An unlikely looking bird with a fantastic name; at first glance, the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is obviously something quite different, yet it is not clear exactly what it is. For even a chance at seeing it, one must venture to the remote central Andes in Peru, Bolivia, Chile or Argentina.
Sporting a gleaming, silvery-white ring around the crown, this eponymous diadem imparts royalty and sovereignty. And indeed, at the extreme heights this unique shorebird frequents (11,000 – 16,000 feet above sea level), it truly is majestic. Only where the trees give way to the Puna Grasslands of the highest of the high Andes, but below the permanently snow-capped peaks, are these birds reliably encountered. Yet nowhere are they in any real numbers. Either alone or in pairs, this is a bird that appears always uncommon, at best.
Scurrying and strolling about boggy tundra, or along gravel shorelines of lakes and rivers, the hardest part of seeing this, a decadent denizen of the awe-inspiring Andes, is getting to where it lives. Though it inhabits rather open country, it is limited to narrow strips of habitat. The elevational bands of its range encircle mountain tops, rather like the diadem around its head, making it hard to find. And despite the fact that its movements are limited to just short upslope or downslope relocations (before/after breeding); remarkably, little is known of its diet, or breeding habits.
Adding to its aura and allure, it poses questions for us too, as its taxonomic placement remains debated. While each species is by definition “unique”, some are more so than others. This one is the sole occupant of the genus Phegornis. The genus name is a combination of Greek words. The second part, “-ornis”, most of us will recognize as meaning bird. The first part connotes light, and shining splendor – which makes some sense because, as you can see, it is a dazzler. Apart from this species, there are no other sandpiper-plovers, and while this bird does look rather like a mash-up of those two shorebird types, recent research indicates this species is a plover, perhaps most closely related to the Australasian dotterels.
Put it all together and you have a stunning bird – combining beautifully patterned plumage, its situation in majestic mountain scenes, its enigmatic habits and taxonomy, and overall rarity. If ever there were a bird to pursue, surely this is it. The Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is one of the ultimate quest birds. Just imagine what you might see along the way…
To find out more about where you can go to see Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, check out the following tour:
Chile – Birds, Wildlife & Andean Landscapes 2017
01 – 13 Dec 2017 (13 days)
USD5,700 * GBP4,391 * EUR4,898
5 Spaces available