Monday, 15 January 2018

Masked and Black-shouldered Lapwings.

What was once known as the Spur-winged Plover of Australia and New Zealand Vanellus miles, (not to be confused with the Spur-winged Lapwing of south-eastern Europe and Africa Vanellus spinosus), is now considered to be two species, at least there are two entries on the BirdLife International data zone species fact sheets separating them as Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles ...

Masked Lapwing.
and Black-shouldered Lapwing  Vanellus novaehollandiae.

Black-shouldered Lapwing

Whilst the two species are very similar there are some very overt differences, most notably in the head and neck area. The name Masked Lapwing comes from the large wattles and lappets which adorn the face of both birds, however those of the Masked Lapwing are much more extensive and can be seen above and behind the eye as well as in front... 
Masked Lapwing

... whereas on the Black-shouldered Lapwing they are restricted to in front and below the eye and across the forehead. In addition the lappets on the Masked lapwing are longer, more exaggerated and more pointed at the tip.
Black-shouldered Lapwing

The Black-shouldered Lapwing gets its common name from the dark shoulder bar that extends across the back and is connected to the black cap which in Masked Lapwing does not extend down into the nape leaving a white collar. Otherwise the two birds are very similar.
Black-shouldered lapwing

They certainly both have a fearsome reputation and are known to terrorise neighbourhoods when they are nesting causing school children to select alternative routes to school rather than run the gauntlet of passing through a Lapwing territory.

The two birds live in different areas. The Masked Lapwing extends from New Guinea into northern Australia from northern Queensland west to northern Western Australia with a cone of residence extending in the centre of that range south to central South Australia. 
Masked Lapwings

The Black-shouldered Lapwing resides in an area east of an arc from the coast in central South Australia to the coast on northern Queensland and also in New Zealand.  There is some degree of overlap where hybrid forms can be found.

Black-shouldered lapwing
The Black-shouldered Lapwing's colonisation and spread in New Zealand has been rapid. It self colonised as recently as 1932 and has since spread across both the South Island and North Island and has even reached the Chatham Island in the 1980s.

When we were visiting Broome in Western Australia approaching the westernmost extremity of Masked Lapwing's range, we came across an unusual bird given that the closest part of the Black-shouldered Lapwing's range was over a thousand miles to the east.
Intergrade Masked/Black-shouldered Lapwing?

At first this appeared to be a displaced Black-shouldered Lapwing but after some scrutiny we thought that perhaps it was an intergrade between the two forms. The wattle above the eye looked more substantial than would be normal for a Black-shouldered and yet was not extensive enough to be that of a Masked Lapwing, the lappet perhaps was also a little full, long and pointed for that species.
Masked/Black-shouldered Lapwing(?) with White-headed Stilt

It certainly had the black shoulder marks and they appeared to meet the cap on the nape so we may well have been looking at a hybrid. 
Extensive black on the nape. 

Black cap attached to black collar.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Where's Willet?

Where's Willet?

Where do Eastern Willets spend the winter?

Eastern Willet

A citizen science survey to investigate the wintering range of the ‘Eastern’ Willet

Western Willet

  • The Willet Tringa semipalmata has two distinct populations known as ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ Willet.
  • The ‘Western’ Willet T. s. inornata breeds Manitoba and Alberta in Canada to the north and Colorado and Northern California in the USA to the south and winters along both seaboards of North, Central and South America although the exact extent to which it does so is not entirely clear.
  • The ‘Eastern’ Willet T. s. semipalmata breeds from Newfoundland in Canada south along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to north-east Mexico with populations on Caribbean and Bahama Islands. Outside the breeding season ‘Eastern’ Willet vacates the United States and its wintering quarters are not properly understood.

Eastern Willet
The purpose of this survey is to attempt to shed some light on the wintering range of Willets, the ‘Eastern’ Willet in particular.  

By using a highly visible, common and accessible species and not a species that is hard to find in obscure locations, we hope that many more participants will be encouraged to partake and they will feel the worth of their efforts is greatly enhanced by the contribution they are making to uncovering one of the prevailing mysteries in ornithology that persists despite the nature of the species concerned.

Guidance Notes for Where’s Willet?
Participating observers and photographers.

Please note; it is imperative that the welfare of the birds must come first - avoid disturbing roosting and feeding flocks of shorebirds when observing them. 
  • An identification paper by Michael O'Brien will be provided with the Where's Willet? package for participants.
  • Please make an effort to identify which subspecies you are observing. It will be useful to build up a corps of observers with experience in separating the two forms for future years if we need to continue to survey the species.
  • It is not always easy to tell one from another, so we recommend that you take good quality photographs if you can, or engage a photographer friend to help you record the birds you see. These you can then send (see details below) and we will seek the help of our identification experts to analyse the birds. 
  • It would also be very useful to estimate how many of each subspecies is present. The purpose of this is to establish where the largest congregations of the birds can be found.
  • Please visit as many places where the Willets frequent as you can, as often as you can, between now and the end of February noting all the Willets you see on each occasion.
  • Precise details of observation location are important.
  • Wader Quest would also be interested to hear which other Charadrii you see on your visits that may be useful for other projects.

How to submit your records:

  1. Post Willet photos to All iNaturalist observations must include a photo, a location, and a date, and are easily searchable through detailed filters, making this an extremely useful tool for Where’s Willet? to aggregate observations of Eastern Willet on wintering grounds. If you feel confident separating the two Willet subspecies, you can search the iNaturalist database for “Willet” observations add T. s. inornata or T. s. semipalmata to the identification. If your shorebird site is full of Willets, post as many photos of individuals as you can, and citizen scientists around the world can hone the identification to subspecies.
  2. Include photos with your Willet observations on eBird. If you are already submitting frequent lists to eBird, start including photos with your Willet observations so that eBird reviewers can confirm subspecific identifications.
  3. Send Willet photos directly to Wader Quest. If you don’t participate via iNaturalist or eBird, you can send photos of Willet observations to, and the identification experts partnering with Where’s Willet? can confirm your subspecies ID or help identify your photos as ‘Eastern’ or ‘Western’ Willet.
  •  Observers are sought throughout the range of the Willet, including in the southern States of the USA if only to prove that no individuals linger in that region unnoticed for the duration of the project. 

To volunteer or for more details contact Wader Quest
Western Willet