Interesting Sandpiper has birders talking, learning & considering.

The call came in from Rich Stallcup about a bird that he had identified as a Long-toed Stint! This sandpiper was found on the afternoon of Oct. 24th at the Limentour Beach at the Point Reyes National Seashore. I arrived the next morning and got these videos. At the end of the video, you will see numerous Sandpipers feeding in the water. Those were Least Sandpipers that I filmed moments after the Stint, but on the other side of the dunes, in the bay.

Aspects about this bird that stood out to me in regards to the identification between the Long-toed Stint and the Least Sandpiper are as follows: The bird in these videos seemed very pale on the breast, more so than any Least Sandpiper that I can remember. While there was a bit of a line of demarcation between the breast and the belly, it was very subtle at best. The bird showed very fine thin streaks across the breast, most easily seen at the sides of the breast or neck. Every once in a while, I could see a faint wash of a “clay” color at the sides of the neck. The bill seemed very large at the base and too long for the typical Least Sandpiper. The way the bird moved was quite unique. The sandpiper would typically step amongst the plant matter quite gingerly with very deliberate actions almost like it didn’t want to tangle its toes. When on the sand it would move in a way that reminded me of a Spotted or Solitary Sandpiper, meaning that it would run with its head held up and forward and would run in a rather jerky fashion. At the end of each sprint it would often do a quick little tail bob that imparted a “Tringa-like” feel to me. The legs and toes looked “pea” or “moss” green. The toes appeared very long, thin and sometimes sort of “in the way”. The central tow looked as long or slightly longer than the tarsus. The tibia was always fully exposed and the bird seemed to lact the mouse-like look of a Least Sandpiper. The face, especially the front of the brow was very white, like headlights when the bird ran towards you. This white area was split down the middle by a dark greyish line that met the upper mandible. The base of the lower mandible was a dark moss green that contrasted a little with the black of the upper. The wing coverts, while usually covered by the back and scapular feathers were very dark centered with worn yet warm rusty edges to all of the feathers. The back feathers were greyish with rather distinct dark centers and the scapulars were also grey but with slightly blacker central spots. The crown showed grey with rather bold black streaks that ended abruptly at the nape. The wings and the tail tip appeared to be equal in length. I could see no primary flight feather extension beyond the tips of the tertials. The chin and throat were unmarked white. I did not hear the bird call.

Keith Hansen


6 thoughts on “Interesting Sandpiper has birders talking, learning & considering.

  1. Keith, thanks for posting this. I saw the stills and though…Least Sandpiper. But the video is a bit of a mind blower. I have never seen a Least Sandpiper move like that, this bird is so odd. That alone shifts me to, hey maybe this really is a Long-toed Stint.
    Off to Chile tomorrow so the only Long Stint I will experience will be waiting at airports. I hope you get some of that Old World expertise to help on this one. Looking forward to Chile though, after the luck here on the pelagic (with that White-chinned Petrel) I am gunning for a Northern Fulmar down there! Wouldn’t that be a trip? Black-legged Kittiwake has made it to Peru, so you never know.


  2. Great video. I saw a Long-toed Stint about 20 years ago in Salinas but, that was long before I could afford a scope and/or camera. My recollection is that bird did not look like this one but, I think it was an adult. Juvenile birds are difficult to deal with ID wise I think.

  3. Keith,
    Wow, what a difference a video makes. Glad that you were able to get it online so that out of town birders can comment. There are certainly times during the video where I think the bird looks like a Long-toed Stint. Now I am perplexed and unconvinced either way as to what this bird is. However, my gut feeling is that it is a Least or a hybrid. Whatever it is, it has been a great learning experience for all of us! thanks for posting the video and for the phone call


  4. Hello keith and everyone,

    Our good friend Ken Wilson -from Talon Tours- called my attention towards this sight, since I have years living, birding and photographing in Asia.

    Been the four possible -in Thailand- stints very common and similar, you become pretty aware and avid of details to recognize and ID each of them, even to tell them apart from some other Calidris named differently in English… with the strong exception of Little vs Rufous-necked -with non breeding (regular) plumage- which even “top experts” on the group will be very careful with…

    Long-toed it’s the clear and easy one on the group (even when -at first glance- in non breeding plumage, might look pretty similar to the Temminck’s.

    I have no doubt that your bird it is for real a Calidris subminuta — Long-toed Stint molting away from breeding plumage and would like to offer my galleries for the reference showing the four species and one image of this species that seems pretty close to the bird in your grounds… follow the link please:

    By the way, you did a good job with the accurate description here and congratulations to everyone on the new addition to your list!

    Alex Vargas

  5. This video is so reminiscent of the 1991 Palmdale, California, mystery Calidris thought by some of us to be a Long-toed Stint. Here is my description of its behavior excerpted from my report submitted to the CBRC:

    “When active, the bird in question often walked or ran plover-like at a fast pace during brief spurts (usually covering 1-3 m), and typically paused for a few sec between spurts; sometimes it walked more continuously. It walked much faster than nearby Least Sandpipers. While walking it consistently held its head up high, above horizontal 90-95% of the time, often extending its neck and occasionally bobbing the head once or several times; looking for this peculiar behavior was the best method for finding and recognizing this particular individual. In contrast, the Least Sandpipers normally walked around slowly and foraged with their necks hunched and the head held below horizontal more than 50% of the time. Least Sandpipers held their heads up highest when standing still, occasionally extending their necks briefly (<5 sec) to look around or to preen, and sometimes walking with the head up but never with the neck extended upward for more than a few sec. The neck of the bird in question distinctly appeared to be slimmer and longer than that of nearby Least Sandpipers; at one time we were able to compare it with two Least Sandpipers in the same field of vision for perhaps 30 sec. Its posture and behavior appeared much more like that of a long-legged wader than that of small peeps, reminding us of a Solitary Sandpiper or yellowlegs. When standing still or sitting, it looked identical to a Least Sandpiper. When foraging, it often picked once or several times (usually <5) at one spot and then quickly moved to another spot, usually covering a much greater distance (often several m) between bouts of picking than the Least Sandpipers. The Least Sandpipers picked much more frequently while foraging, perhaps picking 20 times while moving only 1 or 2 m. At times the wings of the bird in question seemed to be held unusually high above the tail."

  6. While visiting several major American museums back in 1992, I took measurements of 37 Long-toed Stints and 37 Least Sandpipers at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Suspecting that fairly accurate ratios of bill / tarsus length and bill / middle toe length could be obtained from photos and compared with specimens (and hoping one day I could measure ratios in Jonathan Alderfer’s outstanding photos of the Palmdale peep), I came up with the following ranges in specimens:

    Bill / middle toe length: 0.66-0.85 in Long-toed Stint, 0.80-1.02 in Least Sandpiper

    Bill / tarsus length: 0.75-0.96 in Long-toed Stint, 0.88-1.14 in Least Sandpiper

    I measured the ratios in four of Noah Strycker’s outstanding photos using a caliper on my monitor and using the same measurements that I used with the specimens, and came up with the following averages:

    Bill / middle toe length: 1.04

    Bill / tarsus length: 0.99

    Based on my morphometric data, the mystery peep appears to be a Least Sandpiper.

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