium that contrasts with the bird's darker auriculars.
Given these problem's we should probably consider Little Stint and Red-necked Stint. The bill shape is closer to Little Stint, than either Western or Semipalmated Sandpipers. But juvenile Little Stints are more heavily marked with black. In particular, the wing coverts should have fairly extensive black centers to each feather, particularly on the distal portion of each feather (still with white edging). In this respect, the wing coverts would look more similar to the pattern of the lower scapulars. Juvenile Little Stints are also more heavily marked with rufous throughout the wing coverts. The upperparts should also have prominent white stripes, which our bird lacks. On a Little Stint, the pale forehead would continue up the head form a rather pronounced split supercilium.
The rather plain wing coverts (particularly plain greater coverts) are typical of juvenile Red-necked Stint. The bill shape of our bird also closely matches that species. The paler crown contrasts little with the only slightly paler supercilium, again more typical of Red-necked Stint. Another feature worth considering is the shape of our bird. While fluffed up in a cold wind, this bird still appears to be relatively "long bodied," with both the wings and tail appearing rather long. The short-legs (not visible here) add to the rather long appearance in comparison to other similar species (Western, Semipalmated, and Little). This juvenile Red-necked Stint was photographed at Adak Island, Alaska.
Here's another look:
Another thing to look for is shown in the above photo. This bird does not have webbing between the toes. Both Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers have webbing between the toes.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the August Bird Photo Quiz—Red-necked Stint:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.