Project

Figuring out Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris

Goal: Following the finding of two birds of this little known taxon in Maputo, Mozambique in February 2016 this project is focussing on ascertaining:

1. the non-breeding status of Steppe Whimbrel in Africa
2. the taxonomic position of the form
3. identification criteria and characters
4. conservation needs

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733

Project log

Gary Andrew Allport
added a research item
The local movements and migration of two Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris, a little known subspecies, were studied opportunistically from February to March 2016, in Maputo Bay, Mozambique. Both birds were found to be part of a local sub-population of ca. 30 Whimbrel which hold individual feeding territories on sandy shoreline. One alboaxillaris was estimated to depart Maputo on 28 February and the other was possible to track with a PTT satellite tag, departing on 25 March 2016; this is one month earlier than other Whimbrel N. p. phaeopus and consistent with the more southern breeding phenology of alboaxillaris in lower latitudes in the steppes of Asia. The tagged bird made a 4,659-km journey in six days to Aden, Yemen and its migration route was consistent with the direction of travel for the known breeding areas of alboaxillaris. The tag fell off the bird in Yemen so the breeding destination of Steppe Whimbrel found in Maputo is still to be elucidated. The track data are the first firm evidence of a long-suspected African transcontinental migration route for southeastern African-Palearctic coastal waders. No other alboaxillaris were found in a larger population of 650 Whimbrel photo-identified in Maputo Bay.
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Very interesting sighting in Austria of a bird showing very good features for alboaxillaris https://www.facebook.com/BirdingAUT/photos/pcb.734444966738562/734444540071938/?type=3&theater
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added a research item
Резюме. Два степных средних кроншнепа Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris были обнаружены в заливе Мапуту в Мозамбике 10–12 февраля 2016, что стало первой регистрацией в Африке с 1965 года. Их пол был предположительно определён как самец и самка; самка оставалась в том же районе до 28 февраля, а самец до 24 марта. Этот подвид известен плохо и в 1994 году был ошибочно объявлен исчезнувшим, но недавно обнаружен на гнездовании в крайне малом числе в России. Его история запутана, а систематика неясна. Наблюдатели призываются к поиску этой птицы в Африке в летние месяцы Южного полушария.
Gary Andrew Allport
added 2 research items
Two Steppe Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris were found at Maputo Bay, Mozambique, on 10–12 February 2016, the first record in Africa since 1965. They were tentatively sexed as male and female; the female was resident in the area until 28 February and the male until 24 March. The taxon is little known and was erroneously declared extinct in 1994, but was recently found breeding in very small numbers in Russia. Its history is obscure and taxonomy unclear. Observers are encouraged to search for this bird in Africa during the austral summer.
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Refereed paper on the finding of Steppe Whimbrels in maputo, Mozambique in Feb 2016 published today in Bulletin of African Bird Club.
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Some very nice pictures of a bird that looks great for Steppe Whimbrel in South Africa here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1314679218593264&set=pcb.1314682578592928&type=3&theater
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added 3 research items
Examination of 11 specimens of Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus (Linnaeus, 1758) in the Maputo Museu de Historia Natural, Maputo, Mozambique on 19th May 2016 revealed a single specimen showing the characters of the distinctive taxon ‘Steppe’ Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris (Lowe 1921). A description of the specimen is given and illustrative photographs presented. The exact collecting locality is not known, but suspected to be Maputo Bay. This is the fifth record for Mozambique and the tenth record in Africa. A observação detalhada de 11 espécimens de Maçarico-galego Numenius phaeopus (Linnaeus, 1758), no Museu de História Natural de Maputo, a 19 de Maio de 2016, revelou a presença neste museu de um espécimen portador das características distintivas do taxon "Maçarico das Estepes" (Numenius phaeopus alboaxiliaris) (Lowe 1921). Neste artigo é apresentada a descrição do espécimen acompanhada de fotografias ilustrativas do mesmo. O local exacto de colecta da ave não é conhecido, mas presume-se ter sido capturado na Baía da cidade de Maputo. Este é o quinto registo do taxon para Moçambique e o décimo em Africa.
First sighting of Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaepous alboaxillaris in Mozambique for over 100 years, in Maputo Bay, in February 2016.
Two study skins of the rare Steppe Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris collected in Durban Bay in 1961 are housed in the bird collection of the Durban Natural Science Museum. Details of these two specimens, including plumage features, biometrics, moult, ageing criteria and phenology, are reported, illustrated and discussed in the light of the initial description by Clancey (1964a, b) and the recent ‘rediscovery’ of this taxon in southern Africa.
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
I have (finally) found a copy of Morozov and Kornev 2009, the most up to date reference reporting breeding Steppe Whimbrel in Russia and cited in Allport (2017) (after summary provided per Vladimir Morozov). I have translated it roughly into workable English - ask me for a copy if you want to see. The purpose of the note is to report the finding of a nest of alboaxillaris (white underwings were seen) in Abdulino, Orenburg Oblast, west of the Urals in European Russia on 10th May (no year given but presumably 2009), the first record in an area where alboaxillaris had not been found breeding since the late 19th century. It also reports 8 pairs breeding in 2007 at Baimovo, Bashkortostan, which I have not been able to find the original source for as yet.
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
See latest update on sightings posted to the Birding Frontiers blog here: http://birdingfrontiers.com/2016/11/16/steppe-whimbrels-in-southern-africa/
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Added the full text of the Finding Steppe Whimbrel article in African Birdlife.
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
Niall Perrins, Malcolm Wilson and I spend a couple of days looking at Whimbrel in Inhambane, Mozambique (the type locality of alboaxillaris) last week. We are ploughing through thousands of photos but with interesting results. Last Tuesday morning we spent two hours at photographing Whimbrel on the falling tide. About 450 Whimbrel came up the estuary as the tide fell many stopping to loaf on the shoreline in front of the hotel, up to 200 birds at any one time. I was able to photograph 163 Whimbrel well enough to be sure of the subspecies. Nearly all were phaeopus but with one rogachevae-type, one probable alboaxillaris and the bird in the pic attached, which looks pretty much a cert Steppe Whimbrel. It has clean white axillaries, a nice grey face but the rump pics are not great, but good for an alboaxillaris as far as they go. We found other birds too and I will post another update with further details.
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added an update
 
Gary Andrew Allport
added a project goal
Following the finding of two birds of this little known taxon in Maputo, Mozambique in February 2016 this project is focussing on ascertaining:
1. the non-breeding status of Steppe Whimbrel in Africa
2. the taxonomic position of the form
3. identification criteria and characters
4. conservation needs