Little Stint a Yukon First at Judas Creek
By Cameron D. Eckert and Pamela H. Sinclair
While the spring 1997 shorebird migration initially appeared lacklustre in the Whitehorse area, by the third week in May the diversity and numbers of shorebirds had increased dramatically. From 18-19 May, thousands of shorebirds moved along the shores of Marsh Lake, southeast of Whitehorse with the most common species being Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos, Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla, Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla, Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodrumus scolopaceus, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica and Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus. Rarer species included Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri, White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis, Dunlin Calidris alpina and the Yukon?s first documented Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa. In just two days we tallied 23 shorebird species. While the spectacular movements of birds were thrilling, it was a single individual which stole the show. At 4:00 p.m. on 19 May we arrived at the Judas Creek outflow on Marsh Lake to find a mixed flock of approximately 400 shorebirds, primarily Semipalmated, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers. While scanning the flock we spotted a small "peep" with a short black bill, black legs and a distinctly rufous-orange coloured face. We quickly noted bright rufous edgings on its scapulars and tertials and came to the stunning realization that we were probably looking at a breeding plumage Little Stint Calidris minuta.
It was clear that extremely careful study would be required to confirm the identity of this unusual bird. However this would not be without a significant challenge as a Merlin Falco columbarius kept the flock in a state of constant motion. Finally, the small falcon made a kill and disappeared. The shorebirds resumed feeding and we soon relocated the stint. For the next two hours we thoroughly studied the bird taking care to note both its overall appearance, and the exact colour and pattern of each feather. Further, we opted to observe the bird from a comfortable distance rather than attempting closer approaches for the purpose of obtaining a photo and risk flushing the bird. While a few photographs of the bird were taken which do show some of the key features, they are not of publication quality. Our description confirmed that the bird was indeed a breeding plumage Little Stint. The following notes were made during our observation of this most interesting shorebird.
Size and shape: This small Calidris was slightly smaller than a Semipalmated Sandpiper. While it appeared short, it did not look "dumpy" and did not appear as "deep bodied" as a Semipalmated Sandpiper. At rest, its wings and tail were approximately the same length. Its head shape appeared ?softer?, more rounded than a Semipalmated Sandpiper.
Legs and bill: The legs were short and black. The bill was black and appeared shorter and notably finer than that of a Semipalmated Sandpiper; the base of its bill was not as broad as Semipalmated Sandpiper, and it clearly lacked the more bulbous tip of a Semi. While the bill generally appeared straight, at some angles, the tapered nature of the bill made it appear just slightly curved. It certainly was not drooped.
Plumage: Overall its feathers appeared very fresh and there were no signs of wear. Its face was distinctly rufous-orange coloured. The rufous colouration extended down to the sides of the neck; the nape and crown also appeared rufous. The crown was finely streaked and the bird did not have a pronounced ?capped? look. While it lacked a distinct supercilium, it showed a pale whitish area just above and extending behind the eye. Overall, the face appeared rather plain apart from the colour. The chin and throat appeared white and contrasted with the rufous colour of the face. While there were some short dark streaks at the sides of the upper breast, these streaks were limited and there was only an extremely faint band of fine streaking across the upper breast. A pale buffy wash also extended across the upper breast. The lower breast, flanks, belly and undertail were white. The back feathers had dark centres with rufous/buff edges; a whitish ?V? could be seen on the back. The tertials had blackish centres with bright rufous edges. The scapulars had blackish centres with very bright rufous edges and whitish-grey tips. The wing coverts had blackish centres with rufous edges and whitish-grey tips. In flight, the rump appeared dark with white on the sides and the tail showed a black centre stripe with greyish outer tail feathers. During flight, the flight feathers appeared dark with a faint pale centre line.
Behaviour: The bird foraged very actively throughout the observation; darting about quickly and picking from the mud like a Semipalmated Sandpiper. It spent most of its time on the wet mud although it was occasionally observed foraging in very shallow standing water.
The primary contenders for confusion with Little Stint are Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis and Sanderling Calidris alba. While the face colour obviously set this bird off from the Semipalmated Sandpipers with which it associated, the colour and pattern of its scapulars, tertials and wing coverts and its bill and body structure firmly excluded the possibility of an unusual Semipalmated Sandpiper. The short bill, limited streaking on the upper breast, extent of rufous on the face and head, and rufous-edged tertials and wing coverts excluded Western Sandpiper. The white chin and throat, rufous edged tertials and wing coverts, bill structure and overall body shape excluded Red-necked Stint. The small size, colour and pattern of sapulars and wing coverts and lack of a bold white wing line excluded Sanderling. Our field notes excluded all similar species and confirmed that the bird was a typical breeding plumage Little Stint, based on a variety of references (Hayman et.al. 1986; Jonsson 1992; Roberson 1980).
Previous Canadian records summarized by Dilabio (1992) include two July records from Ontario, three July records from British Columbia, two records (July and August) from New Brunswick, and one October record from Nova Scotia. Since then there have been few Canadian records; a moulting adult was reported from Vancouver on 4 and 6 September 1995 (BJ 4(5):211). The Little Stint at Judas Creek provided both a first Yukon record for this species and one of very few spring records for North America (outside western Alaska). A breeding plumage Little Stint was documented at the south end of the Salton Sea in southern California on 18 May 1991 (Patten et.al. 1995). Our 19 May observation of Little Stint along with Yukon spring records for Bar-tailed Godwit (BJ 5(5):256) and Brambling (BJ 5(1):30) indicate that a few vagrants to North America apparently overwinter somewhere in the Americas and return northward again in spring.
Di Labio, B. 1992. Little Stint: Ontario?s Second Record. Birders Journal 1(6):292-294.
Hayman, P., Marchant, J., and T. Prater. 1986. Shorebirds: An identification guide to the waders of the world. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
Jonsson, L. 1992. Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Patten, M.A., Finnegan, S.E., and P.E. Lehman. 1995. Seventeenth report of the California Bird Records Committee: 1991 records. Western Birds 26(3):113-143.
Roberson, D. 1980. Rare birds of the West Coast. Woodcock Publications, Pacific Grove, California.
This article originally appeared in Birders Journal. Reference as:
Eckert, C.D., and P.H. Sinclair. 1997. Little Stint a Yukon First at Judas Creek. Birders Journal 6(4):183-185.
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Note: The Judas Creek outflow on the shores of Marsh Lake is located approximately 60 kilometres south of Whitehorse. Access to the best birding areas is a bit tricky and those wishing exact directions should contact the Yukon Bird Club: email@example.com
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