Long-billed Dowitcher, Qigu, September 20th

Three Long-billed Dowitchers had been reported from this location along the Qigu embankment last week, so on Saturday morning – in a window of only a few hours before a typhoon was forecast to hit southern Taiwan – I drove north to look for them.

I quickly found the area where all the waders were, but unfortunately, the wind was already very strong and birding from the exposed embankment was almost impossible. Among the rice paddies it was a little more sheltered, and after I while I located the three Long-billed Dowitchers among hundreds of other shorebirds. It was hard to get close to the birds without disturbing them, and the wind and light conditions weren’t ideal. Compared to Asian Dowitcher, the main difference on the views I obtained was size. Long-billed is noticeably a lot smaller (body length was similar to the nearby Marsh Sandpipers, whereas Asian Dowitcher is close to Common Greenshank in size). Plumage-wise, there didn’t seem to me to be a great deal to differentiate the two species, at least for these resting and feeding birds (it’s more obvious in flight because Long-billed has a darker underwing). Finally, on the few occasions when the Long-billed Dowitchers wandered into shallower water, the legs could be seen to be more greenish – the legs of Asian Dowitcher are prominently jet-black.

Of course, I couldn’t conclusively eliminate Short-billed Dowitcher as an ID possibility, but the latter species has never occurred in Taiwan, whereas Long-billed is an annual but very scarce migrant and winter visitor.

The other waders here comprised a selection of the expected migrants, including Sharp-tailed, Marsh, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Dunlin, Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Mongolian, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers,Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Black-winged Stilt.

Also noteworthy in the rice paddies here was Greater Painted-Snipe. I flushed at least five, mostly from almost under my feet. Two of them did a very strange thing – when flushed they flew out to the middle of a pond, crash-landed in the middle of it, and tried to hide there with just their head and back above the water level. I’ve never seen anything like it. There was also an adult bird with chicks that I was able to observe at a safe distance without flushing.

Elsewhere in the area, I saw very little. Strong winds in the coastal forest made birding difficult, and there seemed to be nothing passing at sea. The only other bird of note in the area was a Richard’s Pipit heard calling and seen briefly in flight along the seaward side of the embankment. Hopefully, Typhoon Fung-Wong will bring us some exciting birds this week.

Taiwan tick: Long-billed Dowitcher (total 247).

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