YELLOWLEGS (LESSER) ON ABACO: OUT STANDING IN THE WATER


Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

YELLOWLEGS (LESSER) ON ABACO: OUT STANDING IN THE WATER

It’s always helpful when a bird ends up with a descriptive name (after translation from the Latin binomial) that actually matches the creature. Burrowing owl, Roseate Spoonbill, White-crowned pigeon, Red-legged Thrush, Black-and-white Warbler – you know where you are at once. So it is with the Yellowlegs, the only question being whether the one you are looking at is ‘greater’ (Tringa melanoleuca) or ‘lesser’ (Tringa flavipes). Both are found on Abaco, and a single bird on its own – with no size comparison – can be a potential source of confusion.  

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

This last post for 2018 features the lesser yellowlegs, a winter resident, a rather off-beat choice you may think. The reason is that in clearing out some archive folders, I found some LEYE images in the wrong album. They reminded me what lovely birds they are when photographed well (so, not by me), with the subtle sheen of their plumage contrasting with their Malvolio-yellow legs.

Taking flight… we have lift-offLesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes (Phil Lanoue)

Apart from size, the greater and lesser yellowlegs have some not-necessarily-very-noticeable differences in bill length (in comparison with head-size), plumage and vocalisation. Here is an excellent example of the yellowlegs cousins together, to give you a comparison.

Little and LargeGreater & Lesser Yellowlegs Comparison (Matt Scott)

DO THESE SHOREBIRDS EVER GO ON LAND?

A: YESLesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

*ALERT* AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHY CORNER *ALERT*

DO YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A PHOTO OF THE LEYE WING UNDERSIDES?

Yup. This bird was at Gilpin Pond. There aren’t many ‘underside’ photos out there. Will this do?Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Q: DO THEY EVER DO PHOTOBOMBS?

A: INDEED! (BOMBING A BAHAMA DUCK)Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Weird blue tint due to radical colour correction for bad red algal bloom on the pond

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 9); Phil Lanoue (3); Matt Scott (4); Tony Hepburn (6); ID concealed to protect the guilty (7, 8)

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1): LARGER BIRDS


Whimbrel numenius phaeopus (Andreas Trepte / wiki)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY – ABACO’S 33 SPECIES (1)

LARGER BIRDS

Today, September 6th, is World Shorebirds Day. Every year, a Shorebird of the Year is selected by the organisers of this global event, and this year they have gone ‘large’. Perhaps in response to the declining populations of curlew species, they have chosen a fine representative – the whimbrel. Inconveniently – and although the whimbrel is a worldwide species – it is extremely rare on Abaco. In the definitive Abaco Checklist (see below), it is coded a TR4, i.e. a very uncommon transient with a handful of sporadic reports. Until last year, sightings were very few and far between. Then suddenly last autumn, they made a small migratory comeback. You can read about it HERE.

BLACK-NECKED STILT  Himantopus mexicanus  PR B 3Black-necked Stilt, Abaco - Tom Sheley Black-necked stilt, Abaco - Alex Hughes

Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. Like the human residents of the main island and cays, some are permanent; some are winter residents arriving from the north to enjoy a warmer climate; and some are transients – visitors that pass through a couple of times a year on their way from and to their nesting habitats. 

CHECKLIST OF ALL 33 SHOREBIRDS

The definitive checklist of Abaco’s birds was compiled especially for the BIRDS OF ABACO by Bahamas Birding author and authority, the late and much missed Tony White, with Abaco’s bird expert Elwood Bracey. Below is the shorebird list, with a photographic selection of the larger and/or longer-billed shorebirds in checklist order. Yes, including an Abaco whimbrel.

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana   WR 4
American Avocet, New Providence - Tony Hepburn

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER  Haematopus palliatus PR B 2American Oystercatcher, Abaco 5.1 Tom Sheley

GREATER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa melanoleuca   WR 2Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2

LESSER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa flavipes  WR 3Lesser Yellowlegs.Evening on the Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small2

WHIMBREL Numenius phaeopus TR4 (an Abaco one)

HUDSONIAN GODWIT Limosa haemastica [V5]

Like the whimbrel, this bird is another special bird to be able to include. Until last October, it was categorised as a V5, meaning that one or perhaps 2 vagrants had ever been seen on Abaco. Then one appeared on a pond and was spotted by Woody Bracey and, a few days later, by Keith Kemp – who even took confirmatory photos. You can read the story HERE.
Hudsonian Godwit, Abaco (Stewart Neilson)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus griseus  WR 1Short-billed Dowitcher (NB), Abaco - Bruce Hallett 

