Mongolian, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers


by Martin G.

Given Yoav’s excellent posts below on this 3rd, 4th or 5th* record of Lesser Sand Plover for Israel, and a Mongolian Plover in Scotland seemingly heading south and to become Ireland’s first,  I thought it apposite to add to the discussion, Ian Lewington’s stunning plate below.

Ian lew sand plovers

 Mongolian Plover (top 4),  Lesser Sand Plover (middle 4), Greater Sand Plover (ssp columbinus – bottom 2). Monchrome tails etc. bottom right – Mongolian Plover on left and Lesser Sand Plover on right. Plate by: the legend that is…Ian Lewington

Ian, the late Russell Slack and myself looked into the ID issues of Sand Plovers quite extensively, culminating in article published in Birding World magazine:

Garner, M., Lewington, I. and Slack, R. (2003) Mongolian and Lesser Sand Plovers: an identification overview. Birding World 16(9): 377-85.

I concur with Yoav’s comments on the Israeli Lesser Sand Plover. * At the moment Israel has two accepted records (1983 and 2001). There are three records under circulation by IRDC – 2000, 2010 and this one. So this sand plover could be 3rd, 4th or 5th (per Yoav P!).

I would add a few points based on my notes and our research for the Birding World paper. Please make you own mind up. Here are  my thoughts, hoping some might be helpful or next time:

The recent Lesser Sand Plover in Israel seemed to me to have the overall ‘gestalt’ of an atrifrons Lesser.

  • Bill nail length. I think the bill does look small and it appears to me from the photos that the ‘nail’ section is (clearly) less than half the total bill length. The nail should be half or even more than half  of the bill length in Greater Sand Plover.
  • Breast and head pattern. The fading and worn orangey area over the beast is even, smooth and I think too broad for most Greater Sand Plover. GSP with extensive breast colour does not normally show such a broad even band,-rather it tends to break up along the flank line. A soft feature maybe, but it think it adds to the Lesser ‘feel’. With the extensive black mask, seemingly as Yoav mentions, perhaps just beginning to break up through moult, this is a head pattern/ breast pattern combo which is very ‘Lesser’.
  • Wing Pattern. I agree with Yoav that the wing pattern may be a little use, we certainly found previous statements on the usefulness of the wing pattern conflicting and not borne out by the evidence.
  • Tail Pattern. What we did find a potentially very useful feature was the tail pattern. Greater has dark tail band which is matched by Mongolian but not by Lesser. On Lesser the terminal area of the tail is virtually concolorous with the rump and upperparts- thus no dark tail band. Furthermore the white tail sides were more extensive in Greater and Lesser Sand Plover than they were in Mongolian Plover. Hence a slightly but helpfully different pattern of tail and rump sides each species (see Ian’s monochrome illustration).
  • Projection of toes beyond tail. Maybe a project for someone. Greater does/can have obvious toes projection in flight, beyond tail. So can Mongolian Plover (seemingly slightly shorter). This needs much more research to clarify vaariation but Lesser may have little or no toe projection…
  • Feathering and tibio-tarsal joint. Brian Small makes interesting observation on Surfbird forums which may a feature worthy of further study.

It’s wonderful to be able  to compare what are surely 2 good, full species (as we advocated in the BW paper) at the same time, both vagrants in the Western Palearctic. Here then is Ireland first Sand Plover of any kind:

A Kelly

……..Adult male Mongolian Plover, Pilmore Strand, Cork by Aidan G. Kelly.

Aidan commented on his very nice digiscoped photos and the video which were taken using the new Swarovksi ATX 95:

“Yes, photo on Surfbirds and YouTube clips all taken with ATX95  with TLS APO using a Canon 7D.   Have  had a few Irish birders  who were on site with me using DSLR and prime lenses  (and with variable results due to distance /heat haze) being  surprised at the quality which I got with the new kit! First twitch with the new scope and lot of birders who hadn’t seen it before,  were very  impressed with it yesterday.
 Great bird to see. Finally our first ever Sand Plover in Ireland! Now for a Greater…..”  


About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
This entry was posted in Israel, Shorebirds, Swarovski Optik. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Mongolian, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers

  1. Pingback: #ABArare – Lesser Sand-Plover – NW Indiana « ABA Blog

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