. . . . by their looks and are only just learning their Portuguese names; Maçarico-real and Maçarico-galego. I’m talking of course about Curlews and Whimbrels.
More often than not when in England it will be a Maçarico-real (Curlew) you spot on the moors or out in the marshes rather than a Maçarico-galego (Whimbrel). Whereas here in the Ria Formosa it would appear that it is the Whimbrels which are more common than Curlews. However wherever you are even when you know which one is more common it can still be very confusing which one you are observing when you spot a large wader on the waters edge.
The Curlew is larger than the Whimbrel and its beak 9 to 15cm long with a gradual curve compared to the Whimbrel’s beak which is shorter (6 to 9cm) and curves in the final third of the beak. Another clue are the markings on the head, the Whimbrel has a dark eye stripe. However whilst these distinctions are helpful there will be times even with a good camera or binoculars when you will be puzzled. As all the good guide books, videos and birders highlight you have to be cautious with identification of these two birds. The variations between them can be minimal at times since the bird’s age and sex has a huge impact on body size, length and curve of beak and even the stripes on the head.
We are getting much better at the identification because we are lucky enough to see both birds regularly in the Ria Formosa, and occasionally we see them close together which helps enormously. I wouldn’t be surprised though if anyone contacts me to share they think I have mislabelled one of my photographs!
Don’t worry if you couldn’t identify the one above, I’m sure you recognised at least one of the birds in the photograph. There is one thing though which will always enable you to identify them and that is the call. The Curlew’s call is very distinctive. Here’s a 2011 recording from the excellent xeno-canto website. This recording is by one of the world’s leading bird sound recordists – Peter Boesman.
Good luck with your identification when you are next out; the puzzlement is after all part of the fun of birding!