A unique record of a ‘Swedish’ stint in Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Text by: Magnus Hellström

Birds ability to cross continents and oceans never stops to fascinate, and this is a true Christmas story that bridges both birds and ornithologists in Europe and America.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Ottenby Bird Observatory is situated in southeast Sweden, on the southern cape of the Baltic island Öland. The observatory is run by BirdLife Sweden and has conducted research on migrating birds for 75 years. To this day, 1.3 million birds have been ringed, and about a quarter of a million of these birds are waders (also known as shorebirds). Just as most other bird observatories, much of the work is carried out by deeply committed and knowledgeable volunteers.

During late evening of September 19 2020, our ringer Tim van der Meer takes a walk around the cape to check the nets to see if they have caught any terns. Apart from a few Common Terns, Tim also finds a young Little Stint in the nets. And on his walk back to the bird observatory building, he incidentally finds and catches another one along the shoreline, using a flashlight and a net. Minutes later the two Little Stints arrive into the ringing lab.

The two tiny waders were ringed as 2KN51474 (by Tim himself) and 2KN51475 (by Anna Moulin) and the first one was then brought into the photo lab in order to obtain images used for educational purposes. Unfortunately, the second bird was not…

Just after 9 p.m. the birds were released back to freedom again and they both disappeared into the dark September night.

The 'fellow' Little Stint #474, trapped and ringed together with our globetrotter #475.

Fast forward exactly three months, to December 19 2020. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, the birdwatcher Nate Dias heads towards the Santee Delta area for the traditional Christmas Bird Count. During his visit in the area, Nate discovers an odd looking, largely winter plumaged, stint with a ring around its right leg. Equipped with a camera, Nate manages to obtain good photographs of the bird, where much of the inscriptions on the ring is visible.

At home, in front of the screen, he tentatively identifies the bird as a Little Stint – a very rare vagrant species in North America and the first record for the state of South Carolina! Additionally, together with Dr. Chris Snook, he concludes that parts of the ring inscription seem to show 2KN5147 MUSEUM STOCKHOLM. During the following days the photos were uploaded to https://www.flickr.com/photos/offshorebirder2/ and an e-mail was sent to the Swedish Bird Ringing Centre at the Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.

On Christmas Eve, the North Carolina birdwatcher Nathan Swick posts the story, together with a link to Nates photos, on the Facebook page ABA Rare Bird Alert. Social media travels fast, and only two hours later the news reaches back to Ottenby, Sweden, just in peak-time for the family Christmas celebrations (yes, here in Sweden we have the odd habit of celebrating everything one day ahead). As we carefully scrutinized the online photos we went through the phases of shock, doubt and denial, but finally also acceptance… The ring 2KN5147x really was ours, but what about the last digits? The photos seemed to show #479, but that ring was still here in our ringing lab (unused). However, a closer second look revealed that it actually read #475, and voila… It really WAS one of the two Little Stints from that evening three months ago!!! 2KN51475!

Photos!? Do we have any photos of the bird??? A quick check in the photo database faced us with the harsh reality – for some reason only the first bird (#474) had been brought into the photo lab. But the following day, after some further search, we found a single phone image of the head of bird #475, taken by Lisa Vergin.

The star-bird #475, just before it was released on September 19. Photo: Lisa Vergin.

What an astonishing story! During more than 100 years of bird ringing, over 15 million birds have been ringed in Sweden and among these, only one has made it to the North American continent (a Little Gull found close to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1996). In other words, our Little Stint was only the second ringed bird, and the first wader, to make this journey!


What a Christmas gift!

We owe many thanks to Tim van der Meer, Anna Moulin, Lisa Vergin and, most of all, to Nate Dias for his achievement of finding and documenting this bird over there!


Facts about Little Stint Calidris minuta

Size: C. 15 cm long.
Weight: C. 30 gram.
Breeds: On tundra in arctic Russia.
Winters: In southern Africa and southern Asia.
In Sweden: Rather commonly seen on autumn migration from mid-July to late September, but usually in rather low numbers. Less numerous on spring migration in May and early June. At Ottenby, 4790 Little Stints have been ringed, but the last decades have seen a clear decreasing trend.
In the USA: A very rare vagrant.

Would you like to support our work? Please consider to make a contribution. These are the details you need on order to make an international bank transfer (and please refer to ”Ottenby” as a message):

  • IBAN: SE17 8000 0803 0907 3008 5206
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