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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Least Sandpiper

Hebrides bird sightings -  Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper (Juvenile)

Calidris minutilla

Photography © Anthony Drake
Butt of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
12th October, 2007

"Found this (well my wife did) next to the car at Butt of Lewis light house...Appears to be a Temmincks Stint. Very small. Yellow legs and a description that matches my field guide"

Anthony Drake

"I believe this bird is probably actually a least sandpiper and NOT a
temminck's stint. Do you have any other photos of it?"

Duncan Watson     12.10.07

"Least Sandpiper...This will be a first record for the Outer Hebrides.  It has been looked for today but as far as I know not been seen".

Brian Rabbitts
County Bird Recorder   12.10.07

I asked Brian if he could confirm it as a least sandpiper:

"I suppose there could be a very slight chance that it is a Long-toed Stint but I would be happy for this to be circulated as a Least Sandpiper. Long-toed have longer neck and legs but of course this is difficult to judge from just one photo. Another point is the less strongly patterned head which indicates Least. Many years ago (1990) there was great controversy over a claimed Long-toed Stint on South Uist. This was eventually rejected by British Birds Rarities Committee as they felt the evidence was not quite good enough for a first record for the British Isles (subsequently an earlier record from Cornwall accepted as a Least turned out to be a Long-toed). The Cornwall one was photographed but not the South Uist one. Hopefully Anthony may have some more photos and will be able to fill in a few things such as 'jizz' - thinking it could have been Temminck's is another good indicator of Least (Long-toed being more like a very small Wood Sandpiper rather than a stint)".

Brian 12.10.07


"it is a Least Sandpiper, but wasn't there tonight..."

Martin Scott
Western Isles RSPB 12.10.07

"Just to add to the 'Least Sandpiper' discussion.
I told my wife this morning after looking at the pictures again that it may be a Least Sandpiper.
The bird was moving around the edge of a pool between the cliff and lighthouse.
It paused every-so-often to snooze and also gave a little shudder/shiver. I'm thinking it was tired and may have been brought in on the South-Westerly wind. I managed to get within arms length at one point and it didn't seem to mind too much.
I have more photo's but the connection here is poor and they may have to wait until Sunday/Monday to upload.
I hope the bird is O.K and that it turns out to be a 'Least'

Anthony Drake

I asked Duncan what caught his eye about the bird, that made him pretty sure about it...

"Anthony's photo was there at the top of the page but immediately looked wrong for temminck's stint to me, being far too well marked on the head, mantle and wings for temminck's, which is generally a rather plain-looking bird.

Amongst other things, temminck's stint at this time of year would not show the combination of dark feather centres and rufous fringes in the wings nor the combination of dark and rufous on the crown and mantle. In addition, as another confirmatory feature, the bird in the photo showed no discernible primary or tail projection (which temminck's stint should).

Anthony's description was clear that the bird had yellow legs, which although I couldn't initially see in the photo on looking more closely it is perhaps possible to see yellow legs through the grass. There are only two stints (other than temminck's) with yellow legs on the British list, least sandpiper and the even rarer long-toed stint. Although there was only one photo I think it is possible to rule out long-toed stint on the basis of the head pattern, notably the pale supercilia meeting above the bill and the well defined dark loral stripe. The pale rufous (rather than white) fringes to the coverts (as well as the scapulars) are also features indicative of least sand rather than long-toed stint.

The crouched posture (although admittedly this feature is perhaps not reliable from a single photo) also points towards least sandpiper. Anthony's description of the circumstances sounds spot on for a bird having just arrived from across the Atlantic taking refuge on the first available piece of land, in this case the car park at the Butt of Lewis! As I understand it a number of other transatlantic waders have been discovered doing a similar thing at the same location in the past.

I think most of these have moved on very quickly, presumably to more suitable habitat, so the absence of the bird on Saturday doesn't necessarily indicate that it will have perished - I certainly hope not anyway! I'd be very interested to see some more photos once you have access to a better internet connection Anthony, hopefully with some additional photos plus your field notes it should be relatively straightforward for the record to make it through the rarities committee and be confirmed as a first for the Western Isles (and I believe only about the 42nd for Britain). An excellent find!!"

Duncan Watson

Least Sandpiper average less than 1 UK record a year

See a full-size photograph of the least sandpiper
(65KB picture)

  • Least Sandpiper
  • Calidris minutilla
  • Accidental
  • 1958 -2004 only 28UK records BTO
  • World's smallest shorebird
  • Legs yellowish, bill short & thin
  • Breeding adults: brown, dark brown streaks on top and white below, llight line above eye, dark crown.
  • Winter adults: grey above
  • Juveniles: brightly patterned above, rufous colouration, white mantle stripes
  • Breeds: North Canada, Alaska
  • Winters: Southern US, South America
  • Habitat: Tundra, (migration coastal wet meadows)
  • Diet: Small crustaceans, insects, snails, (forage mudflat surfaces)


See the Surfbirds online guide to identification of least sandpiper


Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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