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus scolopaceus   WR 4Long-billed Dowitcher Mike Baird Wiki

WILLETT  Tringa semipalmata  PR B 2Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small

WILSON’S SNIPE  Gallinago delicata   WR 3Wilson's Snipe, Abaco - Woody Bracey

RELATED POSTS

WHIMBREL

WILLET

BLACK-NECKED STILT

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER

HUDSONIAN GODWIT

YELLOWLEGS

DOWITCHERS

Photo Credits: Andreas Trepte / Wiki (1);Tom Sheley (2, 5, 6, 7, 13); Alex Hughes (3);Tony Hepburn (4); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); Stewart Neilson / Wiki (10); Bruce Hallett (11); Mike Baird / Wiki (12); Woody Bracey (14)

GREATER YELLOWLEGS: LARGER THAN THE LESSER. PROBABLY.


Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)

GREATER YELLOWLEGS: LARGER THAN THE LESSER. PROBABLY.

I’ve shied away from the whole ‘yellowlegs dimension question’ for long enough. Now that I have some brilliant photos for you, I feel I am obliged to address the issue. I was last forced into this slightly uncomfortable position while writing the captions for THE BIRD OF ABACO. We had GY photos. We had LY photos. We had none of the 2 species together, or at comparable distances from the camera. Frankly unless you are very knowledgeable and / or a regular birder where both species hang out, they are very hard to tell apart. 

Both yellowlegs species are winter residents on Abaco, and neither is particularly common (though Gilpin Pond is always a good place to check for LYs). Both are very similar in almost all respects. The broad principle is that the GY is the larger, heavier bird, while the LY is more delicate and with a shorter bill in proportion to its head size.

In a more refined version, Cornell suggests: “GY’s bill appears slightly upturned and blunt-tipped, while LY’s bill is straight and sharp-pointed. LY’s bill is always dark, while GY’s bill is grayish at the base in non-breeding season. Voice is best distinguishing character: GY gives three or four piercing notes, LY two rapid, softer short whistles (sometimes three)”. But even this help depends on (a) light conditions (b) season and (c) whether the bird you are looking at is ‘vocalising’ or not…

TWO TYPES OF YELLOWLEGS ON ABACO – BUT WHICH IS WHICH?Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2Lesser Yellowlegs.Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small 3

If you saw the two birds above on separate days in different places at different distances, could you say with confidence which is which? Or maybe they are the same? Experts will probably know at once that the top bird is a GY in a ‘slimline’ stance; and the other is a LY in a ‘plump’ stance. But going simply on the ‘larger heavier bird’ and ‘bill-length principle’, I’d have said the opposite. And I’d be wrong. As usual. I suspect that the only way an amateur (e.g. me) can hope to be confident in distinguishing the two species is by seeing them frequently and preferably together.

Which takes us from Abaco, where the above birds were photographed by Tom Sheley, to Pinellas County, FL and the wonderful photos of Danny Sauvageau, an expert with the birds and also the camera. Here are some of his recent Greater Yellowlegs photographs that show the bird at its absolute best. They also demonstrate the ‘plump’ and the ‘slim’ looks of the same bird.

If anyone has any other reliable method for telling the species apart, please post a comment and I will gladly incorporate it as a STOP PRESS…

Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau) Greater Yellowlegs, FL (©Danny Sauvageau)

STOP PRESS 1 My thanks to blogging friend DEAR KITTY for reminding me of a video she posted that very conveniently shows a GY and a LY together, in circumstances where it is impossible not to notice that one bird is larger than the other. It’s an all-round helpful video, so thanks for this, DK.

[youtube https://youtu.be/1BFMAYUDnmg]

STOP PRESS 2 Thanks again to DK for drawing my attention to a great photo by Matt Scott posted on twitter. Here are both types of yellowlegs together, in similar poses and the same distance from the camera – and the behold the difference. The very illustrative image I had been looking for, handed to me on a plate…Yellowlegs G & L, Aruba - Matt Scott @matttockington

Credits: GY and LY on Abaco, Tom Sheley; all other photos Danny Sauvageau. Thanks to both for use permission. Also, Cornell Lab of Ornithology… And Matt Scott