Small wader ID

Hello, can anyone out there identify a wader I'm having trouble with?

First I'll try and paste the pictures:


This was last weekend, 15Jun on the coast down from Harwich, Essex. I have more pictures but none which are any better and the single bird might be different from the two birds.

Looking through the viewfinder I was thinking possibly sanderling? but they weren't moving like clockwork toys, or very much at all, just letting the waves wash over their feet. At home I tried to ID them but I found out that sanderling should be in summer plumage up in the Arctic at the moment. The closest resemblance to pictures I can find on the internet is juvenile sanderling but surely these should be up in the Arctic with their parents?

I would say they were slightly smaller than the dunlin which were also present but they might have been further away.

Any help welcome.

  • Hi Tom
    Your birds look like adult Sanderling to me. I don't think they look chequered enough on the back to be juveniles, and they look too clean underneath for Dunlin. I suspect adult Sanderling, beginning the transition from summer to winter plumage.
    Maybe wise to wait for other opinions though.

    My bird photos HERE

  • Just to throw a spanner in the works how about a Little Stint?

    Richard B

  • Thank you for the replies so far.

    Reviewing my pictures I found that the single bird actually had a turnstone in the picture which I'd cropped out so I have to change my size estimate to a bit larger than a dunlin, sorry about that.


    I see what you mean about the pair of birds (which I now think are different from the single bird) looking more like transitional plumage than juvenile plumage but again shouldn't that happen more like September? I'm asking because I really don't know, if these are sanderling, they are the first I've seen since I started looking for myself.

    I initially discounted little stint because of the greyness of the birds (based on book information, I've never seen little stint) but if they're allowed winter plumage in June perhaps that was too hasty. I'm guessing the single bird is too large though.

    I'm intrigued by the black edge to the wing on the pair of birds though. This doesn't seem to appear on pictures of sanderling or little stint that I can find on the web. Is this part of the transition with other feathers covering the dark feathers later? Here's another even less well focussed picture:

  • Hi
    these are Sanderlings moulting into Summer plumage - note the black legs and very white underparts - size wise they are too big compared with the Turnstone to be Little Stints and are the wrong shape as well: Sanderling can be very variable in this transitional plumage and can look grey, red brown or warm rufous:

    If you check out the ( mentioned before BIRDS ID Insights book) it shows examples of different stages and colours of Sanderling moulting in spring.


    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • In reply to seymouraves:

    Thanks for the ID and I've ordered that book but I expect I still won't be able to reliably ID things like this.