Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Red-hot plovers

Male White-faced Plover Charadrius dealbatus - a distinctive and 'revived' species.
Even in the 21st century, we continue to find that there is so much more to discover about birds. Or in some cases, rediscover. It was more than 140 years ago, in 1870, that the famous Robert Swinhoe described a species of plover from Asia that was distinct from Kentish Plover. For a variety of reasons, the full recognition of this species became lost over time, and only in the last 18 years has this little-known shorebird re-emerged on the scene.

The English name White-faced Plover is appropriate for obvious reasons, and already in widespread use. Larger than Kentish, it also has an obviously longer, heavier bill, as well as reduced dark markings and a whiter face.
Clearly paler than Kentish Plover, and also larger and more aggressive, this subtly distinctive bird has been sighted in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam since the 1990s, yet was not recognised as any known taxon. Even the relatively recent (2005) Helm field guide Waders of Europe, Asia and North America fails to illustrate it. If it had, the plate might have depicted something between Kentish Plover and Piping Plover. For Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus is clearly not a Kentish Plover, and since Kennerly et al unravelled its convoluted history three years ago (Forktail 24: 63-79), interest in its identification and status has increased. It is destined to be formally recognised once again as a full species.

Small sand crabs appear to be an important food, at least on the species' wintering grounds in Thailand.
Here during my short stay in the Gulf of Thailand, I was lucky enough to get prolonged views of White-faced Plover, as it has become known. On an undisturbed sand spit near the shorebird hot-spot of Pak Thale, we watched a female rather distantly, and then had longer looks at a very showy male. At times it was in company with a male Kentish Plover, as well as Malaysian and Lesser Sand Plovers, and the differences from Kentish were quite striking.

Male Malaysian Plover was one of three other plover species keeping the White-faced company.
As well as 'bossing' the Kentish when the two were close, the White-faced would also make striking rapid diagonal runs across the sand, these bursts of speed often ending in the successful catching and consumption of a small sand crab. As Mark Andrews pointed out, this can be a successful way of picking one up on a beach with numerous shorebirds in attendance. Hopefully these images of White-faced Plover will help convey its distinctive jizz and appearance.

A good selection of terns on an offshore sandbar included Great and Lesser Crested, Common, Caspian and Little.

5 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos! I love the focus and the angle of these!

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  2. Many thanks, Adam. I was sitting at ground level, with the tripod at its lowest setting, to try and get a 'plover's eye view' of the birds. It felt a privilege to watch this little-known species at such close quarters

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  3. Status of this ssp is soon published as genetic study has finished. I am not authorized to say anything of the result but will be online soon.

    Best, Szimi

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  4. This is surely a split, Gyorgy, a move which would restore its original species status. I have some movie footage too and will upload it to the Birdingetc channel on YouTube in the near future.

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  5. I'm not so sure it will be Dom, and may be considered a distinctive subspecies of KP. If you click on the links I've provided at the bottom of this thread http://www.surfbirds.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4384, you'll see that the lovely plumage you photographed soon abrades away as they breed, making them much more KP like. That said, they still seem distinctive and breeding birds were easily distinguished from smaller darker migrant birds.

    Cheers

    Pete Morris

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