What is rare?
Earlier this month I was looking over the seaward entrance to Virkie Pool, Shetland; slurping tea. A shorebird caught my eye as it flew in, and grabbing binoculars, could see it was a Grey Plover. A smart ‘looker’ with lots of black below. Roger Riddington appeared, so I casually mentioned, “There’s a Grey Plover just flown past”. “You’re joking”, he said. So, not understanding his incredulity I told him it really was one and to boot an adult summer plumaged – male. Actually I tagged the ‘male’ bit on for effect as I did look pretty smart. I didn’t know for sure how to tell adult males and females apart, just an inkling.
Turns out, Grey Plover is a surprisingly rare bird in Shetland. Recent years about 1 -10 birds are recorded annually. No wonder Roger was sceptical. We did see it a later little and local doubt was thankfully removed. Further more I suspect the ardent patch year listers, who didn’t all see it, were a little gripped off too (see Rob Fray’s blog: http://www.robfray.co.uk/?page_id=976).
Seeing birds often motivates me to learn more about the species. So we checked later to see if there was anything in my hunch that the bird was a male. Sure enough, like Golden Plovers, male Grey Plovers have fuller black underparts which are a little more patchy and broken up than females. So being at Spurn today with a lot less birds than yesterday – I ‘digiscoped’ this adult male Grey Plover. Key features it shows:
- Very black and white upperparts (dark areas browner on females)
- Solid black on face and underparts (broken up with white feathering on females)
- Only a few black bars on white tail (more bars on female)
- Mostly white crown with limited black flecking (more dark feathering on female)
- Just visible in right leg is a hind toe – not found on the other pluvialis Plover s (the 3 Golden girls- Pacific, American and Eurasian)
Most of this I got from Nils van Duivendijk’s new book, about which I am currently writing a review. It’s like the best ‘speed dial ID’ facility ever!