After uploading the pictures of the supposed Lesser Yellowlegs on my blog I got a message from Chris Batty suggesting that is was a Greater Yellowlegs.
As mentioned before we didn’t spend much more than 10 minutes watching the bird in the field and mostly focused on getting pictures. A huge mistake. The initial ID was based primarily on the jizz. It appeared slim and small – even smaller than a Redshank. But we only had a Ring-necked Duck for comparison, so it didn’t help much. Furthermore the bill didn’t seem obviously long and it appeared rather slim – not like the Greenshank bill that I associated with Greater Yellowlegs when seeing them in Florida 9 years ago.
And maybe more importantly the Icelandic ratio of Greater vs Lesser is 1 to 10 and it remains a huge rarity in the UK – whereas Lesser Yellowlegs is annual in small numbers. And normally the common choise is also the right one. So it was kinda defolded to a Lesser Yellowlegs. We have actually considered Lesser Yellowlegs the most likely addition to the Faroese national list for a while.
After Chris’ e-mail I started to look into it and realized that there was some variation and that ID was a wee bit less forward when dealing with single birds than my Florida experience, where I almost always had the two species together. So I started to ask for others opinion. A few suggested Lesser Yellowlegs, but slowly a pattern emerged suggesting that is was in deed a Greater Yellowlegs. Rodmund actually raised the question right away. Harry Hussey was very helpful in getting peoples opinion. And when both American birders and Killian Mullarney suggested Greater Yellowlegs the case was settled – at least until the Danish RC has had a look at the bird.
Some of the main id features are paler grey/green bill base with obvious contrasting nostril, obvious gap between nostril and feathering, heavily barred flanks and shorter primary projection [Chris Batty]. Tail pattern and slightly curved bill are also supportive of Greater.
So lesson learn. Never be too confident with initial id. Never leave a bird too soon. And keep the chance open that in spite of no national Yellowleg-records a Greater Yellowlegs can be the first to turn up. But obviously the excitement wasn’t lesser when we learned that is was a greater!