Hello Vermont Birders:

I'd like to articulate the opinion for the Shelburne Bay bird being a
Western Willet.  Yesterday morning I observed the bird briefly but with a
toddler tugging on my leg. Thankfully Bob Dill's photos (thanks for sharing
Bob and nice to meet you) clearly show the needed field marks. Prior to
moving to Vermont, I have lived within close proximity to breeding areas
for both subspecies.

The bird in question is a juvenile based on the pale fringing to the
coverts and the complete lack of barring.

Several structural and plumage differences are key in separating the
subspecies. On this bird I see:
1. The bill is tapered with a finer point. An eastern bird would be a
little more stout with more uniform width all the way to a thicker tip.
2. It appears long-legged/taller than an eastern. I believe this is a
result of the tibia length. This western appears taller/lankier because of
how much exposed tibia you can see above the ankle joint. The distance from
the ankle joint to the belly on an eastern would be shorter.
3. This bird seems relatively slim; easterns tend to have a
chubbier/dumpier appearance
4. This bird is overall quite pale, too pale to be an eastern. Westerns
like this bird tend to be grayer while the eastern has browner tones.
5. The basal portion of the bill is pale and extensive. An eastern would be
more uniformly colored and darker.

Other factors to consider are migration patterns and timing.  The Eastern
subspecies is consistently a coastal migrant with inland records being
rare. The Western subspecies is an inland breeder so their regular
migration patterns involve extensive overland migrations. Westerns are
found routinely along the east coast.

On the Maine coast by now the breeding subspecies has for the most part
headed down the coast to wintering areas. They are one of the earliest
species to depart.  Most of the Willets seen this time of year on the New
England coastline and going forward are Westerns.

That's my tow cents worth. I look forward to hearing others opinions.


Eric Hynes

On Sat, Sep 1, 2012 at 5:07 AM, Ian A. Worley <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> I note in the checklist submissions and other conversations a difference
> of opinion as to whether the Shelburne Bay Willet of August 30th and 31st
> is an Eastern or Western subspecies.
> Would anyone like to weigh in on this discussion?  The bird has been well
> seen and photographed by many people, so there should be some good
> information to work with.
> Ian