A stint in Assynt

June 1st 2017

Trying to keep the Field Club’s website up to date with sightings can be hectic some days but it does have its rewards on various levels. Letting the world know how special Assynt’s wildlife is has to be top of the pile then, of course, we can be the first to find out about any rarities that have been spotted – as birders that can, on occasion, cause us a bit of panic.

Friday 27th May 2017, just before going to bed, we had a quick check to see if any sightings notifications had come in; bad move! A couple visiting from Cumbria, Chris Cant and Caz Walker, reported a possible Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii) at Bay of Culkein and wondered if anyone was able to confirm the identification. We had never seen this Calidris species before and there are no stints of any sort on the Assynt Bird List!

Alarm set for 5.30am we arrived at Culkein Stoer before 6.30am on the Saturday. The bay was busy; 40+ Dunlin; 40+ Ringed Plover; 7 Sanderling; 2 Common Sandpiper; a single Redshank and 73 mixed gulls. The tide was the high spring so the birds were quite close. Unfortunately, strong north-easterly winds a few weeks before had reshaped the beach creating a raised level about half way down and which was peppered with deep ‘geos’.

After we had been searching for ‘hours’ (or so it felt) the stint suddenly appeared from one of the geos at the same time as a Common Sandpiper. If you can picture Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos) then the Temminck’s Stint, on first glimpse, looked like a cut down version of its larger relative. One of the photographs here shows a Common Sandpiper for comparison.

Temminck’s Stint is an Arctic breeding sandpiper so this single adult bird was probably on its way to northern Scandinavia, from its wintering grounds around the Mediterranean basin or northern Afrotropics, to breed.

Both sexes are bigamous which increases the chances of them successfully raising young and also increases the gene pool; the female will lay one clutch for the 1st male which he incubates and then she will lay and incubate a second clutch from a mating with a second male. The 1st male will mate with another female during his breaks from incubation duties. In both broods the adults will leave the young before they are fully fledged and begin their own autumn migration; the juvenile birds following some weeks later. All quite incredible.

The first recorded successful breeding for this species in Britain was in Scotland in 1971 by adults that had summered at the site the previous two years. The last recorded successful breeding in Britain was in 1993.

So the early rise on the Saturday was well worth it with a new bird confirmed for the Assynt list and two happy people in Cumbria.

D and A Haines

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