Pale Western Willet at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia

Alex LamoreauxIdentification1 Comment

Ed note: Tom Johnson helpfully pointed out that this bird is not leucistic, but rather has dilute plumage. Leucism would leave the bird with white patches of feathers rather than the fading this bird shows. Article has been updated to reflect this.

On August 6th, I covered the Chincoteague NWR’s biweekly shorebird survey for Clyde Morris and Joelle Buffa since they were out of town. The survey went great (all 10 hours of it) with a total of 13,553 individual shorebirds counted of 22 species including the continuing Bar-tailed Godwit. There were many highlights, but I couldn’t wait to share these photos I took of a dilute plumage Western Willet (Tringa semipalmata inornata) that was foraging among hundreds of other Western Willets, Sanderlings, and other shorebirds on the wild beach. The Willet wasn’t a big fan of the large Suburban that we ran the survey in and flew up the beach after I snapped a few distant photos, but at least that offered a nice look at this ghostly bird’s pale wings.

It’s always neat to see birds in aberrant plumages, and this was the first time I have ever seen a dilute plumage Willet, although I have been having some good luck with interesting plumaged shorebirds this year! Searching around online, I quickly found two other instances of dilute plumage in Willets: this pale Eastern Willet (T. s. semipalmata) from Massachusetts, and this other bird from New York which I believe is also of the Eastern subspecies.

Leucistic 'Western' Willet on the Wild Beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Dilute plumaged Western Willet on the wild beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Leucistic 'Western' Willet on the Wild Beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Dilute plumaged Western Willet on the wild beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Leucistic 'Western' Willet on the Wild Beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Dilute plumaged Western Willet on the wild beach at Chincoteague NWR. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Another highlight of the survey was running into a group of 19 adult Hudsonian Godwits standing near a large flock of Red Knots on the hook. The stormy weather on the 6th must have forced them down, and we were able to watch them through our scopes for a few minutes before continuing on with the survey. Hudsonian Godwits are a rare migrant through Virginia during fall migration, and finding a group of 19 is especially interesting and is one of the highest counts ever of this species in the state. To make things even more exciting, one of the birds had a short orange flag on its leg, with a yellow band above it….I am still trying to track down where that bird may have come from.

Flock of 19 adult Hudsonian Godwits along the beach, with Red Knots. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Flock of 19 adult Hudsonian Godwits along the beach, with Red Knots. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The center Hudsonian Godwit in this photo has an orange flaf on its right leg, with a yellow band above it. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The center Hudsonian Godwit in this photo has an orange flaf on its right leg, with a yellow band above it. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

UPDATE: I sent the Hudsonian Godwit band info to the Banding Lab, and they were able to report that the bird was banded in Primera Angostura, Chile near the border with Argentina in Tierra del Fuego on 5 February 2002 by Larry Niles and Ricardo Matus team. This combination is standard so it is not possible to individually identify the bird, the metal band belongs to the Argentinean banding office. At that time they used orange flags instead the corresponding Chile color red flags, because they did not have enough flags for this species, this was in agreement with the PASP.

Primera Angostura, Chile is a whopping 6300 miles south of where I re-sighted the bird at Chincoteague NWR, and this bird had already flown a few thousand miles from the Arctic where it had presumably bred for the summer.