Lesser Sandplover split

When we did our travelling at the very start of Wader Quest, back in 2012, we made some arbitrary decisions about the taxonomic status of various closely related taxa. This drew some raised eyebrows in some quarters and, I dare say, still does. None of the ‘splits’ that we recognised have been universally accepted even now.

One of those ‘splits’ was the recognising of the two groups of subspecies of Lesser Sandplover as separate species. We called them at the time ‘Mongolian Plover’ (Charadrius mongolus and C. stegmanni) and ‘Lesser Sandplover’ (C. afrifrons, C. schaeferi and C. pamirensis). Here they are in breeding plumage side by side for you to enjoy, they are stunning plovers and no mistake.

Mongolian Sandplover © Martin Cachard
Lesser Sandplover © Ganesh Jayaraman

When we set up the website, since the scientific world still did not agree with us and the vast majority of the birding world too, we lumped them together as Lesser Sandplover. The science has now changed and a recent study of the various subspecies of ‘Lesser’ Sandplover has shown that this separation is valid; not least because the ‘mongolus‘ group are actually more closely related to Greater Sandplover C. leschenaultii, than they are to the ‘atrifrons‘ group.

Whilst we clearly agree with the findings of this study and indeed have now officially adopted them, we do not intend, at present, to follow the proposed English names in the study i.e. Siberian Sand Plover (mongolus and stegmanni) and Tibetan Sand Plover (C. atrifrons, C. schaeferi and C. pamirensis) preferring, at least for now, the commonly used names already in use to differentiate between the two groups i.e. Mongolian and Lesser Sandplover. (Note: we have also adopted the use of a single word when referring to Sandplovers.)

Should the names suggested by the authors be adopted it would leave Greater Sandplover with no ‘Lesser’ with which it can be compared. The solution, suggested in the study, is then to change Greater Sandplover to ‘Desert Sand Plover’, thus precipitating another change for us all to get our heads around and for so many website guardians to tear their hair out over, having been forced to find and change every reference. So, until further notice, this is the nomenclature that Wader Quest will be adopting; Mongolian Sandplover, Lesser Sandplover and Greater Sandplover.

Enjoy your armchair tick if you have been lucky enough to see both; now, what about those Willets?