First-summer Golden Plover

On 27th May, Bob Bullock found a European Golden Plover at the western end of Earls Barton Gravel Pits, where it remained until at least 29th May, when I managed to take the photos, below. We don’t usually see this species locally beyond mid-April so any solitary ‘Golden’ Plover occurring late in the spring is worth a second look – especially when it appears as dull and greyish as this one. Remember the first-summer American Golden Plover at Summer Leys from 13th to 17th May 2001?

When seen from a distance, in overcast conditions, the initial impression might have been that of Grey Plover – especially this spring, when we’ve had larger numbers than usual passing through. However, the bill is too small and neat, lacking Grey’s length and chunkiness.

In general, this bird’s structure does not immediately match that of either American or Pacific Golden Plover, both of which are of slimmer proportions and more elegant with longer legs. Closer examination also reveals closed wings only marginally extending beyond the tail, so ruling out the much more noticeably longer-winged American, and five primary tips extending beyond tertials – the latter reaching only halfway down the tail (too short for Pacific).

The lack of summer plumage this late in the year immediately suggests this is a first-summer and a closer examination confirms this. Upperparts are rather faded, there are few ‘golden’ spangles but many off-whitish ones and the rear flanks are barred (not so in full adult) and the tail feathers are barred off-white and brown, lacking adult’s yellowish chevron-like pattern,  as well as being rather worn.

In sunlight, this bird appeared noticeably warmer-toned and, in case there was every any doubt about the identification, it gave the typical Golden Plover “puwee” call and when it flew a short distance on a couple of occasions it revealed white axillaries and underwings, instead of smoky-grey …

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